"Know your Price," | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Andre Perry uncovers the jumble of historical and present-day socio-economic circumstances that continue to support the racial wealth divide in the United States. His recent scholarship has analyzed Black-majority cities and institutions in the U.S. and focused on valuable assets worthy of increased investment. “Know Your Price” amplifies his research and observations by relating firsthand experiences, referencing historical facts, and assessing current social issues.
Perry takes readers on a tour of six Black majority cities whose assets and strengths have been deliberately undervalued. He demonstrates that the downplaying of the personal strengths of Blacks and the fiscal devaluation of their neighborhoods in these cities has had a far-reaching, detrimental economic effect on the whole nation. He notes, in particular, the deep-seated resilience of Blacks who have navigated racist governmental policies that have “created housing, education and wealth disparities” in order to find ways to survive and sometimes prosper.
The tour begins in the author’s hometown of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, where Perry grew up extremely poor. He faced challenges at school and a sense of displacement at home with Elsie, the woman who raised him alongside her own children because he was estranged from his biological mother; his father was killed in prison at 27 when Perry was just 8-years-old. The city of Wilkinsburg, in contrast to its prosperous neighbor Pittsburgh, faces multiple roadblocks in attracting industry and new jobs.
The five other Black majority cities Perry discusses are Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham and Washington DC. Perry analyzes the worth of Black people's intrinsic gifts, real property, and traditional institutions like the Black Church and educational institutions in each. He sees these assets as a source of empowerment and charts a way to utilize these assets to gain and maintain equity between Black and White communities.
The author reports on the facts about the practice of redlining neighborhoods and the more recent phenomena of gentrifying old city neighborhoods making housing so expensive Blacks can no longer maintain or purchase homes in those areas. He also reports that across the U.S., where less than 1% of the population is Black, the median listing for a home is $341,000 compared with $184,000 in majority-Black neighborhoods. He adeptly demonstrates that a sustained disparity of this size does not happen by chance, but by design. Through deliberate planning and organization, the White establishment has used bias and discrimination to bring about property valuations. Authorities have consistently made racism a guiding and intrinsic policy in all aspects of city life. “And that's why I say throughout the book, ‘there's nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can't solve.’”
He elucidates ways Blacks have skillfully circumnavigated the systems and structures that have impeded them in a discriminatory society and repeatedly argues that the racial inequity in the United States is not happenstance but intentional and must be overcome.
Perry concludes by calling on city leaders to dismantle systemic racism and make the undoing of structural inequality a priority. His current work is focused on policies and practices that set fair market valuations, provide sound real estate contracts, and deliver quality education for children growing up in divested and gentrifying neighborhoods.
About the author
Andre M. Perry is a Senior Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. He is a scholar-in-residence at American University and a columnist for the Hechinger Report.