Law School Hosts 2021 MacArthur Fellow Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor for Talk on ‘Race for Profit’


On Nov. 10, 2021, Brooklyn Law School hosted author Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor for a talk on her recent book, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Taylor is a professor at Princeton University’s department of African American studies, a 2021 McArthur Fellow, and a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow.

The event was part of a year-long program in which Taylor’s book was integrated into courses taught to first-year students, building on the Law School’s commitment to design an anti-racism curriculum. This fall, all incoming first-year students were given a copy of the book to read throughout the year. The program was kicked off during orientation with a panel of faculty discussing the themes of the book in relation to their respective fields.

In “Race for Profit,” Taylor describes the consequences of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. The law was designed to end the practice of racial redlining and boost Black homeownership by offering homebuyers government-backed loans. In practice, mortgage lenders and the real estate industry manipulated the system to sell dilapidated housing to Black homebuyers at inflated prices, knowing that, even in the event of a default, the lender’s profits were guaranteed.

“The end of explicit racist exclusion ushered in a period of predatory inclusion,” said Taylor. “The end result has meant perpetual housing insecurity for African Americans, and the persisting racial wealth gap between black and white families. The key to this is not the endless promotion of property ownership but unhinging social mobility and life chances to ownership of an asset whose value is largely determined by deep-seated notions of race, culture and belonging.”

Professor Steven Dean, an international tax expert whose research focuses on the causes and consequences of inequality, introduced Taylor’s talk.

“Although [Taylor] has written an extraordinary book about the law and its impact on race and inequality, she is not a lawyer, but a historian,” said Dean. “I think that is something wonderful about her work, that she engages so deeply with the law [without legal training.]”

After her talk, Taylor answered a sampling of the more than 100 questions submitted by students. Jahi Liburd ’22 and Ramsha Ahmad ’23, student members of the Law School’s Curriculum Committee, selected questions and led the Q&A.

“This generation of law student is better positioned than any before to understand and combat problems of structural inequality,” said Karen Porter, Arthur Pinto & Stephen Bohlen Associate Dean for Inclusion and Diversity. “In building a strong curriculum to support that work, we hope to equip them to be the change needed in law and in society. We are grateful to Professor Taylor for so brilliantly lighting the way.”

Watch the book talk here