Homeownership and the “Racist Theory of Value” under Racial Capitalism

Authors: Scott Markley*, University of Georgia
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: racial capitalism, homeownership, racial wealth gap, segregation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Great Recession marked the largest confiscation of Black wealth in generations. In the decade since, an assortment of policy-minded scholars and think tanks has advocated expanding Black homeownership as the preferred mechanism for rebuilding Black wealth and narrowing the Black-white wealth gap. Fundamental to these proposals is the optimistic assumption that Obama-era housing finance reforms have undone the socially produced, systematic devaluation of Black-marked spaces. An historical and geographical reckoning with racial capitalism—as theorized by Cedric Robinson—casts significant doubt on this assessment. Reading the institutional implementation of what Charles Abrams called the “racist theory of value” during the twentieth century through Robinson’s framework, I argue that the ongoing material devaluation of Black-marked spaces is a constitutive feature of housing markets under racial capitalism. Thus, despite claims that expanding Black homeownership can help close the racial wealth gap, I maintain that the co-constituted geographies of race and value foreclose this possibility and suggest that relying on home price appreciation—a mechanism that depends on the differential valuation of residential space—to abate racial inequality is liable to further entrench it.

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