Nia Whitmal

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Cornell U.

Grant number

Gr. 10738

Approve Date

April 15, 2024

Project Title

Whitmal, Nia (Cornell U.) "Land and Luck: Home and Belonging Among Harlem's Black Property Owners"

As housing prices soar, black New Yorkers leave the city in droves. Meanwhile, black enclaves such as Harlem experience widespread demographic changes stemming from gentrification. Typically, influxes of white yuppies signal the beginnings of gentrification, however this study foregrounds the interactions between black property owners–both long-term homeowners and black gentrifiers-and their changing neighborhood. Given Harlem’s outsized cultural influence, notions of who belongs in the neighborhood map onto racial and economic lines. Consequently, discussions of racial authenticity and belonging co-mingle. My research tracks the wealth accumulation strategies of property-owning Harlemites, and their invocations of ‘luck’ to explain their advantageous position in the neighborhood. Alongside luck, systems of structural inequality [e.g. capitalism and racism] shape individual’s access to housing in Harlem. I ask: 1) what kind of life decisions, family histories, luck, and know-how paved their paths towards homeownership and/or property inheritance? 3) Who invokes luck, and when? and 4) how does ‘luck’, economic and social inequality, and gentrification unmoor claims of belonging in the neighborhood? I propose 15 months of ethnographic research in which I employ ethnographic filmmaking; participant observation in homes, theaters, and parks; and structured/unstructured interviews about homeownership and wealth accumulation to investigate black middle class subjectivity in Harlem.