Grasping for the American Dream
Racial Segregation, Social Mobility, and Homeownership
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African American homebuyers continue to pay more for and get less from homeownership. This book explains the motivations for pursuing homeownership amongst working-class African Americans despite the structural conditions that make it less economically and socially rewarding for this group. Fervent adherence to the American Dream ideology amongst working-class African Americans makes them more vulnerable to exploitation in a structurally racist housing market. The book draws on qualitative interviews with 68 African American aspiring homebuyers looking to buy a home in the Chicago metropolitan area to investigate the housing-search process and residential-relocation decisions in the context of a racially segregated metropolitan region.
Working class African Americans remained committed to homeownership, in part because of the moral status attached to achieving this goal. For African American homebuyers, success at the American Dream of homeownership is directly related to the longstanding dream of equality. For the aspiring homebuyers in this study, delayed homeownership was a practical problem for the same reasons, but they also experienced this as a personal failing, due to the strong cultural expectation in the United States that homeownership is a milestone that middle-class adults must achieve. Furthermore, despite using perfectly reasonable housing search strategies to locate homes in stable or improving racially integrated neighborhoods, the structure of racial segregation limits their agency in housing choices. Ultimately, policy solutions will need to address structural racism broadly and be attuned to the needs of both homeowners and renters.
Table of Contents
List of Figures
1. Tiffany’s Story
2. The African American Dream of Homeownership
3. Homeownership Delayed
4. Searching For A Dream Home
5. Foreclosure MASH Unit
6. Precarious Destinations
7. Concluding Discussion
Nora E. Taplin-Kaguru is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Earlham College. She is an urban sociologist, studying racism, housing, the built environment and social media. She has also been published in City & Community.
This masterful work of scholarship, written in a graceful and inviting style, builds on exemplary urban studies, such as those by Herb Gans, Karyn Lacy, and Mary Pattillo. It uniquely follows 68 working-class and lower-middle-class African American in the Chicago Metropolitan Area through the process of buying a home, some of whom were not successful. The fine-grained results are enriched by a follow-up survey with 38 of those who made a purchase, and by interviews with several of the former neighbors of the new home owners. The result is impressive evidence for the endurance of the African American Dream of freedom, equality, and integration against all odds, a dream that ironically makes potential home buyers "more vulnerable to exploitation in a structurally racist housing market." This book, including poignant accounts of how the disappointments in the face of ongoing racial discrimination are dealt with by a determined and resilient group of people, is destined to take its place on the shelf of classic urban studies.
G. William Domhoff, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor in Sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz