Trayvon, redlining, and financialization

[some fragments on Trayvon Martin]

The idea that stand-your-ground/castle laws are to blame for Trayvon Martin’s death is wrong. Yes, those laws are objectionable for many reasons, not least because of the wide differential in their application (as the two verdicts in Florida showed yesterday, in their tragi-comic way). But for the most part, they are just the late-arriving legal expression of the social architecture of postwar US: as official, state segregation was dismantled, millions of new borders have become established, borders that cross traditional jurisdictions and that are largely privatized and, of course, racialized. Nouns like neighborhood associations, gated communities, and citizen patrols begin to describe these phenomena, but they don’t fully capture the new arrangements that span public and private, that define citizen and outsider, and that draw and redraw boundaries. Trayvon’s crime is that he was on the wrong side of one of those borders, and Zimmerman is symptomatic in that he did all he could to defend that border. That’s why Trayvon is dead, and it was all possible without recourse to stand-your-ground laws, which is why the defense didn’t have to invoke them.


When I posted the above to Facebook, someone pointed to redlining as a practice that provides continuity between old/state and new/private. Absolutely, and I understated the continuities. I actually had been thinking of redlining a lot while writing the above, as the practice created an art of spacial differentiation that still informs urban planning and development.

In its popular connotation, redlining was/is the process of marking out certain neighborhoods for exclusion from household loans (and I am thinking primarily of mortgages, though the term gets applied to insurance, credit, etc., as well). Even though it’s true that those who lived in certain neighborhoods or blocks were barred from receiving loans, as a practice, redlining was more about defining the areas and subjects of risk and creating the terms under which those could be included in the circuits of financial capital. In other words, though some were excluded, many were included by the process of redlining; once banks were able to calculate the risks inherent investing in those neighborhoods, they began lending. Redlining, if anything, was about including people in indebtedness, on the condition that certain included subjects agreed to a much higher degree of exploitation and extraction.

It should be noted that redlining was initiated in the 1930s by quasi-governmental agencies, and after the technique was implemented and effective, it was taken up by banks themselves.

It should also be noted that the determination of who got included and who got excluded was seemingly illogical in many ways. In Bill Dedman’s famous journalistic account of redlining in Atlanta, he discovers that many professional, middle-class blacks were denied loans while lower-income blacks received loans at a higher rate. The lines of inclusion don’t always get traced along the lines of status and income.


The case of Trayvon Martin and how he came to end up at that particular gated community on that particular night resonates with the history of redlining. Compared to the demographics of the United States, and certainly compared to the demographics of the Orlando area, The Retreat at Twin Lakes is an integrated, diverse enclave. This was no white outpost.

Or at least the demographics didn’t say so. The neighborhood did employ gated communities’ usual white-flight security architecture, which came from the development’s history: begun as a higher-priced, exclusive area in the early 2000s, the development took a hit when the financial crash and housing crisis forced prices on the apartment units down by 60%. No one seems to have numbers on pre-crash demographics compared to post-crash, but anecdotally, the development became much less white and, of course, much less wealthy.

After the crash and the developers lost some of their hoped-for clientele, the Retreat was opened to a wider population, an opening that allowed the families of both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman to move in. In the time of crisis, they were allowed a new kind of participation in financialization, to be included.

But as Travyon Martin found out, his inclusion was highly conditional, and able to be revoked. He was included, but he never really belonged.

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