Interracial Etiquette for Appraisers

By David Braun, MAI, SRA

A spotlight has been shined on the appraisal profession’s propensity towards racial bias.  There are at least two environments to contemplate.  One is the legal aspect, and the second is more of a personal nature.

The practicing appraiser will need to understand the existing and proposed laws relating to racial bias, especially in the context of “Fair Housing” laws.

This short article presents five steps to achieve practical interracial etiquette on a more personal level.  These steps apply to any combination of races.  If an appraiser cannot follow these proposed steps, there may be no need to study the legal aspects as it is not acceptable to say, “I hate (whichever) people, but I always treat them fair and professionally in business.  Sorry, you are in our prayers, but you cannot be in our profession.

The human eye can only see wavelengths from 380 to 750 nanometers. This represents colors from violet to red. Black, brown, and white, by scientific definition, are not colors at all. They are perceived as shades when processed by the human brain. What you feel when you process these shades are based on the information held in your memories. These memories associate shades to behavioral patterns based on a specific culture.

We are all born with our physical characteristics, but cultural behavior is learned. The trouble is most of us have only a small portion of our memories based on first­hand experiences as compared to the memories based on second-hand experiences. First-hand memories are what you have personally experienced. Second-hand memories come from what other people have told you, you have read, or seen on T.V. shows and videos. If the information that has been collected and stored in our memories is inaccurate, then what we perceive will be inaccurate. Our feelings control our actions, so how we react to a given situation may be based on fictitious information.

An appraiser would never reach a conclusion based on an analysis of data that he/she believes to be inaccurate. He/she would attempt to keep the high-quality data and throw out the questionable data. I am not sure if the human brain can purge itself in this fashion. However, we can begin to create entirely new memories of first-hand experiences on which to base our behavior. This would be a great start, but why not discard “shades” (black, brown, and white) as a criterion on which to base our feelings and actions altogether?

There are good and bad people of all races. Unfortunately, we cannot identify them by how they look. The United States is a great example of multiple races having been raised in cultures that are quite different than those in the homelands of their ancestors. It is likely that one’s culture is no longer highly correlated to one’s physical traits. Consider the absurdity of assuming that a third generation American of Chinese descent will react to a given situation the same way as an individual raised in China.

The instinct of primitive man to fear people that look different from themselves is no longer an effective strategy for survival. This instinctive fear can manifest into hatred, and that hatred is sometimes expressed in violent fashions. Violence is always a symptom and never a solution.

The perpetrator of this violence, much like Don Quixote, is lashing out at an imaginary enemy. Even with more accurate memories, we will still feel some patterns of behavior to be disturbing as people are beautifully and painfully imperfect. But today, when every step toward progress is based on false beliefs, it is like quicksand- the harder we struggle, the faster we sink.

It is important to be proud of our ancestry. However, it does not define us- our actions do. Equal opportunity means everyone has the same access to the tools necessary to allow them to develop to their full potential. All children have the right to preschool, kindergarten, children’s books (Thanks You Dolly), computers, and the internet. The goal of formal education is to prepare students for the challenges he/she will face in the future. Due to the rapidly changing technological landscape, no one knows what those challenges will be.

The most effective way to prepare a student for the unknown is with a process that develops the whole being. Still, all paths will not be the same. Character, self-determination, and one’s definition of a productive life are the individual’s affair. Poor choices do not entitle one person to a share of the success of another. Entitlement is the opposite of opportunity as it results in someone else being denied opportunity (such as families buying entry to prestigious colleges). Once oppression is tolerated, it has no bounds or limits, becoming an equal threat to all people. All societies face economic and financial problems, but humanity faces much more colossal challenges such as self-annihilation, disease, limited resources, natural disasters, overpopulation, global warming, etc.

These challenges are best faced by a concerted effort of people with a broad array of cultural perspectives (consider that the strength of plywood results from joining two pieces of wood together where the grains run in different directions). The reward for providing every individual with an equal opportunity is a better world today and ensures humanity’s survival throughout the ages. This can only be accomplished by having scientists and other specialists of all races and cultures ready to provide solutions to our current and future problems. In 2020 the prize would go to medical personnel and vaccine scientists.

Five steps to interracial etiquette:

Create new memories that are based on first-hand (factual) knowledge regardless of whom it incriminates, even if it is yourself.

Base your feelings and behavior on the new memories you accumulate.

Do not describe people in terms of shades. There are no black, brown, yellow, red, or white people- JUST PEOPLE. Make a commitment to never again use the shade of someone’s skin as an adjective (There are a few exceptions to this rule, but very few).

Do not see shades at all. The idea that all people with the same physical features have the same cultural influences, talents, and beliefs is idiotic.

When confronted by someone with an opposite perspective, grasp their hand and pull together (this is a metaphor for communication, interest, and tolerance). This opposite orientation, in conjunction with the solid foundation of truth allows for the leverage necessary for both persons to pull themselves out of the quicksand.

The goal is not an assimilation of diverse beliefs and cultures, just a fresh look that is not tainted by misinformation. Life is hard and seldom fair; everyone will need the help of others from time to time. This help cannot be demanded. It is earned through understanding, tolerance, and fellowship. If you follow these five steps, you will be in good form, whether in a business setting, a social gathering, a sporting event, or a family setting.

About the author

Founded Braun & Associates, Inc. a 20-person appraisal company and have been actively engaged in real estate appraising since 1976. In this period, assignments have been performed on most all types of properties ranging from residential lots to complex commercial properties.

Founded Automated Valuation Technologies, Inc. in 1997. This company was formed to address unique appraisal issues which were not being addressed by any other entity.

Has written many articles, taught classes, been active in the Appraisal Institute on many levels, etc.

David currently lives in Maryville, Tennessee with his wife, he is the father of three grown children and two grandchildren.

Related links on this blog

Bias in Housing is Not Appraisers’ Fault The best analysis I have ever read. By Maureen Sweeney, SRA

AMC asks appraiser to remove photos of black cat Humor!

Editor’s comments

Race is a social construct. There is no genetic difference among persons of different colors or other anatomical differences. There is only one human species: Homo Sapiens.

Looking at in the U.S., there are many different shades of “black”  “brown” for example.

  1. Thanks you Jim!

  2. “The appraisal profession’s propensity towards racial bias”. That statement is very broad sweeping, offensive, and in my experience factually incorrect. I know of no such propensity nor have I ever witnessed anything close to it.

    I have done many appraisals for borrowers that differ in color from me. I’ve never been treated differently by one race than another and I’ve tried to live my life respecting people of all colors and treating them fairly. Are some borrowers the victim of appraiser bias? I’m sure it happens and even more sure that it happened in the past, but I can’t believe the appraisers I know have a propensity towards racial bias.

    • Comment from the author, David Braun:


      I was thinking there were degrees of “propensity”- which I did not mean to address. Like you I have never personally based a value opinion on someone’s race. I doubt it is prevalent in our profession. My point is that appraisers are under a spot light in regards to this issue.


      • Hi David,

        After reading what I wrote, I apologize for my over reaction. I’m very familiar with your work and I should have known better than thinking you were casting aspersions on the majority of all appraisers.

        As a young man I was a huge follower of MLK and decided to try and live by his tenets. I grew up around people that didn’t focus on someone’s race. Until I was an adult I never understood the depth of the issue. Around that time my father hired an older black man. We talked while working and those conversations woke me up. He was a jazz musician that traveled extensively throughout the US in the 1940’s through the 1960’s. Some of his stories were hair raising and made me ashamed of many of my fellow citizens. Other than my father, he was one of the most influential forces in my life. I’m not ashamed to say that I loved him and was devastated when he passed away.

        So this is a touchy subject for me. However, I do not dismiss the fact that people of color have been and still are treated as lesser citizens. I just refuse to hang around people that feel that way.

        Again, please forgive my over reaction to your well written article.


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