Systemic Racism Lives

Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott in front of their Baltimore home Photo credit: New York Times

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those folks on this blog who keep denying that systemic racism either ever existed or is still a factor in today’s society, I offer an incident reported in today’s New York Times as evidence that systemic racism is still alive and operating to discriminate against Blacks.

Last summer, a Black couple in Baltimore, Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott, decided to take advantage of low mortgage rates and refinance their home. They found a lender willing to lend them the money. However, the appraisal for the house came in at $472,000, only $22,000 more than what they had paid for the house five years ago. Keep in mind that home values had been escalating significantly over the past few years.

Dr. Connolly, who is a history professor at Johns Hopkins University, and whose special area of research has been the role of race in the housing market, thought he knew why the appraisal came in much lower that they had anticipated.

To test his theory, the couple tried an experiment. A few months later, they applied for refinancing with a different loan company which used a different appraisal company. Before the appraiser arrived, the couple removed all their family pictures, replacing them with pictures of white families they had borrowed; removed all their childrens’ drawings from walls, refrigerator, etc.; cleared their bookshelves of books by Black authors; and hung art bought from Ikea that showed White people. Finally, instead of the couple and their children being in the home when the appraiser came, as was the case the first time, a White colleague from Johns Hopkins answered the door and showed the appraiser around. In summary, the house had been “whitewashed.”

The second appraisal? $750,000. They got their refinancing.

The first appraiser selected as comps homes valued in the $435,000-$545,000 range. At least one was in another, majority-Black neighborhood. (The home being appraised is in a majority-White neighborhood.) The couple is suing the first loan company, the appraisal company, and the appraiser.

This is not an isolated incident. Similar examples abound from all regions of the country. See here and here. In some instances, a mixed-race couple was involved. For the second appraisal, only the White partner was at home. In other cases, they did what the Baltimore couple did—removed Black-oriented pictures, art, and books by Black authors. In each instance, after the house was “whitewashed,” the appraisal went up.