Princeton Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor of the African American Studies Department was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship — colloquially known as the “genius grant” — last week for analyzing the political and economic forces underlying racial inequality and the role of social movements in transforming society.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards the fellowship to 25 American scholars, artists, and scientists. Each receives $625,000 in grants over five years. The award, per the Foundation’s website, is a “no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential.” An independent Selection Committee chooses the fellows.
Taylor is an activist for, and focuses much of her scholarship on, public policy in Black communities and lives.
Taylor’s first book, “Race for Profit: The Political Economy of Black Urban Housing in the 1970s,” is her dissertation from 2013 at Northwestern University. It discusses the private housing industry’s response to the 1960s urban rebellion.
In 2016, she then published “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation,” which analyzed the Black Lives Matter movement’s history in race relations and policing, and considered whether the United States is in a post-racial period. The book was recognized with the Lannan Cultural Freedom Award for an Especially Notable Book in 2016.
In 2017, she edited “How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective,” a collection of writings from the Combahee River Collective, a Black feminist socialist lesbian organization. In 2018, it won the Lambda Literary Award for LBGTQ nonfiction.
Her most recent book, “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Home Ownership,” was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in History and longlisted for the National Book Award. The book, published in 2019, explores how the real estate industry has predated upon Black communities with high interest rates and predatory selling.
Today, Taylor is working on new projects, including an investigation of civil rights in the 1980s and a multimedia project with Jennifer Parker in The New York Times.
Taylor took night classes while a tenant advocate at Northeastern Illinois University, eventually finishing her B.A. there in 2007. She then went to Northwestern University, where she got a Master’s degree in 2011 and a Ph.D. in 2013.
Taylor was a long-time member of the International Socialist Organization, a Trotskyist nonprofit dedicated to activism on college campuses. She is a staff writer for The New Yorker and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and Jacobin. She was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2021.
Taylor did not respond to request for comment.
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