Racial Bias Claims Without Proof or Logic

Blaming Appraisers of Racial Bias Without Proof or LogicThe Appraisal Institute just sent a letter to The Appraisal Foundation to address things that have been floating out in the ether for nearly two years. The November 2018 Brookings Institute report blames appraisers without proof or logic for lower property values in minority communities and then the June 2019 Congressional Hearing amplified the Brookings misrepresentation of the appraisal industry. It’s taken 14 months to send this letter?

Interestingly, the chairman of the Board of Trustees that Jeff is writing to is a personal property appraiser and not a real estate appraiser. Real property appraisal is the reason for TAF’s existence and it is the trade that AI represents. This is why personal property appraisers should not be commingled with real property appraisers on the boards of The Appraisal Foundation.

August 20, 2020

Ms. Leila Dunbar
Board of Trustees
The Appraisal Foundation
1155 15th Street NW, Suite 1111
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Chair Dunbar:

As you know, our nation is reflecting on important matters of racial justice and discrimination, and this dialogue includes matters involving real estate financing and economic development. Real estate appraisers play an undisputedly important role in real estate development and financing central to taxpayer protection, safety and soundness of financial institutions and the protection of consumers. In fact, these important roles are largely the reason why our organization helped form The Appraisal Foundation and have supported its role in appraisal standards development and minimum qualifications setting for appraisals prepared in real estate financing.

Recently, claims have been made by academic institutions and think tanks alleging racial bias in real estate appraisals. Each of these studies have taken different research approaches to evaluate appraisal (or valuation in general) – some have not included any level of appraisal review, but looked at “self-appraisals” (owner opinions of value) or sales information to draw inferences to real estate appraisal processes or procedures.

We take these claims seriously as they form part of our larger national debate, but, also because they raise questions about the objectivity and independence of appraisers. We see an ongoing need to educate the public and stakeholder organizations about the role of appraisals and appraisal processes and procedures. Differences between appraisal information and listing and sales information, or mass appraisal or assessment information, are two examples we frequently encounter. We also frequently receive questions about neighborhood and market analysis and location adjustments, which are covered concepts in the Basic Appraisal Principles and Basic Appraisal Procedures courses. Accurate valuations are fundamental to economic security for lenders, buyers, sellers and property owners, together with other stakeholders in property tax, income tax, and eminent domain.

Appraisers are already bound by strict ethics and anti-bias requirements in the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), and lenders are also bound to collateral valuation guidelines (executed as contracts) that translate to appraisers in scope of service requests and through appraisal review processes. These include prohibitions against:

      • Use of unsupported, descriptive comments or drawing unsupported conclusions from subjective observations. (These actions may have a discriminatory effect).
      • Use of unsupported assumptions, interjections of opinion, or perceptions about factors in the valuation process. (These actions may have a discriminatory effect and may or may not affect the use and value of a property).
      • Use of subjective terminology, including, but not limited to:
          • “pride of ownership,” “no pride of ownership,” and “lack of pride of ownership”;
          • “poor neighborhood”;
          • “good neighborhood”;
          • “crime-ridden area”;
          • “desirable neighborhood or location”; or
          • “undesirable neighborhood or location”;
      • Use of subjective terminology that can result in erroneous conclusions;
      • Actions that may have a discriminatory effect or may affect the use and value of the property; or
      • Basing the analysis or opinion of market value (either partially or completely) on the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, of either the prospective owners or occupants of the property being appraised or the present owners or occupants of the properties in the vicinity of that property. 1

There is no doubt that racial discrimination in appraisal is strictly prohibited, broadly overseen and monitored, and subject to penalties, including the loss of license to practice.

That said, we believe we all have a role to play in reinforcing existing requirements and obligations to promote education and awareness by appraisers on these important topics. With this, we encourage the Board of Trustees and the Appraiser Qualifications Board to consider additional steps that could be taken to reinforce these points within the Real Property Appraiser Qualification Criteria. This request is timely considering the Criteria are currently under review and update.

Specifically, we believe the Criteria could be expanded to encourage development of education on bias and discrimination for appraisers, users of appraisal services and the real estate community for that matter. While the current Criteria clearly allows educational programming on bias and discrimination under allowances for “Ethics,” we believe the creditable topics list could be expanded with additional examples more direct to bias and discrimination. This would help stimulate additional education ideas amongst appraisal education developers and providers on this important topic. Additionally, at least two states – Ohio and New York – currently require real estate appraisers to take courses on fair housing and discrimination. The AQB could carry forward these requirements as part of the Criteria itself. Further, the required USPAP courses developed by The Appraisal Foundation and used to establish equivalency for other USPAP courses could be enhanced with additional illustrative material on bias and discrimination as it relates to standards. We would only ask that the AQB try to avoid duplication between USPAP education requirements and additional ethics course requirements. Lastly, we believe the Appraisal Standards Board could consider guidance (perhaps through an FAQ, for example) relative to the Ethics Rule of USPAP regarding matters of bias to include discrimination against protected classes.

Within the Appraisal Institute, we have several existing programs concentrating on this issue, including the Appraiser Diversity Pipeline Initiative (ADPI) with Fannie Mae and the National Urban League, and the Minorities and Women Course Scholarship Program from the Appraisal Institute Education and Relief Foundation. These initiatives are dedicated to promoting greater diversity within the real estate appraisal profession through direct outreach to interested individuals and financial assistance covering entry-level education and other support mechanisms. We are working to expand the ADPI program with our partner organizations through additional sponsorship arrangements starting this year.

Further, the Appraisal Institute will expand upon these initiatives by enhancing our required Business Practices and Ethics course for Designated members, candidates and affiliates to devote a module of the course to bias and discrimination issues. Additionally, some of our chapters already offer stand-alone seminars on this subject, and we will encourage Appraisal Institute chapters to offer or develop similar programs across the country.

In closing, we are pleased that our organizations have formed a stronger relationship in recent years, working collaboratively to address issues of great importance to appraisers and the public. We both know that the issues under discussion here involve parties and issues greater than appraisal itself. To that end, we look forward to expanding this collaboration by working on additional public policy solutions where other stakeholders are involved and appraisal is one of many larger components.

Thank you for your leadership and consideration of our suggestions above in upcoming deliberations.


Jefferson L. Sherman, MAI, AI-GRS

CC: Mr. David Bunton, President
Mr. Mark A. Lewis, Chair, Appraiser Qualification Board
Mr. Wayne R. Miller, Chair, Appraisal Standards Board
Ms. Kelly Davids, Senior Vice President
Mr. Jim Park, Executive Director, Appraisal Subcommittee


Better late than never I suppose. Also, it was nice to see Jeff Sherman, president of AI, to extend an olive branch to TAF.

Is there racism in the U.S.? Of course, a lot of it and to me feels like its getting worse or just more overt. In fact, the American housing dream was built on racist neighborhood policies by government institutions in the depression era including awful things like deed restrictions.

The problem with this topic is that The Brookings Institute November 2018 The devaluation of assets in black neighborhoods showed a stunning lack of understanding about the very industry it was attacking despite a well-considered write up about the disparity between the value of homes in neighborhoods of black and white residents of selected U.S. cities.

They don’t connect the appraisal industry with the earlier presentation in the report. The methodology was clear: they looked at Zillow and homeowners’ self-estimated values (two wildly questionable sources I might add). They realized that since they generated some housing numbers and – a lightbulb goes off – appraisers work with housing numbers so…appraisers are the problem! That’s called a credibility leap. There is no actual connection to appraisers in all the fogging being presented in the report discussed at the hearing.

The report authors have demonstrated they do not understand what an appraiser does. A credible white paper would have gone through that process to build an understanding of the presentation for the reader. Doesn’t Brookings have a review process on white paper research or were they hoping for a controversial piece to garner attention and not really care? I co-authored a white paper on a completely different housing topic and understand the presentation process – peer review is a big part of the process.

You can see their misunderstanding of what appraisers actually do just by watching the hearing and listening to the logic presented by anyone in attendance who is not actually an appraiser. To appraisers, the lack of understanding of what an appraiser does is a painful listen, I can assure you.

Here’s what one of the authors of the Brookings report who spoke at the hearing said in a recent New York Times article (what I assume it prompted the AI letter to TAF):

“White appraisers carry the same attitudes and beliefs of white America — the same attitudes that compelled Derek Chauvin to kneel casually on the neck of George Floyd are shared by other professionals in other fields. How does that choking out of America look in the appraisal industry? Through very low appraisals,” he said.

That’s a stunning indictment of every single appraiser in America, from the author of a report that demonstrates they do not understand what appraisers actually do. It is reckless and dishonest.

In that same article, my good friend says it better than I ever could:

“Is there a problem with poor and underserved communities in the United States? Yes. Is it the appraisal profession’s fault? No,” wrote Maureen Sweeney, a Chicago-based appraiser in a letter to the house subcommittee following the hearing. “It’s like blaming the canary for the bad air in the coal mine, or blaming the mirror for your bad hair day. Appraisers reflect the market; we do not create it.”

Incidentally, the New York Times piece reported evidence of potential bias because of the racial composition of the homeowner. The difference between these examples presented in the NYT piece and the Brookings piece is that Brookings posits that the reason for lower-priced neighborhoods is because all appraisers value all properties lower in those neighborhoods because they are minority-largely owned.

The amazing takeaway from the Brookings study is that they believe real estate appraisers determine market value when they simply opine on it using empirical evidence. That opinion is based on comparing similar properties nearby.

Brookings assumes that appraisers literally walk into a home and bless it with its value. This shows a stunning lack of understanding of what appraisers do. As Maureen said earlier, we don’t create the value, we reflect it.

We compare the subject property to other sales nearby that are similar in size, condition, configuration, etc. We try to stick to the same neighborhood, same town, same township, same subdivision, same property type, same lot size, same square footage, etc. because the comparable sales are subject to the same external influences, such as proximity to amenities such as schools and transportation. A comparable sale is a sale that a buyer would consider as a reasonable alternative to the property being appraised. In most cases that report is reviewed by someone else at the lending institution who doesn’t know the racial makeup of the borrower or the appraiser.

Are some appraisers racist? Of course! Our society is full of racism, both subtle and overt. But the Brookings Report itself makes no connection between the act of doing an appraisal and lower housing prices in minority neighborhoods. None. And that gave them license to be reckless in their statements after the report was issued. Brookings needs to revisit the topic but this time provide a credible empirical approach to why housing prices are lower in certain areas than others.

Jonathan Miller
Image credit flickr - John Nakamura Remy
Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller is President and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraisal and consulting firm he co-founded in 1986. He is a state-certified real estate appraiser in New York and Connecticut, performing court testimony as an expert witness in various local, state and federal courts.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Rob Engle says:

    And perhaps an even more important point:
    The homeowner featured most prominently in the recent NYT article (Abbena Horton) is the VP of a mortgage software company – Black Knight, Inc.

    Abena Horton – Vice President & Managing Division Counsel at Black Knight Inc
    (Counsel….. which means that Ms. Horton is of the top LAWYERs for Black Knight, Inc)

    2019’s push by the mortgage industry to implement the hybrid appraisal product (1004D), where a 3rd party collects property data at a residential home….. which is then sent to a central processing center…… which is then sent to a certified appraiser who fills in a form and “appraises” the property without ever leaving his/her desk:
    would benefit ($$$) a company like Black Knight, Inc. MORE than anyone else involved in mortgage lending/processing.

    As always…… Follow the Money!
    This push to convince the public and policy makers that residential appraisers are biased has an ulterior motive that is becoming more obvious as time goes on.

    • Lori Noble on Facebook Lori Noble on Facebook says:

      Rob Engle – thanks for these details.

      They could easily become the poster for how mortgage control fraud works.

  2. Maureen Sweeney on Twitter Maureen Sweeney on Twitter says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Avatar Bryan J. Trenholm says:

      Maureen – thanks for all you do for our profession! Now – if they would only listen! You and the ICAP group are one of the very few things I miss about Illinois.

  3. Eric Kessin on Facebook Eric Kessin on Facebook says:

    The NY Times editor who allowed that drivel to be published should be fired. The article was published on a Sunday, but was featured on the web sites many days before.

  4. Avatar Realrose says:

    I applaud Jonathan Miller for this article. I had contacted the author, Debra Kamin to criticize her opinion because I was appalled at her assertion that generalizes all appraisers as biased! She responded. She gave me a reference to a Ted talk she gave on Truth and Reconciliation councils set up in Rwanda which is what they did in South Africa after Aparteid. I have been to South Africa, during aparteid and I despise racism in any form. While Jonathan spoke for me in this article, I respect the author of the article for her Ted talk, but she is unqualified to comment on all appraisers and racial discrimination and way over her head reviewing appraisals herself which she told me she did while doing the article. She interviewed appraisers for her article, and she just didn’t speak to the right ones, so I invited her to the Appraisers Blog to read what Jonathan said today which I totally agree with. I want her to write another story changing her impressions of appraisers after reading and researching this blog, and others to see what appraisers say, and find some more qualified appraisers to interview so she can be set straight. I hope she gets an ear full reading Jonathan’s article, and reading the AI letter which is way overdue! The AI has taken a back seat to TAF since they started politicizing our work for the benefit of the bank lobbyists, wall street lobbyists and interested parties who manipulate our work to the point of having to work for an AMC, and you know what I call them! Pimps! Leeches, and they don’t know what they are doing, but sometimes get more money than the actual appraiser when all they have is another untrained person in the mix causing us problems when we need to maintain our independence!

    My email to Debra Kamin

  5. In order for any ‘devaluation’ or diminution, to take place, there must first have been a credible base value.

    That has been missing from every study to date. For various self serving reasons all political parties hold certain opposing views on racism.

    Personally, I dont think any amount of sensitivity courses will eliminate accusations of racism. IF there is racism in valuation (highly doubtful, and never proven) it would be at such a personal and deliberate level as to preclude it being ‘correctable’.

    Contrary to today’s reverse racists’ claims, racism has not been systematic for more than fifty years.

    Does it still exist? Sure. On the finance or loan decision side. In consumer finance and real property finance. By dishonest, greedy individuals that are already violating existing laws. The so called “Predatory Lenders”.

    Deal with that before besmirching and further regulating an innocent profession.

  6. Avatar JC says:

    Per the author of the NYT article, Debra Kamin, she interviewed more than a dozen appraisers. None were mentioned in her article. None were quoted. She quoted the only one appraiser she didn’t interview, Maureen Sweeney. She used Maureen’s quote in an article published here on AppraisersBlogs and didn’t even link to this article http://appraisersblogs.com/race-baked-into-unregulated-big-data. She cherry picked one line from Maureen’s letter to congress out of context, and made it look like Maureen was supporting racism!

    Poor journalistic practice! New York Times is a disgrace. It’s not a newspaper anymore. If NYT wants to stop hearing the words “fake news”, it needs to stop publishing it.

    I canceled my NYT subscription after reading Kamin’s article. it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

  7. Avatar Julio E. Sune, Jr says:

    At this time , I will be breviloquent…..see image below

  8. Avatar Coach says:

    Mary Cummins a CA appraiser did a nice write up debunking HO’s claims. Apparently, she emailed it to the reporter but got no reply.

    “The original appraisal came in at the range given by four different robot appraisals for the property. The final appraisal came in higher. See the four main robot estimates below. The robot appraisals were based on the false larger size so they are even higher than they should be. Robots are software programs. They definitely do not consider the race or anything about the owner. They don’t see the property. They know nothing about the interior.

    It’s not a 4 bed, 4 bath home legally. It’s 3 bed, 2.5 baths. That makes a big difference. The size in the MLS is larger than legal. Some estimates are based on the false larger size. You can’t include unpermitted additions with most lenders because building and safety can force them to remove unpermitted additions. You have to choose comps based on legal size, bed/bath count of subject only.

    It has a funky addition which doesn’t appear to be permitted. It’s on a double corner lot closer to the main highway and commercial area. These can be negatives.

    It was not a bank loan but a credit union loan and a credit line. There are different requirements for credit union loans than bank loans. Based on my experience credit unions aren’t as picky. The couple got a 15 yr loan which is generally for riskier borrowers and what appears to be another line of credit on the property. They took cash out. Banks need to see a higher loan to value to do a refinance and get cash out. Sounds like they didn’t get the loan first time around which could be based on credit, income, length of time at current job… I have no information to verify this though I do have their loan documents and loan agreement.

    The area is not “predominantly white.” If we go by % only then yes, whites are predominant at over half or 51% in this area. Whites are 51%, blacks 30%, Asians, Hispanics, mixed make up the rest. See chart below. In my area “predominant” is considered 85% or more. Also, the wife is black and husband is white. Did the appraiser only discriminate against the wife?

    Below is information about the property. It’s all public information.

    They just refinanced July 18, 2020. They bought the 3 bed, 3 bath, 2,512 sf home built 1951 on a 21,586 sf lot 4132 Sherwood, Jacksonville, Florida for $295,000 July 19, 2017. There is what appears to be a $60,000 second. It’s assessed at $308,000. Lot: 5 Block: 3 Map Ref: PM6505 Abbreviated Description: Assessor 100746-0000 Legal LOT:5 BLK:3 UNIT:1 SUBD:ORTEGA FOREST UNIT 01 SEC/TWN/RNG/MER:SEC 09 TWN 03S RNG 26E 19-22 09-3S-26E ORTEGA FOREST UNIT 1 LOT 5 BLK 3 MAP REF:PM6505. They got a $292,000 first 15 years from a credit union Coastline FCU, not a bank. They publicly listed their names, Abena Sanford Horton and Richard Alex Horton, and address. I’d still like to see the appraisals. If a local appraiser can run some comps, that’d be great. I’m in California and not Florida…” See More

    • Avatar misguided says:

      A realtor in the Jacksonville area who lives a few neighborhoods away from the Jacksonville couple pulled up comparable sales. The realtor commented that the couple live in Ortega Forest neighborhood, which is very nice but overall has lower values than the adjacent Ortega neighborhood – the two are separated by train tracks and a busy street. If you pull comps only from Ortega Forest the $330k appraisal would be justified. Homes that sell above $450k are either on the other side of the tracks or much higher square footage than this couple’s home. Not knowing the current condition of this home, it’s possible they did some renovations since purchasing it for $295k back in 2017, but the realtor suspects they would gain that much value. He concludes that the original low appraisal was probably the accurate one.

    • Avatar Jeanie says:

      Interesting findings by Mary Cummings!

      Can any FL appraiser familiar with Ortega Forest area let us know if properties have increased by more than 50% in value in 3 years as of June 2020 which is apparently when the first appraisal was done? If she purchased her home in 7/17 for $295k and 3 years later it’s now worth $465k per the second appraisal, that’s a 56% increase in value.

      We all know the second appraiser will be blamed for overvaluing her property when the next real estate crash happens and she’s underwater on her home. Will NYT do a follow up article? It’s rhetorical question.

  9. Baggins Baggins says:

    None of the hypotheses on racial bias in appraisal have proof, because there was no attention paid towards scientific method testing and similar baselines of analysis. Was an amc middle manager involved with one lending source and not the other? How were scope of work parameters different from one appraisal assignment to the next? Appraisers experience and time commitment differences? Outsourced appraisal development services used? Substantial fee differences? Field review results?

    If we had access to FNMA CU systems data, there would be far fewer questions, much less room for speculation, and more reliable data for appraisers to start their analysis upon similar peer model validated value and adjustment benchmarks. Many benefits of new technologies have been purposefully withheld from the appraiser community.

    Separation from loan production causes more problems than it solves. How many man hours have been spent on this individual value opinion disagreement? To the point where it is a national news story, complaints have been filed, and industry think tanks had to respond. When if the appraisers and mortgage bankers could have simply spoke on the phone it could have been sorted out within a single day. The problem is not racism. The problem is excessive regulation which ties the appraisers hands. Excessive performance pressure which compels less time invested and more outsourcing. Excessive rules which prohibit the appraiser from clearly explaining on site to the individuals involved, how and why the value is what it is.

    Theoretically the appraiser is supposed to show up, walk through the home, take photos and measure, never talk about the appraisal fee, never talk about the homes value, never talk about the market conditions, refuse to answer homeowners questions, and then refuse to answer mortgage banker calls if they reach out. We’re supposed to only communicate through inadequate rudimentary tech portals with poorly qualified appraisal distribution staff (people whom do not carry individual licenses), and respond to automatic review their clever computers push back. When you automate the entire valuation process for the benefit of tech companies and monied institutions, when you remove the human factor and the ability to engage in open ended unrestricted speech with everyone involved, don’t be surprised when people feel they are not treated fairly.

  10. Avatar Cobra says:

    The HO was interviewed by another journalist. She says she reported the appraiser and the company to HUD but has not blasted the appraiser’s name and she has not intention of doing it. Why not? And why hasn’t she filed a complaint with FREAB?

  11. Avatar Daniel says:

    I heard about the issue here in Toronto. What makes matters worse is, the falsified low-ball appraised value will affect the client’s ability to secure mortgage financing, in turn affecting their livelihood.

    • Wow!

      ‘falsified low appraisal?’ Where? Informed folks from the area have already refuted that it is low. BTW-The recent YouTube bit about a $65,000 “low” appraisal in Canada was a moronic hit piece by producers that were either ignorant or staging pseudo evidence of how racist you folks in Canada are…or perhaps they are both.

      I refer to the ABC Canadian station that ran the fatally flawed piece on the African-Canadian; Asian-Canadian and Caucasian-Canadian.

  12. Avatar Daniela Cimo says:

    It’s incredible to see then defensiveness in this article and the accompanying comments. Instead of acknowledging that there is implicit bias and factors working against black and brown communities, there is more focus on “debunking” the anecdotal study. Slavery, segregation, racism, and redlining (documented evidence of discrimination in lending) and other historical conditions continue to have a lasting legacy on our communities and continue to shape them. I invite those who are so concerned with debunking this claim of bias in appraisals to take a deeper look and consider our history and the experience of black and brown folks all over the country.

    I am a community development attorney in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

    • Why on earth would or should anyone concede a false premise, that ‘requires being worked on’?

      Solutions to real problems don’t come from false admissions. If the problem cannot be honestly described in the first place then whatever is perceived to be the problem cannot be remedied.

      Danielo, you are not being objective.

      You invite us to focus on the history of black or brown racism while you choose to ignore the equally reprehensible ethnic or national origin biases directed at Asians, Poles, Italians, Germans, Slavs, Irish, and others in the same historical time frames.

      Any honest analysis starts with the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Not before. Residual prejudice existed up through the early 1970s on an isolated basis. It was not prevalent.

      The only redlining that takes place in today is in insurance premiums; and loan underwriting where demographic make up of residents by census tract or zip code is considered.

      Both are federal constructs.

  13. Avatar Marlaina Geddes says:

    The level of ego that you guys are showing is outrageous. Literally throughout all of these comments not one has discussed the disparity in the valuation of these red lined areas and how it has perpetuated the low values despite yes adjacent affluent neighborhoods. Ortega in Jacksonville Florida has some homes that are absolutely well over the valuation of the original appraisal, because they are significantly bigger on the water et cetera, But the homes that are in the neighborhood where this couple in Jacksonville Had their appraisal, has homes that are of equivalent value to the ranch style single family homes in the adjacent neighborhood and they are just as well kept. The train tracks that you’re referring to do not delineate significantly the quality of the similarly constructed homes, nor does it change the school district, access to amenitiesp, nor the overall attractiveness of the similarly equivalent properties.

    Many studies have been done by economists, sociologists, and other phD fellows on this matter.

    Yet, while this comment thread may not want to read the other peer reviewed research, nor admit that there is a factual and historic racial disparity that has perpetuated over time because it would require some time being introspective and considering ones own biases, the sheer obstinate cognitive dissonance exhibited gives one pause.

    • Ego?
      Hardly. At least not as far as this thread goes.

      36+ years full time experience and knowledge of the subject under discussion points to being informed rather than simply being egotistical.

      We have as a profession been demeaned by uninformed bigots accusing US of racism. This isn’t an academic discussion among respected peers. Many of us refuse to be anyone’s fall guy or whipping boy any longer.
      It is a direct accusation to the race baiting liars to either put up or shut up. Show CREDIBLE studies or specific proof or STOP LYING.

      Citing studies by (at best) biased authors promoting their own highly volatile agenda by disparaging the reputations and integrity if an entire profession doesn’t make the Grand Deception promoted by them any less of a scurrilous lie.


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Racial Bias Claims Without Proof or Logic

by Jonathan Miller time to read: 9 min