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9780316572217

Plundered How Racist Policies Undermine Black Homeownership in America

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780316572217

  • ISBN10:

    0316572217

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2025-01-28
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
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Supplemental Materials

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Summary

When Harvard and Yale trained property law scholar Bernadette Atuahene moved to Detroit, she planned to study the city’s squatting phenomenon, in which thousands occupied vacant homes without the permission of the record owner. After a long sojourn in South Africa, where she researched the theft of land and homes from Black citizens, she wanted to immerse herself in a project that showcased Black agency. And yet what she found in Detroit was too urgent to ignore. Her neighbors, many of whom had owned their homes for decades, were losing them to property tax foreclosure. Even though the reasons why this was happening were shrouded, the results were clear: once bustling Black neighborhoods blighted with vacant homes and trash-strewn lots, social networks eroded, family legacies lost. It was a puzzle that would take five years of dogged investigation, including hundreds of interviews with homeowners, landlords, real estate investors, and city officials to solve, but data point by data point, loss by loss, a story emerged, one very different from the dominant narratives that blamed irresponsible homeowners or a few corrupt politicians.

As Atuahene demonstrates, the problem is a system of predatory governance, where public officials raise public dollars through racist policies–a nationwide practice in no way limited to Detroit. In this powerful work of scholarship and storytelling, Atuahene expands our nation’s racial justice conversation from the physical violence that state agents exert to the less conspicuous, but intensely damaging bureaucratic violence that they routinely inflict. Unlike brutal police murders captured on video, predatory governance hides in plain sight, inviting complicity from well-meaning people, eviscerating communities, and widening the racial wealth gap. By following the lives of two grandfathers who migrated to Detroit at the turn of the twentieth century to work at Ford Motor Company—one Black the other white—and their grandchildren, Atuahene tells a riveting, braided tale about racist policies, how they take root, why they advance and flourish, who profits, and perhaps most crucially, explains what it takes to dismantle them.

Author Biography

Bernadette Atuahene is the Frances and John Duggan Chair at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.  She has served as a judicial clerk at the Constitutional Court of South Africa, practiced at a New York law firm, and worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the South African Land Claims Commission. She is the author of We Want What’s Ours: Learning from South Africa’s Land Restitution Problem. Atuahene has published extensively in academic journals such as NYU Law Review and the California Law Review. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, LA Times, NPR’s Democracy Now!, and the Washington Post among others.



 

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