Responding to an article I had written on the mortgage foreclosure crisis’ devastating effect on black neighborhoods, and the potential for an even greater catastrophe perpetrated on the black working class, an Internet blogger respondent was upset because I “had injected race” into the problem. In his response to my article, the blogger thought I’d done a pretty good job of laying out the facts, but he didn’t see what race had to do with a problem that is devastating families of all ethnic persuasions across the nation.
Unfortunately, it has been proven time and again, when America’s economy catches cold, the African-American economy comes down with a bad case of pneumonia. If anything, I did not paint the picture as cruelly as it could get for people of color.
And that picture is this: African Americans are more likely to be victims of financial scams than are other races. We are more likely to be steered to sub prime, or predatory auto and home loans, no matter how good our credit. Regardless of our ability to pay, regardless of whether we have health insurance, our level of care is more likely to be less than the level of care given to white patients, and when it comes to customer disservice, consumer fraud and white collar crime, black home owners, automobile owners and consumers bear a disproportionate burden of over-priced loans and financial services. Consumer fraud, bad customer service and disrespect impacts people of color on a financial level which many whites simply can not imagine.
We aren’t playing the victim here: this is a simple fact. Given the statistics, race is an element already present: I just followed the trail of money and profits, using research already accepted as standard in several industries, including the automobile insurance industry, as well as in home mortgages and consumer credit.
Across the board, from auto loans to mortgages and credit card interest rates, black consumers, along with Hispanic borrowers often are targeted for expensive, high risk loans, lesser medical care and consumer credit fraud. In the view of many corporations, as was the case of their predecessors, who served black folk from the back door instead of on the sales floor in the Jim Crow era, people of color don’t deserve to be treated with respect and their money isn’t worth the same level of service as white customers receive.
Racism still exists. Race-based differences in service levels still exist. Institutional racism is still a formidable barrier to African-American achievement in employment, retail sales and banking services. No matter how badly liberals and deniers would have it otherwise, Jim Crow has gone uptown and now operates from the front office—still doing black folk wrong.
What’s race got to do with it? Everything.
Renowned civil rights activist, author and preacher, John Perkins noted that countless generations of African-Americans grew up having to accept less—less wages, less service, and little justice. In his autobiography, Let Justice Roll Down, Reverend Perkins noted the inequities that result when a society is dominated by one ethnic group: “Where the political, social, economic and legal institutions are dominated by whites, inequities are inevitable.” (p. 104)
Writing 30 years ago, Perkins noted that, unless and until a subjected people takes a stand against the inequities which hold them back, nothing will change. Hence, he wrote, “In situations of inequality or oppression, the oppressed group must take a stand somewhere, sometime….” (p. 115)
And so it is that blacks and other people of color have turned to the courts for justice. Class action lawsuits have been the tool of choice, with lawsuits filed against insurance companies for allegedly charging higher rates to black customers. Consumer rights activists have targeted mortgage companies for illegally herding black consumers to higher-priced, higher profit, higher interest loans.
African American homeowners and land owners have even filed disciplinary actions against judges whom they believe are acting arbitrarily and outside the realm of law. Black employees have also used the legal tool of discrimination lawsuits to seek justice in the court system.
Consumer class action lawsuits, combined with the government’s own Inspector General system, has often rooted out waste, corruption and illegality in government bureaucracies. The nation’s Inspectors General (IG’s) have investigated numerous bureaucratic infractions, including allegations of racism in the farm loan program of the United States Department of Agriculture, waste and corruption in NASA, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security.
What does race have to do with the foreclosure catastrophe? What does it have to do with justice in general in the US? Despite the passage of anti-discrimination laws on the federal level, racism, sexism and bigotry still infest the nation’s bureaucracies, often requiring lawsuits to remedy the most egregious violations.
According to documentary film maker Danny Schechtor In Debt We Trust:
While many Americans may be “maxing out” on credit cards, there is a much deeper story: power is shifting into fewer hands . . . with frightening consequences. Inspired by scholar Robert Manning’s seminal book Credit Card Nation, the film showcases Manning’s insights about the impact on young people and our society. It also suggests the kinds of practical efforts needed to empower the public with information to avoid the traps of debt and dependency. Manning, one of America’s leading experts on these issues, is one of the film’s key advisers.
(Synopsis of Danny Schechtor’s film, In Debt We Trust)
For blacks and people of color, and some whites as well, simply obeying the law, paying one’s bills on time and being a good citizen, still is no guarantee against illegal search, seizure or arrest—including seizure, and foreclosure of property, a fact which many Americans continue to deny on a routine basis. People want to believe that being a good, law abiding, bill-paying citizen somehow armors them against abuse of power, but current events prove this just isn’t so.
Schechtor’s film has one scene where: “A real estate expert reports that “tens of
billions of dollars” are being transferred from the pockets of the poor into the vaults of big banks that use front groups and subsidiaries to camouflage their association with predatory loans charging exorbitant interest rates.” (Ibid)
Despite countless court cases, civil rights lawsuits and other examples of the abuse of power within “the system,” people take comfort in the delusion that they are safe because they are “law abiding.” And so it is that many blacks and a lot of whites, still can’t understand the pervasiveness and destructiveness of racial profiling, or institutional property crimes such as the billions of dollars in land theft which affect landowners in rural farm areas, as well as urban property owners.