Race, Empire, and the Crisis of the Subprime

The September 2012 special issue interjects into the discourse and conditions of an ongoing global economic and racial crisis. Explore the supplementary content from several articles in the issue.

Edited by Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva

This special issue interjects into the discourse and conditions of an ongoing global economic and racial crisis. That is, it is not a “coda” to the crisis, signaling a conclusion, or a kind of retrospective on the ravages of global and racial capitalism. Neither does it serve to locate the “origins” of what has come to be known as the “subprime crisis.” Rather, it is a necessary intervention in the midst of crisis, a recognition of the historical legacies that envelop and frame the 2008 global economic crisis, as well as a call to critically acknowledge the varied spaces and homes worldwide that this latest crisis has shaped, destroyed, or irrevocably changed. As such, this special issue is an excellent example of the efforts by American studies scholars, as well as those in other disciplines, to imagine and theorize an “American” studies that is deeply, and inevitably, transnational and transhemispheric. Above all else, it is a reminder that global racial capitalism cannot be understood within the frame of economics alone; rather, it needs to be theorized and imagined as a set of cultural, political, and geographic practices on and within persons and places.

View the Table of Contents. Authors who contributed supplementary content appear alphabetically below.

"Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism," Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva

"Gambling with Debt: Lessons from the Illiterate," Sarita See

"Realty Reality: HGTV and the Subprime Crisis," Shawn Shimpach

"Coloring in the Bubble: Perspectives from Black-Oriented Media on the (Latest) Economic Disaster, " Catherine R. Squires 

"New Racial Meanings of Housing in America," Elvin Wyly, C. S. Ponder, Pierson Nettling, Bosco Ho, Sophie Ellen Fung, Zachary Liebowitz, and Dan Hammel

"Blues Geographies and the Security Turn: Interpreting the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles," Jordan T. Camp

Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism
Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva

How could the predatory targeting of economically dispossessed communities and the subsequent bailout of the nation’s largest investment banks, instantly and volubly, be recast as a problem caused by the racial other (“illegal immigrants” and “state-dependent minorities”)? Beyond the immediate politics of blame, our interest is in situating the racial moment of the financial crisis in the last three decades of neoliberal backlash waged across the postcolonial (global) South. As a starting point for our discussion we assume that these recent histories are themselves embedded in the colonial and racial matrix of capitalist accumulation of land (conquest and settlement), exploitation of labor (slavery, indentured labor, forced migration), appropriation of resources, and ultimately the very meaning of debt in what Walter Mignolo calls the “modern/colonial world system.”

Related Links

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), a national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing, works to ensure equal housing opportunity for all people through leadership, education and outreach, membership services, public policy initiatives, advocacy and enforcement.

Overview of the objectives outlined by the Debt Jubilee Campaign.

Journalist Joan Walsh's critical article on Charles Murray's book on the White Working Class provides a useful overview of current neoconservative views on inequality in the US.

Julianne Hing and Hatty Lee (Colorlines) provide a useful graphic on student debt burden by race.

Double Issue of Corporate Watch Magazine about neoliberal reforms and housing privatization and subsequent crisis in the UK.

Debtocracy, a popular documentary by Katerina Kitidi and Aris Hatzistefanou, focuses on the Greek Debt Crisis in 2010. Distributed under a creative commons license.

Anthropolgoist Neni Panourgia's 2012 Editorial "Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn is a European problem"

Press release issued by the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt's Debt on 20 March 2012.

Some recommendations for excellent documentary films on the ongoing global debt crisis.

Intelligence Report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (Spring 2012) outlining the rise of hate groups in the US over the last decade that see the federal government as their primary enemy.

Gambling with Debt: Lessons from the Illiterate
Sarita See

In an examination of today's subprime debtors, the essay in turn calls for renewed attention to the prescience of Carlos Bulosan’s short story “The Romance of Magno Rubio,” published
in the 1940s, and for attentiveness to the staged adaptations that have been
circulating in Filipino America for years preceding and now succeeding the
2008 fiscal crisis. By focusing on the naïveté and illiteracy of Bulosan’s title
character Magno Rubio, See argues that the U.S. Filipino diaspora returns to and
transforms modes of storytelling that return to and transform anticapitalist
traditions of reciprocity, mutuality, and obligation. In this way, we might be
able to glimpse what an alternative ethical economy of anti-accumulation might
look like. In other words, if we take seriously rather than sneer at the ways in
which Magno gambles with, throws away, and “mortgag[es] [his] whole future,”
we might be able to glimpse other reasons and worldviews underpinning the
decision to sign those bad contracts.

Filipino Migrant Center (FMC) was featured on local Los Angeles TV show Kababayan LA to expose Filipino labor trafficking in the US. Joanna Concepcion and Tony Doroño of the FMC were interviewed along with the trafficked teachers that the FMC is currently working with. For more information, call the FMC hotline at (310) 421-8FMC / 8362.

Part 1: "International Human Trafficking = Modern-Day Slavery"

Part 2: Public Officials Entangled in Human Trafficking

Part 3: Vulnerability of Human Trafficking Victims

Part 4: Stand Up to End Human Trafficking

Related Links

Ma-Yi Theater Company

Community-based historic preservation organization Little Manila Foundation, based in Stockton

blog entry-version of the essay called "Prostitution and Plagiarism: Toward a Theory of the Writer?"

Realty Reality: HGTV and the Subprime Crisis
Shawn Shimpach 

The current financial crisis was not caused by duped viewers of basic cable television. It was not the result of “over-reaching” minority homebuyers, or the activities of the “at risk,” the supposed “nanny state” Fannie and Freddie beneficiaries. It was not the result of amateurs and greedy (would-be) home owners reaching beyond their place only to find the economic equivalent of divine retribution. It was instead caused by the professional activities of supposed experts speculating without oversight. Yet HGTV can be a significant and revealing site for understanding the rather more complex, nuanced relationship between textual representation and political economy.

While HGTV viewers appear to be less than prolific in posting fan videos, mashups, cos-play photos, and other signifiers of online media participation in the early 21st century, popular programs like House Hunters are not without an online presence. HGTV itself, for example, maintains a vigorously integrated collection of websites.

Related Links

HGTV explicitly encourages viewing practices that make House Hunters' textual strategies overtly part of a representational game rather than simply a window onto reality

Fans and observers have nonetheless paid close attention to recent revelations about the extent to which House Huntershas indeed been staged. To some extent, this has never been a secret. Pie Town, one of the program's contracted production companies, posts the requirements for participation quite explicitly on its website (note the answer to "Isn't the camera just going to follow us around" for example).

The domestic-real-estate-as-popular-culture blog "Hooked On Houses," for example, has sustained an ongoing discussion about this very topic:

These responses have resulted in one of House Hunters participants explaining further her own impressions of how the show stages its presentation and what that means for her on her own personal blog:

Professional news services, such as ABC, have also picked up on this recent revelation. Slate also commented on this development.

Meanwhile, the topic of HGTV's representational diversity has also circulated online in a number of different ways. NPR recently ran a story for its program "Morning Edition" presenting HGTV's explicit on-screen diversity largely as an appealing novelty on U.S. television.

The (now defunct) local Minnesota magazine The Rake (not to be confused with the upscale "modern voice of classic elegance" magazine bearing the same name) beat NPR to the punch with a 2004 story

Scripps Networks, HGTV's corporate parent, also hosts an official statement and listing of its diversity efforts.

The diversity of HGTV hosts and participants has also been noticed by a variety of viewers who have blogged on the topic, including this blog dedicated to issues of Asian American identity

A blog on "Black Culture, Politics, Relationships, Religion, Beauty" has also cited HGTV's diversity as a reason to watch:

Either despite or perhaps as a symptom of the optimistic tone with which these sites receive HGTV's diversity strategy, one need only read the "comments" sections carefully or do a quick online search to find intolerant and shockingly explicit racist criticism of HGTV's programming, particular is unspectacular inclusion of inter-racial and gay and lesbian participants in the real estate reality it programs.

Coloring in the Bubble: Perspectives from Black-Oriented Media on the (Latest) Economic Disaster
Catherine R. Squires 

How do black media account and suggest remedies for the fact that disproportionate numbers of African American homebuyers and neighborhoods have suffered the worst effects of the subprime debacle? The crisis is not just a matter of governmental financial regulation; the ways in which our watchdog press fell asleep on the job is indicative of a broader, problematic cultural shift to neoliberal, postracial discourses. These ideologies have become normalized and entrenched in many parts of the mediated public sphere, as well as government-sponsored discourses of economic and social policy. None of the dominant media outlets—whether broadcast, cable, print, or online—waved sufficient red flags about the burgeoning bubble.

Related Links

This 2009 story from NBC was among mainstream media pieces to comment on “bling” culture, featuring examples from African Americans’ lifestyles.

Another editorial in the dominant news that fails to mention illegal redlining and steering practices that devastated borrowers of color. Instead, homeowners who bought houses they couldn’t afford are to blame—and are undeserving of government assistance.

Black Enterprise’s Wealth For Life initiative 

Brief bio of Charlotta Bass

Protest against Wells Fargo covered on Colorlines.com with pictures of organizers outside the bank.

Colorlines.com continues to cover protests against Wells Fargo and other banks, providing information about the local, multiracial grass-roots organizations fostering activism.

McDonalds reaches out to African American consumers and prospective franchisees with a new Black History campaign.

Chevrolet drew criticism for using images of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks in a car commercial.

TheRoot.com reported on the racist language allegedly used by bankers who engaged in predatory lending practices against African Americans and Latina/os who qualified for lower interest loans.

Bay Area Occupy movement participants protest for fair housing in April 2012.

New Racial Meanings of Housing in America
Elvin Wyly, C. S. Ponder, Pierson Nettling, Bosco Ho, Sophie Ellen Fung, Zachary Liebowitz, and Dan Hammel 

This article documents the crucial role of institutional and legal strategies in reshaping the relations between neighborhood racial inequalities and national and transnational networks of financialization. The devastation wrought by deregulated mortgage capital exploited the loopholes of federalism in ways that may have destabilized the long-established role of racial segregation in maintaining American class inequality. In the familiar story of inner-city and inner-suburban segregation, financial exploitation reproduced relatively stable forms of gerrymandered political marginalization. But now we have a more confusing story in the vast archipelago of gated communities in Sun Belt suburbs, where even the racially and ethnically integrated master-planned subdivisions are trapped by the fears of losing the home equity premium so long promised by American white privilege. Anita Hill is right that
“the American Dream means nothing if it is not inclusive,” but so is Derrick Bell when he demands that we “‘Get Real’ about race and racism in America.” One part of getting real involves building the infrastructure of discrimination enforcement that was stripped out of civil rights legislation in the 1960s and 1970s to avoid Southern filibusters. That might offer a first step toward the “simplified and clarified” meaning of housing in America, “with a renewed emphasis on shelter and neighborhood” as well as genuine equality

Related Links

The authors have prepared a website with data and photos related to their research. Some of the charts are linked below. Click on the chart to view the full-sized image.

Mortgage capital as seen from the race and class position of the borrower's neighborhood

One view of the racialized landscape of lender subsidiaries

The racialized urban system of American subprime capital

A preliminary analysis of the post-2008 geography of foreclosure demolitions in Cleveland

Blues Geographies and the Security Turn: Interpreting the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles
Jordan T. Camp

This article examines the political and cultural struggles over housing and human rights in Los Angeles. It argues that struggles for the human right to housing in Skid Row, Los Angeles represent a continuity of campaigns to contest racial capitalism’s organization of space. It examines an alternative blues archive to understand the historical and geographical roots of the current conjuncture. It also considers how community organizers have adapted the black freedom struggle’s historical tradition in confronting the current crisis. As grassroots activists and artists have shown, the resolution of crisis by racialization, neoliberalization, and securitization is not inevitable. They have produced alternative definitions of events, which could produce alternative outcomes. 

Chuck D and Flavor Flav at the Operation Skid Row music festival. Skid Row, Los Angeles, January 15, 2012. Photo by Nicholas Dahmann.

Paul Robeson and the Civil Rights Congress submitting We Charge Genocide petition to the United Nations Secretariat, New York, December 17, 1951, Daily Worker/Daily World Photographs Collection, Tamiment Library, New York University.

Deborah Burton, Statement at the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland, 2010. Photo by National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (www.nesri.org).

Related Links

Downtown Blues

Freedom Now Books

Los Angeles Community Action Network

The Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights

UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing