"Racial Capitalism in the Burning Years: The 1970s Bronx in Three Frames"

Thursday, February 3, 2022
4:30 PM (ET)
Event Type
Amy Bello
African American Studies

Bench Ansfield, Harvard University presents:


Why did Black and Brown neighborhoods across the United States go up in flames in the 1970s? Popular memory confuses this conflagration with the 1960s uprisings, yet these fires were lit not for protest, but for profit, most of which flowed into the ironically named FIRE industries—finance, insurance, and real estate. This talk argues that the 1970s wave of landlord arson offers a critical window into late-twentieth-century transformations in racial capitalism, or the entanglement between racial hierarchy and the imperatives of capitalist accumulation. Nowhere did the fires inflict more damage than in the Bronx, which lost twenty percent of its housing. In a decade that saw the U.S. swear off state-sponsored urban renewal, the Bronx arson wave was, in a sense, a free-market slum clearance program. Like the better-remembered urban renewal programs of the 1950s and 1960s, this one would also spark a groundswell of tenant organizing, which ultimately stemmed the tide of the burnings.


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