In 1860 Black bodies held captive on American soil represented a White collective real property value of more than $3 billion, roughly $93.5 billion today.
Currently, real property held by Black people in the U.S., typically the descendants of enslaved Africans, shows a cumulative national devaluation of $156 billion. That’s an average loss of $48,000 per home in majority-Black neighborhoods across America.
A sustained shortfall of this magnitude isn’t happenstance. It’s formulaic.
It’s through deliberate planning and organization that networks of powerful agencies incentivize people in authority. Then people in authority use bias and discrimination to bring about these property devaluations. Consistently, this network of power and authority conveys one message: Racism is policy—rooted, antagonistic, past and present, and bent on debasing Black lives and property, says Andre M. Perry, author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.
“And that’s why I say throughout the book, ‘There’s nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.’ ”
In the opening chapter of Know Your Price, Perry appeals to us with a childhood memory about rejection and belonging.
He recounts his upbringing in a family not biologically his own, where the “kin of his heart” eventually wanted him to leave, and appealed for his placement in foster care—a move that would have separated him from the only family, the only home, and the only Black community he’d known since birth. Victorious over the “campaign of Hotsy and Dot,” Perry remained in the home until he left for college at 18 years old. Of that early experience, he writes, “Insecurities about not belonging never quite go away.”
And in too many cases, he says, insecurities never go away because racism doesn’t go away.
In the human experience, there’s a traumatic interdependence of rejection, displacement, underrepresentation and devaluation—particularly among Black people in the United States, and this can spoil our sense of stability tied to wage earning and property ownership.
In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives last June, Perry said, “The value of assets—buildings, schools, leadership, and land itself—are inextricably linked to the perceptions of Black people…. How much of the demand that impacts housing price is affected by how people around it are perceived?”
Real property devaluation creates a wealth gap, and Black children experience lesser intergenerational mobility when raised in devalued neighborhoods, he explains. They have fewer options, show weaker performance in school, and, generally, make longer commutes to school.
“We haven’t known how much the country will gain by properly valuing homes and businesses, family structures, voters and school districts in Black neighborhoods,” he writes. “And we need to know.”
Across the country, where less than 1 percent of the population is Black, the median listing is $341,000, compared with $184,000 in majority-Black neighborhoods. Perry’s research reveals this, and it’s supported in Census data.
Accounting for inflation, today’s $156B devaluation of Black assets swells to $509B over 40 years. For perspective, Perry explains the year-over-year yawning gap in terms of business ventures and educational pursuits: four million Black businesses that did not launch; eight million four-year degrees that were not funded—representing volumes of stolen opportunity over a generation.
The Black Tax is pervasive and takes many forms, but the author believes that, “If we can detect how much racism depletes wealth from Black homeowners, we can begin to address bigotry principally by giving black homeowners and policymakers a target price for redress.”
Perry tells ESSENCE that it’s the unyielding effort to exclude Black and Brown people which perpetuates these ancient harms on us all, and leads scholarship astray.
The Moynihan Report, formally The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, suggests that Black family success or failure should be predicated upon White middle-class ideals—an indolent, reckless and deeply flawed conclusion that persists 55 years later.
Ever since, he writes, “Researchers and journalists have continued framing poverty mainly as a function of individual choices.”
Know Your Price tells us that, in research, Whiteness has always been the professional standard in training and reward. Whites are the default referent group by which Blacks are measured, and it’s by this model that equity work has been centered on White people, Perry opines. Society affords similar privilege through White proximity and adjacency.
“The concept of equity, while it is rooted in providing resources based on need, is still corrupted by this idea that White people are the gold standard,” Perry says.
So, instead, he pursues justice.
“People will say, ‘Well, what is justice?’ In some areas, justice is easy to see,’ ” Perry shares. “I’m asking in the book [that we] look at electoral policy. Let’s look at housing, education, gentrification. We may not be able to find perfect justice, but we can come a whole lot closer to it.”
Know Your Price makes clear, “the stripping of political representation” can happen in relative silence.
“We’re not represented by an overly White Congress, by a racist administration who tells women of color, citizens, elected officials to go back to where they came from, and representation matters.”
It’s an ancient narrative that Black and Brown people don’t belong in this country, Perry says, but Trump has advanced the idea with new energy. “It’s not just that policy isn’t delivering for them, it’s against them. It’s jailing Black people. It’s not giving them their fair share in housing benefits.”
While non-Black people of color are also impacted by discrimination, Perry says, “How discrimination is baked into policy is undeniably anti-Black, and that results in worse outcomes for Black people. Nothing has been baked into policies like anti-Black discrimination.”
Belongingness, the intangible but unmistakable state of being welcome, of being in community and accepted, is the very idea that the Trump administration has fought against, Perry explains, so disbelief in the promises our government makes is understandable—even reasonable.
But “we should believe in our elders and ancestors who understood that this is a long fight that will probably [continue] beyond our lifetimes, and we must work, leverage voting, and engage civically [so that] our children and their children can reap the benefits of the American Dream—to demand, to make sure, that Black Lives Matter.”
Perry grew up very poor. He faced challenges at school because of it, and at times, a sense of displacement at home with Elsie, the woman who took him in and raised him alongside her own children. He had only a tentative relationship with his estranged biological mother, and his father was killed in prison at 27, when Perry was just 8 years old.
They never met, Perry said, but “the more I learned about housing devaluation, the more I learned about Detroit [where he had lived]…. I knew that, yes, he may have died at the hands of another inmate, but he also died because he was an addict who lived in areas that were devalued, [areas without] resources. So, now I choose to tell the story of the policy framework, the devaluation, that led to his death.”
At its core, Perry’s work and research is very personal, intimate and familial, because it’s for and about Black people, and his life experience has made him exceptionally sensitive and conversant in the patterns of socioeconomic disparity—but what he’s doing is also a public service for the common good.
“My struggles with Hotsy, Dot and Patrick Moynihan are with me, and manifested in my work on Black-majority cities,” he shares.
Perry is a Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. He holds a doctorate in education policy and leadership, and has a journalism background. Early in life, he says, “I knew two things: That I could be a great writer, and I could be a great leader because of my writing.”
Indeed, it’s through his writing and leadership that he now influences policy and practices that regulate fair market valuations, real property transactions, and accessibility to quality education for children growing up in divested and gentrifying neighborhoods across the U.S.
Perry fights to dismantle the structures that create inequality, and he wants us to do the same.
“I want people to fight for power,” he says. “It means getting elected. Sometimes it means going [out] in the streets. It means going to court with devaluation data that I’ve produced. It might mean suing the appraisal community. This is going to come through a very litigious [process]. It’s going to take a lot of mobilization, because, again, racism doesn’t just go away. This is a conversation about power, and taking what’s rightfully ours.”
We must do the work now, and with an assumption of belonging.
Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, Perry’s sophomore project, is a publication of Brookings Institution Press. It will be released in May.