Week 216 in Detroit.
One reason I continue to return to the topic of history, particularly American history, in the wake of the protests and marches demanding a response to police brutality and systemic racism is that I work in a position to try to make changes. To be clear, we all do when it comes to standing up for basic human rights and the value of a human life — guilty or innocent or presumed innocent. (I know social media is a place of mixed emotions for some people. Some view it as a tool, some as a poison and some as a right to air their opinions. But I saw something on social media not that long ago that has stuck in my mind — “Police are not supposed to kill guilty people either.” It made me think more broadly, which I suppose is the point of social media in the first place.)
Working in financial services or real estate or education means dealing with the question of how to address the history of discrimination and racism.
I have returned to history over the last few weeks and again this week because it is the history that informs the present and can help us ensure we do not repeat the same mistakes. Understanding the history can help us be more informed about the pain & suffering of Blacks and people of color in our communities and in our county. Understanding history can help us recognize, acknowledge and address the lasting implications. Understanding history validates the inequity and directs us on a path to greater equality and opportunity.
Understanding history is not as easy as it seems.
This week alone I had my eyes opened to three different examples where history was either untold or retold a slightly different way. The Civil War. Real Estate Discrimination. Housing Discrimination.
Learning from history
The first thing, earlier this week, that caught my attention was a question asking — how did you learn about the Civil War? I read that slavery is mentioned 80 times the Articles of Succession of the Confederate States. I hadn’t really given much thought to actually reading the Articles of Succession. Even in college, I took Political Science and American Studies classes but always took for granted the Articles of Succession. I mean, the South lost, and so I never took the time to read the declaring act.
This sparked an interesting conversation between Meredith, my wife, and I about how we were taught about the Civil War. I grew up in York, Pennsylvania and remember learning about states’ rights and abolitionists but that the Civil War was “more than just slavery.” Meredith grew up in Brentwood, New Hampshire and remembers learning the Civil War was about slavery. Full stop.
So I tried to find the Articles of Succession and see what it felt like to read them. Here’s the link I used. (Sidenote: Constitution.org does not list the Civil War under their threats to the Constitution section or mention the Articles of Succession anywhere that I could find.)
Georgia: Slavery. “While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen.”
Mississippi: Slavery. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.” (Opening line)
South Carolina: States’ rights. “Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted…FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE.”
Also, South Carolina, later: Slavery. “The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.”
Texas: Slavery. Texas, referred to throughout as “she,” describes being welcomed into the Confederacy. “She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy.”
Virginia: Slavery. End to opening paragraph: “…having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.”
My thought to include this history here was to underscore how deeply engrained perceptions of identity and freedom (or lack thereof) are in our national story. It does matter that it was about slavery and not about states’ right. It also matters that we were taught, at least some of us, that it was (primarily) about states’ rights. It’s a forgiveness of sorts. Reframing the whole story as states’ rights intentionally alleviates the responsibility of those included to own the discrimination.
There is a similar risk in reframing or allowing for the reframing of housing discrimination or redlining as a Depression-era problem and later issues to be broad economic or systemic factors too broad to be attributed to housing.
Housing is at the core of both ongoing systemic racism AND potential solutions to the wealth gap between whites and communities of color.
When I wrote earlier about being in a position to impact change, housing, real estate and financial services are the foundation of stability and community development.
In a meeting this week with NAREB Executive Director Antoine Thompson, Mr. Thompson mentioned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the NAREB convention at the Fairmont Hotel on August 10, 1967. Dr. King recognized housing as foundational to equality.
NAREB exists specifically because the National Association of Realtors (NAR) would not allow Black members.
Finally, I received a timely and important history lesson from my friend Shana Chrisman. I hope she is ok that I just declared us friends. I was on a Zoom call with her husband, Rob, and our friend Brian Levy. Shana schooled us on an aspect of the GI Bill that I did not realize had occurred to specifically and intentionally exclude Black veterans from the benefits rightfully granted by Congress.
The GI Bill does not explicitly exclude Black servicemen. Instead, in passing the GI Bill, the chair of the House Veterans Committee, John Rankin, foresaw the potential for Black men to be granted college educations, homes and more. Rankin, Mississippi Congressman, had previously defended segregation, opposed interracial marriage and even proposed legislation to confine & deport those of Japanese heritage during WWII.
Congressman Rankin arranged that the benefits flowing from the GI Bill be administered by individual states and private financial institutions, instead of the federal government. Even though the GI Bill guaranteed low-interest mortgages and other loans, the VA did not administer the loans. Banks were able to make it difficult or impossible for Blacks to apply or get approved. Colleges were able to limit acceptance and Blacks were directed to historically black colleges and universities (many became quickly overwhelmed due to the influx and lacking of additional financial support).
The builders, knowing the funding was all but guaranteed for Veterans to obtain new homes, literally created the American suburbs. Opportunities directed and accessible to white Veterans where impeded or blocked to Black Veterans further ensuring the history of redlining continued into another generation.
While I don’t have specific policies or programs ready to publish today, I do believe it is on our industry — real estate and mortgage — to respond. We must have a response that directly addresses the history and provides opportunity for a new generation of homebuyers into the future.
We’re about to face another easy excuse. Housing supply. There is not enough housing, and hasn’t been for a long time, to ensure that home values will continue to rise and homeownership will get further and further out of reach for many Americans. It will be easy for realtors or mortgage companies to point to the lack of supply as a legitimate reason why there are not more transactions or mortgages flowing to people of color and first-time home buyers. That is not good enough. We have to remember the history and do better. That includes Congress, of course, but it cannot only be about federal funding. We must do better.
Following up on additional history, I wanted to pass along a Forbes article about the stories of the men and women behind Black Wall Street which I wrote about last week. “The significant thing about Greenwood is it was not just a Black thing,” says James O. Goodwin. “It was quintessential America.”
I loved that quote, but check out the link for more stories of the people that built up Greenwood and then lost everything.
Short term focus has immediate results but over time erodes value overall. Long term investment in human capital, especially values AND value, are actually in the best interest of shareholders despite a slightly lower immediate return. Biggest risk to shareholders is instability, yet short term shareholder value is the goal of many companies and a potential contributing factor to instability.
For instance, Robert Gordon, professor of economics at Northwestern University, put it this way, ”Economic inequality has been building over decades, fueled by structural racism and inequalities in the U.S. educational, financial, and health-care systems. Also at work: a shift toward prioritizing shareholder value over other corporate stakeholders — such as employees and customers — that began in the 1980s.”
A short term focus would claim that no single company is in a position to address structural racism and therefore the company cannot justify focusing resources on economic inequality. A long term focus recognizes that by addressing the wealth gap in America creates stability and value which will in turn result in more customers and predictable markets in the future. The widening income gap is a systemic risk to EVERYONE not just those missing out on income and opportunities. Addressing the wealth gap lowers risks to the company and creates conditions for the lasting success of the company. Otherwise known as true shareholder value.
Until we begin finding a way to expand the way we evaluate and talk about shareholder value, we’re going to continue short term thinking that increases instability overall. More on this in a Barron’s article from earlier this week.
Leadership. The difference between not being racist and antiracist. Companies large and small are searching for the right response to team members and customers in the wake of the outcry for protecting black and people of color from police brutality, combating racism and reversing systemic inequality.
Those are massive issues in society and it can be overwhelming to imagine addressing those as 1 company or even 1 product team. That’s why it requires consistent focus and small changes that lead to big impact.
I had a conversation this week with James Chapman, the Founder & CEO of Plain Sight. Plain Sight is a social networking app allowing members of co-working spaces to quickly learn about and collaborate with others using the same space. One design feature his company made was not to include pictures. It may seem like a mistake at first glance. We’re so used to social media profiles requiring a picture. Asking the simple question — why do we need pictures if this is about the work and collaboration? — can change the entire design and impact of the site. What’s more, the choice can be intentional. It is not just about being a different kind of social media site but also about laying values like combating inherent bias into our products and platforms.
Consider it in yourself before you begin work on your company or team:
“Here’s a simple definition: Inclusive leaders leave every person and every room better than they found it.” — Vanessa Tanicien, LifeLabs Learning
Inclusive leadership means extra intention when sourcing ideas and sparking discussion. Here are 4 habits to get started:
One of the questions I’m bringing to my next round of 1:1s is “How are you feeling about ____________?” Asking, listening and demonstrating openness. Open yet direct. A simple step that starts a progress that can grow from there.
Extra intention to value and create inclusion.
Homeownership rates — worldwide. Another conversation that came up with Rob and Brian this week was how the US stacks up in homeownership rate against other countries. I decided to try to find a list. Here’s what I found.
Rankings by % of the population:
Top 3 — Romania, Slovakia, Singapore
Peers just above or below the US — Israel, Canada, France, UK
Bottom 3 — Switzerland, Hong Kong, Germany
Quote and Bonus Content in one: I spent 3 days this week in a leadership development course and one of the facilitators made a comment about balancing yes and no. What you say no to is far more important than what you say yes to. In fact, saying no is the only thing that ensures you can actually commit to the yes.
Here’s the quote the facilitator left us with: “Every yes must be protected by 1,000 no’s.” — Old Russian Proverb.
It’s an obvious concept but one that is difficult to actualize. I’m using this quote as a helpful and important reminder. The hard part will be employing actual steps and discipline to see them through. Game on.
Continued success and continue to answer well,