Black lives matter. Black business owners matter. Black real estate agents matter.
I am writing this as a stream of conscious thought after a week and a half of long conversations, educating white people, watching Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd being murdered for simply, being black in America.
Recently, my wife and I opened up a real estate brokerage in Tacoma, Washington. Prior to our business venture I was an educator; 12 years in the classroom as a teacher and three years as an assistant principal.
I currently have an associates degree, bachelors degree (business education), and a master’s degree (educational leadership). I have a real estate license, earned my A+ Certification, I’ve earned a teaching certificate, and administrative certificate.
I say all that to say, no matter what education I have received, or how many books I have read, how many businesses I have owned, or how many videos I have created, I am ‘still nigga’ in America, as Jay-Z eloquently stated on ‘The Story of O.J.’ I have been approached with a gun by law enforcement enough times to forget, experienced countless micro-aggressions, and been mistaken for security more times than I want to count.
Over the course of my professional career, I have become accustomed to being one of few black faces in leadership positions. As a head boys basketball coach, I was among the first black head coaches for boys basketball in the five comprehensive high schools in Tacoma school’s 100+ year history. As an administrator, I understood for the rest of my career, if I stayed in Washington, I would be the only black person on not just my admin team, but one of a few in the entire building. Currently, I am the only black owner in the company I am currently with, Windermere Real Estate. I have been fortunate to be in position to attain these positions, and don’t take them lightly.
When I entered real estate, I was pivoting careers for the same reasons others were: we wanted to provide for our family, create a schedule that would fit us to better support our boys, and help people of all backgrounds find their path in home ownership. Along the way, however, as I kept reading and learning about the industry, I saw a big, black stain (pun intended).
Even though my wife and her peers were outspoken on racism in real estate prior to my career change, admittedly I just didn’t know how pervasive and oppressive it was. Upon learning I thought to myself, ‘Does everyone know this?’ My next thought was, ‘If they do, why are they not doing anything about it?’
The most important question was, ‘Why didn’t I know this?’
As I learned more about the nuances of real estate, I realized the barriers for black realtors were tremendous, from certain ways we approach the business to even getting started in the business. For example, when I heard about door knocking as a sales technique, my first thought was ‘that is not a possibility for me.’ As a 6′2″ black man, in communities that have historically been against my very existence, that’s off the table. Another example is if a client hears ‘Jamal’ (a fictional name) is recommended to help with a home search, they may turn down the opportunity for Jamal to help them despite his expertise in the area. Or when a black realtor is previewing a home and they get chastised by the neighbors that they can’t be in the neighborhood. There are many other examples, and I’m sure when other black realtors speak up, they will be able to share their stories with you. There are ways we can help in this movement in real estate, or at least monitor these things so we can begin to make the changes needed to make at the city, state, and most importantly national level.
Race Data Transparency
At the Multiple Listing Service level, we need to have direct access to demographic data. In my last profession, we had demographic data breakdowns and reported on what action plans we created to improve outcomes for black and brown students. Was it perfect? Of course not, but we could no longer claim ignorance to the community we were serving. One of my professors once told me, ‘Data makes the invisible, visible.’ If we can’t identify the ethnic breakdown of who is buying and selling homes, and at what rates, how do we even begin to address it at the brokerage level? This is what I mean by pulling back the curtain. We can’t fix what we don’t know, and we certainly can’t say we are going to change without tangible numbers. In a perfect world, I have a dashboard of data, and one of the options is demographic breakdown. I need to be able to tell someone that my office is at a deficit of serving black people, and at what rate. I should at least be able to answer the question when asked, ‘What’s the breakdown of the homes you have listed and/or sold to black people in your community?’ If the ratio doesn’t match our demographic data to our community, then perhaps we have an issue to address at our company. Currently, I cannot answer that question. If it’s possible to access that demographic data in real time, drop a comment and let me know.
We need to offer more opportunities for high school students to take real estate as an elective in public schools. Currently in my city, Tacoma, the school district offers a wide array of courses from medical careers to marketing. Tacoma schools offer specialty schools in the arts, STEM, and science. Currently in the state of Washington, there is a CIP Code for Real Estate (meaning it’s on the list of many possible Career and Technical Education classes available), however we need to do a better job offering the course, or working with local organizations to offer opportunities for high school age students. This will allow for more access to information regarding building generational wealth and awareness of redlining and how it impacts the community. It will allow the youth to act on the information, at an earlier age, while exposing more to the opportunities that await. This curriculum needs to be taught without white washing it, and point out white people’s role in upholding this through policy, lending practices, social engineering, or plain old ignorance.
Implicit Bias Training
Third, we need to address implicit biases in offices and make them safer spaces for black people to come to work. I hold that sentiment for all races and ethnicities obviously, but right now I am talking about black people specifically. Mandatory cultural competency and implicit bias training for office owners and brokers at least twice a year would be a good place to start. A mandatory annual training on how real estate practice has exacerbated the wealth gap in America between whites, blacks, and latinos. This is in addition to any fair housing training provided by the National Association of Realtors; these courses would tie to current events and what that looks like in the community of where the class is being held (access to local data in action item #1 would help this conversation). You may be thinking, ‘mandatory training?’ That seems extreme... I would argue that not allowing black people to purchase land in the more desirable areas of every metropolitan area for decades and decades is far more extreme.
I know my coming forward will provide at least one black realtor some comfort in knowing they are not alone.
White realtors, step up, own the history and begin taking steps to correct it. I hear people saying they don’t want to ‘politicize’ business. My opinion is if there are government policies oppressing black people, then this is a political matter in the sense that we need to reverse oppressive policy. This is what it may take for a majority in real estate; a deep dive into your value system as you know it. I hope the majority feel that inequality and oppression is not a practice we want to continue to uphold and maintain.
Black realtors, you CAN step out and voice your concern, and share your plight with your brokers or owners. My hope is a black realtor will share this and be inspired to speak up without repercussion or retaliation. My hope is a black realtor will share this without the repercussion of losing business; in fear of losing the white portion of their ‘sphere.’ I say good riddance. They weren’t in your sphere anyway.
It’s time we pull back the racist curtain in real estate once and forever.