The Power of Black Women’s Land Ownership: A Reflection on the f*ckery and belief that Black Women’s labor should be free and we should live in cardboard boxes
Angela Davis is a homeowner. Beyonce is a homeowner. Toni Morrison was a homeowner. Maya Angelou had a beautiful home in North Carolina where Black women gathered for Thanksgiving Dinner. I am a homeowner and so is Patrisse Kahn-Cullors.
In my early twenties a friend who was a sexual abuse survivor and activist inherited $10,000 from her grandmother when she passed. She planned to use the money to sue her abuser, an uncle, in court. She wanted him to admit to the abuse publicly. I told her the money would be eaten up in legal fees before she ever got her day in court.
Instead, I advised her to use the inheritance for the down payment on a house. I rationalized that she could create a home, a safe space, where she could create and be an activist without worry of a place to lay her head when she got older. She agreed, and purchased a home.
At twenty-five years old when I gave my friend the advice, I too was an activist and had already owned two properties. I purchased my first property when my landlord raised the rent. I did the math and figured out it would be cheaper to own. Today, nearly two decades later, I own more than $2 million in real estate. It was no easy feat. I was the victim of predatory lending practices and almost lost one of the properties during the mortgage crisis in 2008.
I own one house in a Black neighborhood and two in predominately white neighborhoods. I won’t bore you with the story of being mistaken for a dog walker in my co-op building in Brooklyn, New York or the tons of microaggressions I have experienced over the years.
I recently encouraged a former student of mine, now a young lawyer in New York City, to purchase a home. I went house hunting with her and provided advice. She pooled her resources with a good friend. They now own a house in a rapidly changing neighborhood in Washington, DC. I am also helping the administrative specialist at the organization where I work navigate the home buying process.
Why land and homeownership is a big deal for Black Women: The median wealth for single Black women in the U.S. is $200 compared to $15,640 for white women. In 2020, 44 percent of black families owned their home, compared with 73.7 percent of white families. Home and land ownership is one of the surest ways to build wealth over time, regardless of race. However, historic discrimination in the housing market and in lending practices locked many Black families out of this important wealth building tool.
When Black women own land, they are not only building wealth, they are resisting. There is agency and freedom in land and home ownership. A room of one’s own is great, but a house is better.
In the book and movie The Color Purple one of the best and most meaningful plot twists is when upon Celie’s stepfather’s death she learns that the property did not belong to him. It belonged to her mother and it now belonged to her. It was her inheritance. Upon the land, she built a store and lived like a free and content Black woman in the 1900s deep south.
Recently, Patrisse Kahn-Cullors, New York Time’s Bestselling author, one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and head of the of BLM Global Network Foundation, has been criticized and come under scrutiny for home purchases over the last several years. The attacks are rooted in misogyny, anti-blackness, and the belief that Black women activists must sacrifice themselves, be penniless and poor to be an authentic leader in movements for social change. This is dangerous and rooted in the idea that Black women’s labor and genius should be free.
What I find curious is that most of Khan-Cullors critics are white and Black men. Jason Whitlock, a Black male sports journalist is demanding an accounting of BLM Global Network Foundation finances, intimating that Khan-Cullors is siphoning off funds for her own benefit. His rabid request demonstrates that he knows little to nothing about non-profit management and finances. The BLM Global Network Foundation is managed by the Tides Foundation, a highly reputable organization that provides organizational management services to non-profits. There is nothing insidious or nefarious here.
Khan-Cullors does not draw a salary like most non-profit Executives — but it would be absolutely OK if she did. It is important to be compensated for your work and effort.
The digging into the finances and financial management of Khan-Cullors is the same tactics used to undermine the credibility of other Black women leaders such as Tishaura Jones, the newest and first Black Woman Mayor in St. Louis, Missouri and Marilyn Mosby, the top prosecutor in Baltimore Maryland. It’s tired and lazy.
There’s a colloquial Black saying that I find most apt and appropriate here: “Don’t count my pockets, worry about your own.” Despite dominant portrayals in the media that attempt to paint us as otherwise, Black women can be strong and shrewd financial managers and planners. Some of the best financial planners and managers I know have been Black single mothers working to make ends meet for their families.
In a system not built for our success or survival, I celebrate Black women land owners. My hope is that my daughter or my son will raise their children in the forever home I purchased to raise them, and that they will understand all it took for me to do it.
**I recognize that we are all on indigenous land so it is impossible to truly “own” stolen land.