Updated: Feb 17, 2020
“African Americans experience homeownership in ways that rarely produce the financial benefits typically enjoyed by middle-class white Americans... The real estate market is so structured by race that Black families will never come out ahead." - Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor from Race For Profit
The Russell Neighborhood was first identified to Root Cause Research Center (RCRC) staff
members as a critical area to investigate, advocate for, and report on by a core group of former and current West Louisville residents and community organizers who have been impacted by housing injustice. They requested a thorough inquiry and study of the entities, initiatives, and systems of oppression causing harm to low-income Black residents living in the Russell Neighborhood. As a result, RCRC has committed itself to the examination of gentrification, racial capitalism, rent, speculation, and dispossession in the Russell neighborhood in Louisville, KY.
We are honored that a few former and current Russell residents have joined our Accountability Council. Their role in this work is as contributors as well as peer-reviewers. They have agreed to advise this series with their insights, concerns,and priorities. Their lived-experience of the content in these posts is invaluable to accuracy and depth of this series. We thank them for their time and engagement in this work.
In this series we’ll be looking into studying:
What is Gentrification? Gentrification happens when rent outpaces income. The LA Tenant’s Union defines gentrification as “displacement and replacement of the poor for profit.”
What is Racial Capitalism? In the seminal book Black Marxism, Cedric Robinson said that “racial ideologies shape every aspect of capitalism.” Nancy Leong defines Racial Capitalism as “the process of deriving social and economic value from the racial identity of another person.” In her book, Algorithms of Oppression Safiya Noble uses racialized search algorithms as an example of racial capitalism in the data economy. The relationship between racism and real estate was established in the early 1920s when race was codified in the public AND private sectors as a threat to property values in real estate science. Since property values are directly connected to wealth creation, residential spaces occupied by Black people pose not only a threat to their own ability to create wealth, but also a threat to the wealth of those in proximity to them. By targeting race as a threat to property values, racial capitalism functions in real estate by securing white capital through either enclosure (segregation) or racial banishment (gentrification/dispossession). Real estate speculators choose locations where there are huge gaps between current rents and home prices, and potential rents and home prices, and profit by changing the residential racial and class makeup of the location. Just as Black exploitation was the vehicle for white wealth accumulation in both the agrarian and industrial economies, that same exploitation continued through the shift to a real estate economy and now into a data economy.
What is Rent? Brett Christophers defines rent as “Income derived from the ownership, possession or control of scarce assets under conditions of limited or no competition.”
What is Speculation? A business risk in the hope of obtaining commensurate gains.
What is Dispossession? 1)To put a person out of possession, especially real estate property. 2) To banish. Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by Marxist geographer David Harvey that refers to the fraudulent or forceful appropriation of public goods by capital and their subsequent conversion into private commodities.
This blog series will serve as a companion to our mapping project, Who Owns Russell?, to to explore the relaitonship between public institutions and private capital development in the neighborhood. We believe that in Louisville, Kentucky, as in many communities, an exclusive group of professionals convene and direct decision-making and action at institutional and operational levels, that often erases neighborhood-level leadership into actual planning and decision-making. We believe that the current dominant institutional narratives around wealth building is built on a shallow notion that investment is a tide that lifts all ships that erases the legacy of racial, predatory capitalism. Our hope is that this blog series will create a generative and productive counter-narrative that Russell residents can use as an organizing tool for building collective power and advocacy.
1. Taylor, Keeanga Yamahtta, Race for Profit, University of North Carolina Press, 2019
2. Rosenthal, Tracy Jeanne, 101 Notes on the LA Tenants Union, Commune Magazine, 7.19.2019, https://communemag.com/101-notes-on-the-la-tenants-union/
3.Robinson, Cedric, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, University of North Carolina Press, 1983.
4. Leong, Nancy, Racial Capitalism, Harvard Law Review, 2013.
5. Noble, Safiya, Algorithms of Oppression, NYU Press, 2018.
6. Christopers, Brett, What is Rent, Dialogues in Human Geography, 2019.
7. Harvey, David, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, Verso, 2012.
This blog series was written with assistance and contributions from Root Cause Research Center Accountability Council Members: