Urban Specters

The Everyday Harms of Racial Capitalism

By Sarah Mayorga

220 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 2 halftones, 3 maps, 2 graphs, 1 table

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7493-3
    Published: August 2023
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5111-6
    Published: August 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7492-6
    Published: August 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7494-0
    Published: August 2023

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Racial capitalism, invisible but threaded throughout the world, shapes our lives. Focusing on the experiences of white, Black, and Latinx residents of Cincinnati, Sarah Mayorga argues that residents' interpretations of their circumstances, what she calls urban specters, are often partial recognitions of the exploitation and dehumanization produced by racial capitalism. Much scholarly work on racial capitalism has necessarily focused on historical, theoretical, and macro-level accounts. Mayorga takes these vital insights and applies them to two contemporary working-class neighborhoods, centering the lives of working-class and poor people.

Using data from interviews with 117 residents, Mayorga maps how racial capitalism creates the everyday harms people know all too well. Chronic underdevelopment, private property, and policing, she shows, have produced these harms. In this enlightening book, Mayorga identifies small windows into abolitionist possibilities that create different types of relations, ones based on care and connection. This is a guide for anyone trying to understand urban inequality, but also more importantly, for how we might create a different world.

About the Author

Sarah Mayorga is associate professor of sociology at Brandeis University and is the author of Behind the White Picket Fence: Power and Privilege in a Multiethnic Neighborhood.

For more information about Sarah Mayorga, visit the Author Page.


“A fascinating examination of both race relations and class dynamics in a changing city. [Mayorga’s] book makes a significant contribution to the study of both critical racial/ethnic studies and urban sociology, and perhaps more importantly to the theoretical underpinnings of these two traditions.”—Ethnic and Racial Studies

Urban Specters intimately compares and contrasts two local neighborhoods — Riverside and Carthage — and their residents while exploring the topic of racial capitalism. . . . Mayorga uncovers everyday manifestations of racial capitalism through the eyes of Cincinnati residents.”—Cincinnati CityBeat

“An in-depth analysis of material life within two neighborhoods in Cincinnati. . . . Urban Specters provides hope in interpersonal acts of resilience and a growing self-awareness made possible by public scholarship that looks at a different world.”—The Metropole

“A refreshing contribution to urban scholarship. . . . Urban Specters illuminates the ways racial capitalist dynamics haunt the everyday lived experiences of people and, most importantly, the stories people tell. . . . [A] valuable and generative resource for scholars of race, urban inequality, and political economy.”—Social Forces

"Insightful in the most sorrowful of ways. Mayorga pushes us to listen hard to hear not only how racial capitalism infects our relations with each other and keeps us apart, but also how the demons of racial capitalism take over our best selves, creeping into how and where we care and who we prop up. To build a new world we must fully encounter the old one, in all its ugliness and disappointment. This work takes us a step closer."—Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London

"By linking theories of racial capitalism with tangible lived experiences, Sarah Mayorga takes the blinders off of the titular 'specters,' allowing us to see the bigger picture of capitalist underdevelopment and exploitative inclusion with greater clarity."—Eileen O'Brien, Saint Leo University