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The Urgent Need to Challenge Devaluation

Dr Marcus Bright Headshot 213591 637e62cb81db6

The devaluation of people based on their race has been an enduring factor that has had massive socioeconomic ramifications for centuries. The devaluation of Black people, for example, has been an organizing principle for slavery, Black codes, Jim Crow Laws, and redlining among other systems and instruments of marginalization. Dr. Marcus BrightDr. Marcus Bright

Dr. Andre Perry, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, pointed to devaluation in housing as a reason why a new value paradigm is needed in his book Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. Perry cited a study that he and a group of researchers conducted that found that “after controlling for factors such as housing and neighborhood quality, education, and crime, we found that comparable homes in neighborhoods with similar amenities are worth 23 percent less in Black-majority neighborhoods, compared to those with very few and no Black residents. The percent difference is devaluation. In real dollars, owner-occupied homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average, amounting to a whopping $156 billion in cumulative losses nationwide.”

This is just one example of a devaluation epidemic that permeates almost every sector of American society. Devaluation has been so embedded into standard operating procedures and processes that I contend that it will take a seismic and consistent challenge to disrupt the status quo and create a new value paradigm.

Patterns of external and internal devaluation must be vigorously contested. External devaluation in this context refers to how outside entities like governments, organizations, businesses, and resource granting agencies stigmatize blackness in their assessment of who is worthy of investment, support, and equitable treatment. 

External devaluation has often led to the exclusion of Black people from the distribution of significant resources. A large number Blacks were excluded from receiving social security benefits for the first twenty years of its existence because domestic workers and farm laborers were left out of the legislation. Blacks were largely excluded from those who received Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured mortgages from the time that they were first originated in 1934 to 1968 with more than 98% of them going to Whites. More than 1600 Black majority neighborhoods were destroyed through the initiation of various highway projects, slum clearance, and urban renewal efforts between the 1940s and 1970s. These are just a few historical examples, but the trend continues with government agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) giving Black farmers less than one percent of grants from a program designed to help producers get through the COVID-19 pandemic even though they make up five percent of farmers. The economic costs of continued Black devaluation are tangible and significant. 

This external devaluation too often stigmatizes blackness and leads to a subordinated status and treatment in areas such as criminal justice, education, housing, access to capital, contracting, and a myriad of other arenas.  Research like that from Dr. Andre Perry that was cited above put a price on external devaluation, but the cost of internal devaluation can be just as much if not more. Internalized devaluation in this context is the persistent negative feelings and projections that individuals and communities have about themselves.

Tools are needed to combat this internal devaluation because too many people have made agreement with it and have allowed it to take residence within the minds. As the United Negro College Fund is famous for stating, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” A mind that has internalized inadequacy and inferiority will embody what Dr. Carter G. Woodson described in his book The Mis-education of the Negro when he wrote that “if you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”

Now is the time for people to reimagine the possibilities for their lives and their communities and to look beyond present circumstances to see a transformative vision of what could be. This entails revisiting and retooling the value appraisal process. A more comprehensive appraisal of value can be considered and adopted.

Rather than placing total focus on disparities, people can capitalize on the assets and opportunities that they do possess. They can be motivated to repurpose themselves and investments can be made to bolster these efforts. Meaningful investment in people and communities will activate the value potential that is already in existence but may be lying dormant. It is time to take a strong and consistent stand against the devaluation of our communities and our lives.

 Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and social impact strategist.



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