Season 01 Episode 01

What Is the Future of Racial Justice Work?

Episode Blog

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has been a staple of corporate America for the past several decades, with peak attention at the height of movements challenging the lack of safety of Black lives post the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020. At an unprecedented rate, Black leadership was visible across industries and as a result, institutions began confronting generations-old practices which created barriers for marginalized communities. But as power concedes nothing, “anti-woke” efforts conspired assaults all the way up to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, many racial justice advocates have long called out the shortcomings of DEI and its cousin affirmative action—neither of which have remedied the second-class citizenry of Black people in America. Thus, our first episode tackles the real question: “What’s next for racial justice advancement?”

 

Chains to Links kicks off with policy expert, professor, and Senior Fellow at Brookings Institute, Dr. Andre M. Perry, author of the book Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.


What Is The Future Of Racial Justice Work? With Dr. Andre M. Perry

Welcome back to the show. My partner in crime, Ify Ike, is not going to be able to join us for this episode, but we are going to hold it down. I am joined by an amazing brother who has built a fantastic body of work over his career. I am so excited to hear his perspective, especially given our work at Black Innovation Alliance is all about closing the racial wealth gap. This brother is going to help to drop some gems to inform our movement in that direction.

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Welcome, Andre Perry. Thank you for joining us.

How are you doing?

I’m good. How are you? 

It’s always a struggle for a Black man in America, but I’m surviving.

Looking good while doing it too.

I try to master fortitude.

We appreciate that. Tell us what has you in DC. Do you live in DC? 

I live in the DMV. I live in the National Harbor. It is Congressional Black Caucus Weekend. We get to hang out with all the muckety mucks.

I call them the blue-blood Black people.

Exactly. The five-button suits and all the fanciness. It’s a good time because you really get to see why we should be gathering. If we’re not talking about the importance of economic and political power, then what are we talking about? In this event, they are our representatives. We need to help them understand what the Black agenda is. That’s why I’m here. I live in the area, work in the area, and play in the area.

Introduction 

You are at the Brookings Institute?

Yes. The Brookings Institution.

They made that shift several years ago, right? I’m still a little slow.

You can call us Brookings.

Brookings for short. Let’s stick with that. That keeps it simple.

That’s right.

That’s a very prestigious appointment. Shout out to you because you have earned it. You’ve been hard at it for a long time. It’s good to see you in that role, representing.

We met years ago when I was doing some work at the Joint Center on a project called Place Matters where we were looking at life expectancy by ZIP code. It’s interesting because I do a project that’s called The Black Progress Index where we look at where Black people are living the longest. We are looking for the highest life expectancy in cities and counties all across the country. Instead of looking at the Black or White disparity, we compare Black people to Black people in different places. 

Is this a new Blue Zones concept thing?

Exactly.

Blue Zones for black people.

What’s interesting is that we find there’s a big range of black people who are living well in their 80s. If there is a Wakanda, it is the DMV. In America, there’s a Wakanda of sorts where, in general, life expectancy is higher. There are certainly some spots where it’s not, but home ownership is generally higher. It is one of the biggest predictors of life expectancy, believe it or not, of the share of Black immigrants in your area and others in education and income.

It’s great to look at where we are doing well because that’s, in general, my project at Brookings. I lead a team called the Valuing Black Assets Initiative where we try to measure the assets in black communities. The point is that many of our assets are strong, but the value is extracted by structural racism. That’s what I do at Brookings.

 

One of our big beliefs at Black Innovation Alliance is that when it comes to wealth creation, there are two big wealth creators around the world. That’s inheritance and entrepreneurship. Typically, for people with a lot of money, when you get to the top ten lists, you don’t get there through home ownership. You get there because you inherited it or you’ve built a business, or you run a business that is making millions, billions, or trillions of dollars. I think about my experience in home ownership. I live in a lovely home. It’s in southwest Atlanta, but if you took my house, put it on the back of a truck, and moved it 20 miles northeast, it would be worth 3, 4, or 5 times as much. I would love to learn more about the premise of the book that you put out.

Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. It’s available wherever fine books are sold.

What’s the thesis of the book?

Racial Disparities In Housing Prices

It gets back to what I talked about, that our assets are much more valuable than they were priced. In 2018, my colleague, Jonathan Rothwell, and I set out to explore home values in black communities compared to white communities. A lot of this started for me going back to my hometown in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. It’s a small municipality surrounded by Pittsburgh on three sides. I went home, and the home was dilapidated, both the roof and infrastructure. The foundation was about to crumble. I looked at the list price. It was worth about $15,000, but the home was worth so much more to me.

As the story was told to me, before I was born, this woman by the name of Elsie Boyd made a deal with my maternal grandmother that she would take me into this home in 1320. At the time, my mother was poor. She already had a child at fifteen. She had me at seventeen. She probably was abused. My father was a heroin addict. He was in and out of prison. He was murdered inside a prison outside of Detroit, so Mom did what a lot of black matriarchs did at the time when families were troubled. She took in children. I was one of the kids. My brothers came along. She reared about 12 to 15 kids.

The home emotionally and physically should be worth a lot more. I started exploring this issue. I said, “Let’s compare our home to homes in other neighborhoods.” Pittsburgh and many places are struggling. We did that at a national level. We compared homes in black neighborhoods where the share of the black population was 50% or higher to those where the share of the black population was a percent or less.

We controlled for. Meaning, we attended to education, crime, walkability, and all those fancy ZillaMetrics so we could get an apples-to-apples comparison. What we found pretty much astounds that homes in black neighborhoods are underpriced by 23%, about $48,000 per home. Cumulatively, there is about $156 billion in lost equity in black neighborhoods. I always put that in perspective so that people can wrap their heads around it.

It’s because they’re black. You controlled for all other factors because somebody would say, “How about the quality of the schools? How about the quality of this and the infrastructure? You controlled for all of that. 

Neighborhood amenities, education, crime, walkability, number of restaurants.

The percentage of black people is the driving force.

It’s the percentage of black people in the area. I put this in perspective. $156 billion would’ve financed more than 4 million black-owned businesses based upon the average amount black people use to start their firms. It would’ve paid for more than 8,000,000 4-year degrees based upon the average amount of a 4-year public education and replaced the pipes in Flint, Michigan 3,000 times over. It would’ve covered all the Hurricane Katrina damages and doubled the annual economic burden of the opioid crisis. This is a big number.

This is why I say, like it keeps my teeth white, that there’s nothing wrong with black people that ending racism can’t solve When things go wrong in black communities, we blame black people. We say it’s everything from their pants sagging to the school or they’re not getting an education, or they’re lazy. Wealth and opportunities are extracted without anyone carrying a tiki torch and wearing a white hood. This is the wealth that we use to lift ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps.

 

The Devaluation Of Black Assets

That’s the premise of my book. It starts off with housing, but guess what? Our businesses and educational institutions are much more valuable than they are priced as well as our political infrastructure. That’s why I take a very asset-based approach. We need to assume that what we are doing is as good or if not better. In the 23% difference, there’s still education and crime. These things are still a problem and still a drag.

Importance Of Entrepreneurship For Black Wealth Creation

In that study, it’s almost like when you look at a black neighborhood and look at the price, it’s as if crime is twice as bad as it is. Education is twice as bad as it is. We need to back off blaming black folk. I’m all for accountability. The reason why I talk about entrepreneurship is because it is a form of self-determination. Whether or not you believe in a system that supports entrepreneurship, it is a manifestation of your effort or of your doing, so I support that. We have to get off this notion that the state of black America is because of us. A lot of our celebrities and a lot of our rappers buy into that.

Challenges To Black Progress

One of the underlying arguments for the Supreme Court justices who carried the vote was that we live in a race-neutral society. Research like yours proves over and over again that while race-neutral might be the aspiration, it is not our reality. How do we get over this hump where we’re supposed to believe we live in a race-neutral society when we have proven over and over again that racism is alive and well and has real-life implications for people of color every single day, especially black people?

I answer it this way. I’ve talked a lot about the Supreme Court decisions. Remember that for most of American history, it was legal to discriminate, so hearing what the court feels about us is nothing new. We still have to keep pressing on. From a legal standpoint, we still have to understand that there is an argument. What do you do with a population that’s been discriminated against regardless of your race or ethnicity? You still have to deal with injury.

I’m not getting into a conversation about reparation, but to make the point. When 9/11 victims were injured, we found resources. When businesses had to shutter for the pandemic because of our social distancing, we found the resources. There was another type of social distancing that occurred for generations. We should find the resources.

This is what drives me nuts about these conversations because I don’t always make economic cases for equity, but there’s a moral imperative. There is an economic issue here. Black people represent about 14% of the population but only 2% of employer firms. If the share of employer firms matches the population, we would have 800,000 more businesses in the United States. There would be millions of people hired, trillions added to the economy, GDP increases, and innovation. There are a lot of people who cut their noses despite what they face every single day in the name of white supremacy, merit, or whatever they want to call it. We still have to understand that we have to keep pressing on.

One of the studies I’m proud of is on business development. We scraped all the Yelp data from businesses all across the country, and then we controlled spending power, education, and all of that. We found that black, brown, and Asian-owned firms score as high, if not higher, on Yelp than their white counterparts in terms of quality. However, they get lower scores and less revenue when they’re situated in black neighborhoods.

The perception of the neighborhood influences the perception of the business. Why that’s problematic is because, one, if you’re a quality business, you should be rewarded as such. When you’re not, you’re forcing high-quality businesses to compete with low-quality businesses. You’re getting less revenue. More importantly, our elders had a saying for this. They would say, “Our ice is as cold.” It holds up empirically. 

 

Are you saying that we do not live in a meritocracy? Is that what I’m hearing? 

We do not. That’s pretty clear. The thing is that hasn’t stopped us from being our best. The work that I do is a result of many researchers who are a lot better than me doing that work many years ago. I get to wear nice fancy suits and sit on luxurious couches because someone put in the work We got to put in the work.

Can we talk about that a little bit?

Yeah.

When you came in, you mentioned you’re here because our legislators need help in building a black agenda. I remember years ago, this was a common idea or concept, a black agenda. I remember growing up, there was a black slate that was delivered to your house. The black slate told you all the people you needed to vote for based on who was stomping for black people.

All of those institutions, whether it’s black agenda or black slates, have gone away, or if they haven’t gone away, they’re under the radar. What do we need to do to get back to a place where everybody got the hymnal and everybody knows when we say, “Turn to page 23,” this is what it means, and this is how we need to show up.

I blame myself for this. I include myself. There was a time in the community where you had to prove your credit. In the research community, to prove your credit is to provide information in a way that people can consume and use in a way that will advance their conditions. As a community of scholars and researchers, we have got to come together, work through whatever differences and personal agendas, and create that slate to create the space. It might be during the CBC. It might be once a year. You have the Urban League putting out stuff. You have the NAACP putting out stuff. With that stated, we do need an agenda that people can hold and that is vetted because not everything holds up.

If you have a social media profile and you’ve got 100,000, 200,000, or 1 million followers, what you say holds more credence in the African American community than what’s coming out of the ivory tower. When I graduated with my PhD, I decided that I was not going to stay in the academy because I had the same tension to say, “I got into this work because I wanted to give back to the community.” Being in the ivory tower makes it difficult to do that. You have done a yeoman’s job of it because you still stay very connected to the people and on the ground, but it’s difficult for academics to permeate the ivory tower.

Similar to a lot of our legacy black organizations, they struggle. We all know that it’s a touchy subject, but the infrastructure that we had during the Civil Rights Movement and even years ago when direct mail mattered. This is not to say that direct mail doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t matter as much as it mattered years ago. We haven’t figured out how we build the digital infrastructure that allows us to do that, to reach all 60 million or however million black people there are out there.

Somebody is doing it. Amazon is doing it. TikTok is doing it. Facebook is doing it. X is doing it. How do we figure that out? How do we build the infrastructure and not only build the agenda? There are a lot of brilliant people that if you bring them together over a weekend, they can hash that out. It’s about the deployment of it.

We have the infrastructure. We have the people to do it. There are times when things do come together. I don’t want to discount what 2020 did for us. It’s not that it solved everything, but we were generally on the same page on a lot of things. It showed you how difficult it is to sustain something over time because certainly, the anger won’t sustain. At some point, you have to also have institutions and practices that sustain the emotion.

For me, I want as a researcher to create those mechanisms. Over the course that I’ve been at Brookings, which is six years, I’ve had a significant impact, largely because I can connect with organizations, do things like this, and stay grounded. It adds value to people’s lives. I will say this about our black institutions. They are treated like black people.

In many of our HBCUs, for instance, a report came out that showed the systemic under-resourcing of our state institutions. There is a lack of resources there, but not because of us. We have to figure out new ways to increase the wealth of our institutions so we can do the kinds of activities that we need to do. It’s hard work. We have to keep pressing on. I’m encouraged. I don’t fall into the Afro-pessimistic camp.

 

Hope For The Future

I look to the doers for hope. There are a lot of people doing it. Any success that I have is really predicated on somebody else’s small success or failure. We have to keep that perspective that this is a long-range game, and not just in America. We got to go to antiquity to understand that, “Pharaoh, let my people go,” type of thing. This is not a 400-year struggle. When you put into context what black people have done over the years, it is nothing short of remarkable.

Agreed.

We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but I’m encouraged.

Andre Perry’s Current Focus

What are you on your soapbox about? What really gets under your skin? What is it every time you get a chance to rail about it?

I’m going to stick to housing. For the audience, this might seem a little wonky, but you are going to get what you get what you get. About a year and a half, Freddie and Fannie started including rental payments in their underwriting practices. Why is that important? It’s because it enables banks to create mortgages where you don’t necessarily need a down payment because you can back it up with rental property.

There are what they call special purpose credit programs where you can create new mortgage products. We don’t have to say, “Give a black person a special mortgage.” If you pay your rent on time, you can qualify for these mortgages. Why it also was important that Freddie and Fanny included in the underwriting practices is the banks can sell these mortgages on the secondary market. I didn’t want to get to that.

That makes me nervous anytime anybody talks about the secondary market because that makes me think of 2008.

You’re right, but why is this different? This is completely different. You’re talking about these prime borrowers, these folks who are doing everything right before they were giving out mortgages to a lot of people who didn’t necessarily qualify. We’re saying, “Let’s give mortgages to invisible prime borrowers.” If you live in DC and you’re paying rent, you can afford a mortgage. If you’re paying rent 3 or 5 years in a row, you can afford a mortgage. You need a product that matches your situation.

This is the thing that is a reality. A lot of black people didn’t get the intergenerational wealth transfer. If your grandfather owned a home, you might have a down payment. If you don’t, you could scrimp, scrawl, do all those things, and not get a down payment. You do everything right. We need products that recognize true merit, not merit because of what your grandfather got.

That’s an aristocracy, not a meritocracy.

That’s right. This is how I describe it. There’s this architecture of inequality, and we have to dismantle that. We need a new architecture that allows for people who could not participate in markets fully to participate.

Can we talk about the new products piece on the business side? A hot topic in our space is venture funding and venture capital. You saw the litigation directed towards the Fearless Fund. Black women receive 0.35% of venture funding. White men receive 96% of venture funding. To be clear, most startups and businesses are not a good fit for a venture.

In so many different ways, one could argue VC isn’t for black people, but the other option is debt-based lending and banking. There are but so many products out there for black businesses and a lot of them are predatory. Are you seeing any bright light on the product side when it comes to business in similar ways that you’re exploring on the housing side?

Not in that way. I have to remain hopeful for venture capital. There is a brother, Nasir Quadree of Zeal Capital. There is an organization called Known that fashions itself as the BlackRock for people of color. BlackRock is a big financial service. By and large, when it comes to venture capital, it is such a small percentage of funding for all businesses.

With that said, if people have to take a big bet, I say to take a big bet on the really underappreciated assets in our country, and that’s black people. Meaning, if you add water, it will grow. They can’t figure that out. I’m not saying all businesses get venture capital. Not all businesses are built for venture. We do have tech firms that their ice is as cold. You are going to get the outsize returns if you can see that their ice is as cold.

Thinking about black people as an asset makes me nervous because that’s how we enter into this American market, as the ultimate asset or as property.

I mean that metaphorically.

I was giving you some insight into my guttural response.

When you see all these YouTube things about a high-value man and all that, I try to go, “I know what you’re trying to say.”

We nerdy types can overanalyze everything. I know that it’s my truth, so I recognize it for what it is. That is the underlying theme of the show. What does it mean to go from being owned to being an owner? That is a mindset shift. Those are hard conversations that we as people need to have because there are some things that we are going to have to let go of and some ways of being and doing that may have served us in the past that will not necessarily serve us moving forward. How do we unpack that and do that work?

I have always said that if America is going to be a true meritocracy, it will mean that black ownership rates are higher than other groups. That’s when you know something has changed. For that reason, we were the assets that were bought and sold on mortgage. We talk a lot about wealth, assets, and things like that, but it’s really about power. How much power do you have?

Entrepreneurship, ownership, home ownership, business ownership, commercial property, and real estate ownership are forms of power. There’s not one that we have to do, but we do need power. On the homeownership front, I do believe that we need more home ownership. More importantly, we need stable, reliable, and predictable places to live. That’s more important. We’ve made it into this wealth-building thing. In this country, it is, but you should be able to thrive without necessarily owning a home. We should not commodify certain values.

For me, I want to always remind it. I’m glad you brought up this whole asset conversation. For me, it’s about power. What kind of power do we need and have? Even on the homeownership front, that’s a colonial idea. It’s this idea that your property rights determine not only your value but how much control you have in a community.

Our democracy was created to protect a White man’s ability to preserve his property.

That’s right.

We have to be stewards.

That’s right.

Thank you so much. This conversation has woken me up. I’m excited to dig into your book because it has a lot of what we’re trying to do at the Black Innovation Alliance. Thank you for your time.

It’s Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. It’s available wherever fine books are sold.

We know where we can find the book. Where can people find you?

They can reach me at Andre Perry on all social platforms. You can reach out to Brookings institutions. Read the research. We got a ton of research and understandable tools.

Thank you. Thanks, everybody, for joining us on this episode. Until next time.

Important Links

GUESTS

Building the 21st Century Civil Rights Movement, Today

Frontiers, Pioneers and Pace Setters: Leading While Black in the Innovation Economy

Commas, Currency and Collective Economics

Innovation & Sustainability as Birthright

Introducing The Equity Mindset

Before we were Black

The Modern Undergrounds

What Is the Future of Racial Justice Work?

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