Speaking Of Structural Racism…

Discussions of Critical Race Theory are worse than useless, since most of the people arguing about CRT have absolutely no idea what it is. It has simply become the most recent wedge issue employed by the portion of America’s population intent upon protecting White privilege.

In other words, a distraction.

Why–you might well ask–do these angry people need a distraction? Since I’m not a psychiatrist (nor do I play one on TV), I can’t provide a truly satisfactory answer to that question. But as Americans continue to confront–or refuse to recognize– elements of our social landscape that document how inequitable that landscape truly is, a recent paper issued by The Brookings Institution may prove instructive.

It’s one thing to talk– as we academic types tend to do–about abstractions like “systemic racism.” Those abstractions are frequently dismissed by the people who become defensive in any discussion of unfairness based upon race. The Brookings study is more concrete; rather than talking in abstract terms, it paints a picture of what systemic racism is and does.

In September, Freddie Mac released a groundbreaking analysis of the U.S. home appraisal industry. Consistent with concerns raised by critics, they found that homes in Black and Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods are much more likely than homes in white neighborhoods to be valued below what a buyer has offered to pay.

A homeowner here in Indianapolis recently documented that appraisal bias.

The Brookings researchers found that Black neighborhoods were associated with much lower property values, and that only a relatively small portion of that effect could be explained by physical characteristics and neighborhood amenities.

Median home values in majority Black census tracts are 55% lower than median home values in non-Latino or Hispanic white census tracts. Part of this difference is attributable to quality differences between the housing stock. Lower wealth in Black communities means that homes in majority Black neighborhoods tend to be older, smaller, and more likely to be attached than homes in neighborhoods with few or no Black people. Lower wealth and lower home values further hinder the ability of Black homeowners to pay for structural improvements to the home and access mortgage refinancing to pay for renovations.

There are also differences in neighborhood quality that show up in housing price differences. Local schools are often less desirable—at least as measured by publicly available test scores accessible to home buyers—in majority Black neighborhoods than in non-Black neighborhoods. Some other characteristics of Black neighborhoods are more desirable, such as access to public transportation and proximity to local stores, but on average, they do not make up for the less desirable features. These structural and neighborhood characteristics explain some of the value penalty to housing in Black neighborhoods, which shrinks to 23% from 55% after adjusting for these factors.

That still leaves a lot of lost value. We estimate that losses amount to $48,000 per home and $156 billion cumulatively in majority Black neighborhoods.

The question is: What explains this?

In the linked paper, the scholars consider–and carefully rebut–criticisms of their research methodology. Interestingly, they also show that White-only neighborhoods are over-valued relative to Black neighborhoods.

Later in the paper, they return to that Freddie Mac study.

A team of economists and data scientists at Freddie Mac analyzed more than 12 million appraisals for purchase transactions submitted to Freddie Mac from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2020 through the Uniform Collateral Data Portal (UCDP). Freddie Mac is a government-sponsored enterprise chartered to buy mortgages from banks in order to lower the cost and increase the supply of residential loans. In practice, their strict standards set the industry norm for what qualifies as an acceptable loan, and they have access to uniquely detailed data on mortgages submitted by banks.

The research team’s main finding is that homes located in majority Black neighborhoods and majority Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods are significantly more likely to have appraisals submitted to Freddie Mac that are below the contract price when compared to homes in majority white (not Latino or Hispanic) neighborhoods.

The research finds “strong evidence that appraisers discriminate against majority Black and majority Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods. They note in passing that their conclusions track with other other studies, including those showing that Black people are around 36% less likely to be called back for a job than white people with identical resumes.

This is what we mean when we talk about “systemic” racism.

No one is burning a cross on a Black person’s lawn, but the effects are–if anything–more detrimental.


  1. “Finding your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates

    I have fallen in love with this program. It explores American History in a very watchable and understandable manner. It is often eye opening and sad as well. I find the stories of our fellow citizens family stories amazing. It bring the horror and courage and joy to life. For the open minded who are curious about our history, this is a wonderful offering from OUR PBS .

  2. This Pat agrees with patmcc. “finding Your Roots” is an excellent visit to American history. So is “High on the Hog” on Netflix.

  3. Sheila writes, “What explains this?”

    I don’t know, but long before our formation as a country, we were colonies of the British Empire who extracted Africans from Africa and used them as slaves – free labor.

    Let me rephrase, the British Oligarchs who worked at the behest of the British Empire used slaves for free labor for the kingdom.

    Then they used them when colonizing the United States of America. At the time that we decided that pay taxes to the British rulers when we had no representation, we decided to revolt and form our own government, those slaves were considered 3/5ths of a human.

    After General Grant won the Civil War and declared their freedom, he took 40 acres and a mule from the Southern Plantation owners and gave them to the slave families so they start their new life as free peoples.

    The Northern Oligarchs who ran the Union were appalled at Grant’s decision and took the property away from the freed slaves and gave it back to the Southern Oligarchs with interest.

    Then the Northern Oligarchy gave free land to any white man who ventured West to settle on land stolen from the Native American Indians. These same Oligarchs started colleges to train the peasants how to farm. Whites only need to apply.

    I am pretty sure MLK, Jr. covered all this in the 60s during his tour in the Deep South’s white churches and much more. He told the poor whites how they’d been getting screwed by the Oligarchy since our formation and even before. He was going to Washington to demand reparations check from the government which was controlled by the Oligarchy. It was called the Poor Man’s Campaign and it was after the Civil Rights Act was signed.

    He came to realize that our country and its people were getting screwed by this Oligarch who controlled the government and oppressed the people – not just black people.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (murdered) before he got to Washington. The Oligarchy couldn’t allow him to tell the people the TRUTH because they might get peeved. He was murdered by a stooge for the CIA in 1968. I believe they called them “patsy’s.”

    This is the Executive Summary of systemic racism. It’s also a sub-plot of why journalism isn’t about truth-telling, but it’s about propaganda (spinning the truth).

    It’s also a hint as to who’s favor the truth is spun and why Americans have been in a hypnotic state ever since roughly post WW2. 😉

  4. Anyone who chooses to open his/her eyes should be able to recognize systemic racism. I once applied for a credit card while living at 36th and Washington Boulevard. I was turned down. Two months later, with no change in circumstance except a move to Irvington, I applied for and received a credit card from that same company.

    If we truly search our own habits and reactions, we might even find there is a bit of racism in each of us. Do you have just a slight amygdala tickle when seeing a black man coming down the street? That’s racism. Crossing the street reinforces it. Deciding to smile and say hello to that man is a counter to that racism. It might even help eliminate that tickle the next time.

  5. “White Flight” and “creative financing” explains the beginning of the problem “The Brookings researchers found that Black neighborhoods were associated with much lower property values, and that only a relatively small portion of that effect could be explained by physical characteristics and neighborhood amenities.” Integration of schools and businesses required to serve blacks followed by busing school children played a huge part in the devaluation of neighborhoods. White families began fleeing neighborhoods where generations of their family had lived due to one black family moving in. Real Estate saw an ideal opportunity to make money and the “creative financing” began moving low income families, primarily black, into homes in areas where they couldn’t maintain and repair homes and maintain mortgage payments. White families began moving to neighborhoods where they believed their children could attend the school in the area where they had been bused to school, often selling at lower than value prices. New busing routes to include schools not included in the original busing arrangements brought about more moves to new areas. Here in Indianapolis we became a transient society, moving further and further from the city. Mayor Hudnut’s 1991 study of “Abandoned Buildings In Indianapolis; Analysis and Recommendations” included developers, businesses, neighborhood organizations, churches, school officials and staff members of the Department of Metropolitan Development who scheduled numerous meetings as more and more people in communities called wanting to be included. Black and white of all groups pointed fingers at busing as a primary local cause for the moves in the lowering values in neighborhoods and the soaring rise in the numbers of abandoned homes in neighborhoods from 4,100 – 5,000 in 1991 to the astronomical numbers today. As I stated yesterday; these are the areas where infrastructure is ignored, further deteriorating property values.

    The primary racist problem can be traced further back in our state history in Eunice Brewer Trotter’s well researched book “Black in Indiana” to the early 1800’s when lawmakers making the laws prohibiting slavery in Indiana maintained slaves themselves and profited by selling their “freed slaves” as indentured servants who had no choice in their situation.

    As always; it can be traced to FOLLOW THE MONEY.

  6. Instead of racism, let’s talk about racial supremacy.

    When I grew up it was in a small village in upstate NY that was transitioning painfully and slowly from a manufacturing economy to hardscrabble times. The homes were nice and moderately well kept but the lawns were small and typically well worn by kids playing. There were weeds and peeling paint but they didn’t stand out as defining the neighborhood. There were no blacks but everyone was a first or more likely a second-generation European descendent so everyone was a white minority.

    Where we live now, Rochester NY suburbs, the economy has been through a similar loss of manufacturing income but transitioned more gracefully and as a result, the extended city has a pretty comfortable well-kept aura to it. We hate weeds in the suburbs and peeling has been largely replaced by plastic exteriors.

    If I drive into the city the homes built before I was are still standing and occupied and mostly rentals, reflecting the lives of the people who live there, mostly black. The main reason they are different in value seems to me to be that they are not owner-occupied or maintained and there is an excess of violent crime that’s right on the edge of out of anyone’s control. It may be caused by a small fraction of the residents but it’s all of the news every night.

    I personally don’t see how the tendency towards renter and criminal could be related to skin color but more is more likely to be attributable to being poor and undereducated in terms of competing in the modern economy. And unspoken, the illusion of white supremacy which is really caused by the longer history everywhere and thereby greater ownership of business by Europeans.

    That seems to me is really a symptom of a more pernicious problem, our tendency to blame all problems on others thereby absolving us from any responsibility and allowing us to bask in the illusion that we are unable to see, much less solve the structural problems. By we, I mean all of us of every race.

    It is not our country going downhill it is the presence of others causing problems. The fact that we all are other to others goes unnoticed. In fact, even the efforts underway by many to work the problem go unnoticed because they suffer also from other-ness.

    Ours is a society and country sliding down a slippery slope.

  7. There is no doubt that systemic racism exists in the country. “(Daniel) Kahneman has observed that humans are never so irrational as when protecting
    their pet ideas.” pg. 29 “Rationality….” Steven Pinker. And the idea that Blacks are 2nd class is a pet idea of way too many of us. So, many attempts
    to explain, or prove, that systemic racism exists, or that White folk have, are given, benefits not experienced by others, go nowhere.
    Joann’s amygdala comment is spot on.

  8. Fear of the other and the whispers in our amygdala manifest in so many different ways i.e. red zoning, destroying black neighborhoods by tearing them down to put in interstates, a criminal injustice system etc.

    If we are going to end system racism we will each as individuals need to stop listening to our amygdalas first. So many logical arguments are really based in fearful premises. People are superb at rationalizing their racist policies and attitudes. White people also need to shut up and listen without judgement or defensiveness. ( And yes, it’s really hard to do.) African-Americans will need to seek to get elected both in all levels of government starting at the local level. African-Americans and white allies will need to share their wealth to empower young African-Americans who want to be entrepeneurs, politicians, doctors, attorneys, artists etc.

    Margaret Meade believed that all social change is created by small groups. I believe that as well. To create that change, we will have to go beyond educating ourselves, beyond advocacy, beyond talking about strategies to end system racism and start enacting those strategies.

  9. In line with JoAnn Green’s post.

    I was raised in a nice neighborhood on the near Northwest side of Indianapolis, just off South Grove golf course, in a house where my father had lived as a child, and that he later inherited. Most of the families — all White of course — had lived in the neighborhood for a generation or more. Most of the people in the neighborhood weren’t wealthy, but they could be described as solidly middle class even several whom owned successful small businesses.

    In the mid-1950’s, suddenly everything changed. It was called “Blockbusting.”

    Real estate agents had observed that if a Black family moved onto an all-White block that magically — within a very brief time — the surrounding White owned homes — one after the other like dominos — were put up for sale and the White families quickly sold and moved away.

    Smelling an opportunity to make some serious money, unscrupulous real estate agents figured out that if they bought a property on a White block and arranged for a Black family to move in, they could quickly get the nearby White homeowners to list and sell their houses by contacting them and warning them that their property values were going to tank because Blacks were moving into the neighborhood. Of course, as Professor Kennedy’s post today substantiates, it was in fact true that the presence of even one nearby Black family meant that the value of your property would be going down. So, it usually didn’t require much persuasion to get White homeowners to sell even without having to play on the darker racist tropes and fears.

    When it began on our block, and the surrounding streets as well, one-by-one the White families, many of whom I had known all my life (I had a paper route, so I knew about everyone on our street and the surrounding streets) moved away and were replaced by Black families.

    My Dad didn’t want to move — he had lived in that house since he was around 8 years old. But within a year or so we were one of the few White families left on the street and surrounding streets. By that time, most of our long-time friends and neighbors had moved away. The schoolmates and friends, who my sister and I had known since starting school, had moved away. My parents finally gave in, put our house on the market, and it was soon sold to a Black family, and we moved to a newer home in the Glendale area.

    That’s systematic racism.

    I’ve pondered over the years the role racism on my parents’ part played in their decision to sell and move. I’ve concluded that they weren’t blatant racists. But they were a product of their times and how they were raised. Thus, I believe their fears and apprehensions about living in a nearly all Black neighborhood were a large part of their reasons for leaving, although there were other non-racist factors that made a move to the (then) suburbs a good choice for them and my sister and me at the time.

  10. Todd: points made, and true,as i witness in discussion with the blue collar class,ya dont bring up this subject when minorities are in the crowd,i do however ask the majority with whites while in discussion,about why the minorities are in such a socioeconomic state.we,as i the white person,put them there.. ive gotten many a stare,like, i didnt quite catch that,or,er,ummm..
    they silently agree. the next comment,how come they just dont leave.. well again,how, they have fewer resources or possibly,anyone outside that will or could get them a hand up,not a hand out. critical race theory in a nut shell..
    when gerations pass down the same ideals,they only get paved thicker. i have enjoyed the conversations on my level,and its getting better. seems since the idiot on the stage is getting drowned out. theres a new move the last few years and its violent. beyond the decades past. white supremicst have now gain some sort of its o.k. to scare the shit out of the regular folks and then comment were in the way..i hope the odds of them as a majority will never see daylight. but,as we see, the so called republican party is somewhere, not quite sure where. seems the names and exploits are getting plenty of air,now if we can use some blue collar terms to define the right,and make it easier for the less educated to understand the total issue. i can relate here and further in journals and stories from dedicated journalists who keep us informed. but the less educated dont read,beyond the headlines,and murdoch has substantually changed the direction of wordom. most every conversation i have above whats yelled in someones ear,becomes a mouth hanging open encounter. i dont know how many people here know of one person unemployed,as i dont know any,were all working in the blue collar class. and this is always the subject to people who cant get amazon class service over the counter. supply chain issues, id have to say,theres probably more jobs than people today,when you look at the overall picture,750K died,4.5 million retired,moms that can not find child care,even affordable,and well, of ya ever looked in those back doors at the low wage jobs,the migrant isnt visable.. now who do we point that finger at? labor stats be damn, the wages suck,and were still in the same cubicle. inflation now is merely profiteering,tax it,and it stops.

  11. Many moons ago I was at various times Chairman of the Board of Directors of two different Savings & Loan insitutions before the demise of that industry. Mortgage buyers such as Freddie Mac let us know that redlining was a no-no, but like Holmes once described the hearsay rule “as being chiefly known for its breach rather than any adherence to it,” redlining (the deliberate attempt to not sell real estate of minorities in majority neighborhoods) was generally but not always practiced by real estate sales people and others which was beyond the control of financiers. See as follows.

    Equity in real estate forms the only wealth millions who live from paycheck to paycheck have, and what we used to call “blockbusters” were not the bad guys in those days; it was the real estate agents who managed a blockbust (aka a black family in a white neighborhood) and then harvesting gangbuster commissions from the sale of white homeowners who quickly vacated their old neighborhoods. So who were the racists? All of them. Systemic? Yes.

    What to do about our barely disguised South African experience in the making? I don’t know, but I think it is a learned rather than a genetic liability but with a lack of expertise I’ll leave that problem to sociologists and psychiatrists – a liability not easy to cure since it may be too late for such experts to reverse an already-learned generation to generation bias in their juvenile patients.

  12. When I read this I immediately thought about the process of gentrification that is going on in many communities across the US. In a systematic way it increases the value of homes in previously predominate black neighborhoods. Usually though, those blacks remaining in the neighborhoods gain little from this process. While their home value has increased they are seldom in a position to sell their home and buy another so they see it as an invasion that is disrupting their way of life.

  13. David F; I lived on Gent Avenue behind School 44, family name is Laxen. Did you have a very pretty sister named Joanne? Drove through a few years ago; heartbreaking and the school surrounded by an 8 foot tall chain link fence. Talked to a few other friends who had driven through shortly before I did; they were stopped by police and asked what they were doing in the area. Told police they wanted to see their old neighborhood and homes; police escorted them out of the neighborhood and told them not to come back.

  14. @ JoAnn:
    Don’t know if you recall, but we’ve had a couple of conversations in the past on Professor Kennedy’s blog (Thank you, Professor for letting us hijack your blog!) about the fact we were both IPS #44 kids at one time. Me up until the 5th-6th grade. I can’t say I recall you or your family name from back in those days but sounds like you might have been in class or two ahead of me. Also, my memories of those days aren’t what they used to be. My year and a half older sister’s name is Janice. So, you might be thinking of her — she is pretty; doesn’t look a thing like me. I do have a photo of my sister’s IPS 44 Grade 7A-8B Class photo from 1957-58. Perhaps you are among the young faces in it.

    Have been living in Tucson since 2011 and have only been back in Indy once in those 10 years. It’s been a long time since I visited the old neighborhood. Really can’t recall the last time I went through there. I’m sure the whole area has unfortunately seen much better days and parts are pretty rough. Our old house was torn down a long time ago and turned into an overflow parking lot for the church down on the corner on Riverside Dr. So not lots of reasons to go back now.

  15. Sheila; I join David F in thanking you. David I graduated in 1951; I think my youngest brother, Billy Joe, graduated in the 1957-58 class. Principal Mrs. Ambroze resigned when the 1952 class was integrated. Better news is that a later Vice Principal at 44, Dr. Vic Smith, worked to start the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, ICPE, 10 years ago and remains on their Board of Directors.

  16. Sheila’s comments regarding the issue of Critical Race Theory doesn’t address the actual application of CRP in this country. Todd Smekens points out the horrible history of racism as occurred after the Civil War. Please read his article above and ask yourself if you were taught the history of what happened after the civil war. I doubt anyone, nor their teachers taught that indelible racism and the continuance of similar actions to this day.
    We’re making headway today, still at a snails pace, because the present day oligarchs don’t want ACTUAL HISTORY TO BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS, and that history is the substance of “Critical Race Theory”.
    I cannot understand the opposition to teaching what REALLY happened in this country from the first slaves brought here by the British through the systemic racism that exists today, even though better, still not allowed to be taught!!!

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