Why Black Homeowners are More Likely to be Caribbean American than African American in New York: A Theory of How Early West Indian Migrants Broke Racial Cartels in Housing

Eleanor Marie Lawrence Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Why are the Black brownstone owners and landlords in Harlem and Brooklyn disproportionately West Indian? For students of housing discrimination, Black West Indian Americans have long presented a quandary. West Indian Americans generally own and rent higher quality housing than African Americans. These advantages began long ago. For example, when racial covenants, that is, restrictions barring certain racial and ethnic groups from owning real property were rife in New York, many West Indians were still able to buy into tony neighborhoods despite the pervasiveness of institutionalized residential segregation. Eschewing more traditional explanations in the civil rights literature, I apply the literature in which racial segregation in real property ownership is conceived as a racialized monopoly in which racial cartels appropriate anti-competitive techniques to monopolize access to real property. Maintaining a racial cartel is dependent on White owners uniformly refusing to sell. Importantly, West Indian realtors were experts at finding defectors, namely Whites willing to break norms of racial exclusivity and sell, in exchange for their ability to extract a premium. West Indian brokers could act in confidence because they had cash-rich clients and were often buying property in trust (de facto if not de jure) for fellow West Indians. In so doing, West Indian brokers in New York were simply replicating techniques that had been utilized by their land-brokering ancestors. I discuss the history that "previews"this period in New York, albeit in a different context: in the British West Indian islands from which the migrants originated. There are repeated instances of Blacks "busting"White monopolies in landownership, throughout the West Indian colonies in contravention of racial norms in the British colonies of who was allowed to own land and where. Upon arrival in New York, West Indians encountered another racial monopoly in real property ownership, namely Northern racial segregation. They essentially transferred the same techniques that they had utilized in the West Indies to break into White neighborhoods in New York.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-36
Number of pages34
JournalAmerican Journal of Legal History
Volume61
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Law

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