Taking its “life begins at conception” charade from State Legislature to State legislature, one of the most dangerous political forces in the U.S. is stepping up its crusade for the “rights” of the unborn. Backed by an organization called Personhood USA, the latest offensive from the Religious Right involves a renewed movement to amend state constitutions to establish human rights and personhood status for fertilized eggs.
Ever immune to morality, reason, church-state separation precedents and an understanding of the basic laws of biology, the most flat earth reactionary segment of the so-called pro-life movement wants to circumvent constitutional protections for abortion by conferring personhood on fertilized eggs. This would eviscerate the premise that women have a sovereign and singular right to control their bodies by designating rights even before implantation and a clinically viable pregnancy has been determined.
For those who have any elementary grasp of the human reproductive process, conception doe s not automatically result in pregnancy and the majority of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus. Yet if the egg crusade zealots had their way these new edicts would potentially criminalize any woman attempting to use birth control pills or IUDs, and jeopardize in vitro fertilization procedures and stem cell research.Though the egg crusade has failed to gain the imprimatur of the National Right to Life Committee those who would dismiss such a campaign as too extreme to gain traction do so at their peril. According to the L.A. Times, earlier this year the egg crusaders were able to convince the North Dakota House of Representatives to pass a constitutional amendment on personhood although it was later vetoed by the State Senate. Colorado voters also rejected a similar ballot initiative 73% to 27%. Yet in California the egg crusaders are collecting signatures and whipping up support for an amendment insidiously dubbed the California Human Rights Amendment.
The website does not specify what rights un-implanted eggs would be conferred with other than, presumably, the right to progress to the implantation stage, fetal development and then birth. There are no details about who or what could act on the behalf of the un-implanted egg as person if the host carrier (formerly known as mother) of the egg were to determine that she should receive medical treatment.
There was no information on who would legally be empowered to intervene or act on behalf of the un-implanted egg as person (the state perhaps?) to object to any stance that the mother might take. It stands to reason that if contraception were used to prevent the inalienable right of the egg as “person” to implant then host carriers who did so would be criminalized and prosecuted for murder. As a preventive measure, potentially offending host carriers could perhaps be fitted with special ankle bracelets or encoded with state monitored electronic microchips to preclude violations.The Catholic and fundamentalist Christian activists at the forefront of the egg crusade are curiously silent on these small details. In true schizoid fashion they push for special faith-based government entitlements and yet scream about government interference, rallying big government to run roughshod over women’s fundamental right to privacy through a new regime of policing. And indeed, their own “family planning” policies have proven an abysmal failure, as evidenced by the exploding teen birth rates in Bible Belt states like Alabama and Mississippi in comparison to lower rates in the relatively godless Northeast and Northwest (abstinence-only sex education programs and fundamentalist Christian propaganda against fornication outside marriage would seem to be a source of cognitive dissonance for Southern teens).
Tags: Abortion, abstinence-only, Afro-Netizen, anti-choice, BlackFemLens, egg crusade, embryo, fetus, gender, misogyny, personhood, pregnancy, pro-choice, pro-life, religious right, reproductive rights, sexism
By Sikivu Hutchinson
When the L.A. Times runs a story on a missing black woman on the front page of its local features section it stimulates inquiring minds. How, in the super-charged climate of breathless cable news reports on Jaycee and her white sisterhood, could such a feat of journalistic subversion be possible? According to a story in the Sunday edition, 24 year-old Mitrice Richardson, an African American woman from South Los Angeles, went missing in mid-September after being released from a Calabasas, California jail.
Richardson had been arrested for apparently refusing to pay the tab for a meal she ate at a Malibu restaurant. Prior to the arrest, restaurant personnel and witnesses reported that she was behaving erratically and gave the appearance of being mentally ill. After authorities found marijuana in her car they arrested her on charges of “defrauding an innkeeper” and possession.
The Times chronicled the massive search made for Richardson this weekend by friends, relatives and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The story was also picked up by local news and has outraged many African Americans in Los Angeles. Questions swirl around the County Sheriff’s conduct in both the arrest and release of Richardson. Why, for example, was she not placed on a 72 hour psychiatric hold (a common practice when dealing with mentally ill “suspects”) when detained? And why, after being released from jail was she sent off into the dead of night in a remote area without a cell phone or vehicle?
Families of missing and abducted people of color organize tirelessly to generate any shred of coverage they can get from the media in “post-racial” America. Tired of the media’s ritual indifference to the lives of black women in their community, the mothers of missing women in Edgecombe County in North Carolina launched a billboard campaign to advertise a slew of suspected abductions in their area. So what distinguishes Richardson’s case from that of the scores of other missing and abducted people of color which seldom score even a few lines buried in a big city newspaper? Location is apparently the only factor that would warrant such an aberration.
The Malibu sightings of Richardson were evidently so jarring for residents that they elicited instant recollection from those reported to have seen her. Unlike other missing person cases tainted by the urban “grit” of South L.A. and other communities of color where crime is perceived to be the cultural norm, the crime free veneer of an almost exclusively white community in which “it’s strange to see a black woman walking in the (Malibu) canyon,” is the subtext. Location, race and gender play a pivotal role in the media’s fixation on missing person stories.
In the national “victim-ocracy”, small town, suburban and/or university affiliated white women get the most play as valued human interest subjects and cultural possessions. The endless media loop of search parties, dragged lakes, crack of dawn patrols and tearful living room pleas from grieving family members only lodge in the public imagination as national pathos when “our” little hometown girls are at stake. As exceptions to the rule, Richardson’s case—coupled with the more prominent example of slain Vietnamese-American Yale University student Annie Le—illustrates the extent to which location can obscure the regime of white privilege and entitlement that frames the stories and lives deemed most valuable by the mainstream media.
Centered in a bastion of Ivy League power and privilege nestled uneasily in the racially segregated city of New Haven, the Le case garnered national attention in spite of Le’s ethnic background. As a member of the academic elite, Le represented a student body potentially imperiled by the urban dangers of crime-ridden housing “projects” and other undesirable areas. And as with any good colonialist private university regime (e.g., the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California) hellbent on takeover of the “ghetto” these untamed areas naturally sully a city’s cosmopolitan aspirations. Once it was discovered that Le was murdered by a white insider, and not an encroaching racial other, the tabloid cable news mafia modulated its budding hysteria and moved on.
Clearly the racist “model minority” myth and the promotion of the docile assimilable Asian stereotype make Asian Americans more palatable to mainstream white society than African Americans. Le and Richardson’s backgrounds are dissimilar save for their being young women of color. Yet take away Le’s Yale pedigree and they would be “united” as victims of the mainstream media’s hierarchy of the disposable. For it is utterly certain that the mainstream media would not have deviated from its nationally sanctioned script of victimized white women if either Le or Richardson had gone missing in South L.A. or the “gritty” streets of New Haven.
Five days ago in economically distressed Rockford, Illinois, a 23-year old Black man named Mark Anthony Barmore was shot to death in a church-run daycare filled with children, as reported by the Associated Press.
Witness claim Barmore who tried to evade police, emerged to surrender from a closet in the church, but police officers shot him anyway.
Though this case is unfolding, and all the facts are not known at this time, the refrain in Black America and beyond is, "Would this have likely happened to a white person?"
Increasingly, Afro-Netizen has noticed clear acknowledgment of racism from white people about other white people's motivations -- even within mainstream media. This new, seemingly unprecedented phenomenon is a good and important trend that is not nearly as comprehensive or rigorous as it should be. However, the extent to which race and racism can be brought up appropriately at the urging of white allies may influence America's tolerance for having such meaningful public discussions that have rarely occurred heretofore.
Meanwhile, the national NAACP is calling for federal legislation to address and curtail future acts of police brutality.Barmore's funeral, a tragic fatality amidst an era that many optimists and delusional voters had quizzically embraced as post-racial with the ascent of Barack Obama to the Oval Office.
Post-racial in this context suggests that "getting beyond race" is the task and ultimate goal. For progressive-minded Americans, however, the goal is in acknowledging that race and racism are all too real social constructions that will endure until we embrace racial justice as a core component of the fight for universal human rights.
Rockford activists and concerned residents understand this in a blighted city north of Chicago with rampant unemployment, crime and urban blight.
They know these ills are all related, and that these socio-economic disparities highly correlate to race in ways that America's first Black president will not (and perhaps cannot politically) affirm, unlike his elderly, white Southern predecessor, former president Jimmy Carter, leveraging the white privilege he has towards shedding light on the truth too powerful for a sitting president in this day and age to co-sign -- irrespective of his race or political party.
Whatever level of culpability the two white Rockford police officers and the deceased Barmore had for what quickly escalated to a man's death -- as witnessed in a church by young children -- this much is true: a crime took place on that fateful day that is as political and resonant as the election of a Black president.
The questions remain in the aftermath of such symptomatic violence: Do we know what's on the referendum? When and where we must vote, and how to cast our ballots?
Afro-Netizen on Friday, September 25, 2009 at 01:40 PM in Commentary/Opinion, Community & Consumer Activism, Crime & Punishment, Current Affairs, Death/In Memoriam, Politics, Public Policy, Publisher's blog, Race, Culture & History, The Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Blacks, gun violence, Jesse Jackson, Mark Anthony Barmore, Mark Barmore, minorities, murder, NAACP, police brutality, police shooting, race, racism, Rockford
Bravo to ProgressiveStates.org for this revelatory and comprehensive report!
Prisoners of the Census: How the Incarcerated are Counted Distorts our Politics
Note - Much of the analysis on prisoners and the census has been carried out by Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative. This Dispatch relies heavily on that work and we thank him for assistance in preparing it.
Currently, 1 in 100 American adults are now behind bars, with over 1.3 million Americans in state or federal correctional institutions (and close to a million more are in local jails). This explosion of our prison population since the beginning of the "war on drugs" in the 1970's has meant the bloating of state budgets, the crowding out of essential services, the destruction of many communities, and robbing many young people of their future. Less well reported is the way the census counts prisoners, which results in political distortions that undermine the principle of one person, one vote.
This Dispatch will outline the serious problems that counting prisoners where they are incarcerated, instead of where they lived before their conviction, has caused for governance at the state and local level, as well as for the small number of communities from which the majority of prisoners come. Instead, states around the country have introduced legislation to determine both redistricting for elections and state funding based on the home community of the incarcerated, a key reform to achieve both democratic results and economic justice within our states.
Where We Count Prisoners and Why it Matters
Currently the Census Bureau counts prisoners as residing at their place of incarceration. While this serves the constitutional purpose of the census - determining the relative populations of the states for congressional reapportionment - it has in the past few decades resulted in significant unintended consequences. The two main secondary purposes of the census are state and local legislative reapportionment, and determining funding for federal grants that are based on population or demographics. For these uses the distortions in population counts caused by prisons can and do throw the process out of whack. The most extreme examples happen at the local level, where a prison can represent a population cluster larger than any local town, or all of them combined. But effects are also felt at the state level, where the prison boom made "prison towns" of many sparsly populated rural communities. This can boost the population of rural state legislative districts enough that without the prisons they wouldn't have enough residents to constitute a complete district.
In states like Ohio, Texas, and New York, where prisoners coming from a handful of urban zip codes fill rural prisons far away, counting prisoners where they are incarcerated results results in demographic statistics for the prison towns that shift government support for infrastructure, higher eduction, and other programs away from the home communities of prisoners. This little known, but perverse consequence of our census practices, serves as another burden on marginalized communities. And ironically, many states, including New York and Texas, have constitutional or statutory mandates against counting a prison cell as a residence, and in the rest the common law should observe the same rule--but it is not an issue courts have directly examined.
Miscounting Prisoners Effects Local Government: The best way to understand how prisoner counting can undermine fair representation, and violate the principle of one person, one vote, is to see how it can play out on the local level. Anamosa, Iowa is a small town of about 5,500 people with the state's largest penitentiary that holds 1,300. Last year the New York Times reported on the odd fact that it had taken only two people (the candidates wife and neighbor) to elect the winner of the City Council race in Ward 2, the district that included the prison. This was possible because there are only 58 non-prison residents in the ward, the rest of the "constituents" are the 1,300 prisoners at the penitentiary. Because Anamosa uses census data that includes prisoners to divide the town in to districts, the power of the voters in Ward 2 is about 25 times greater than in the other three wards. Ward 2 Councilman, Danny Young, was asked whether he considers the 1,300 prisoners that make up 96% of his ward's population his constituents. Councilman Young responded that, “They don’t vote, so, I guess, not really.” In order to fix this irrational situation the town will move to at-large representatives this November. Anamosa is an extreme example of what can result when local districts are apportioned with census data that includes prisoners, but it is a problem across the country. Gross distortions exist on the county level as well, with 21 counties in the US having more than 20% or their population as prisoners.
Miscounting Prisoners Effects State Government: America's prison boom has led to the placement of large prisons in rural areas, where prisoners from throughout the state are incarcerated. In many states the vast majority of the people in those prisons come from urban population centers, often hundreds of miles away. While the absolute numbers of prisoners may not seem sufficient to have an impact on state legislative districts, in the worst cases and in highly-gerrymandered systems, the miscounting of prisoners can have a big impact.
Montana has the most extreme example discovered so far. The Montana House district with the largest prison is 15% prisoners by population. New York is a good example of how prisons enter into gerrymandering. In order to protect Republican control of the New York State Senate during the 2001 redistricting, majority party districts in reliably conservative parts of the state packed in tens of thousands of prisoners imported from New York City to pass the constitutional requirement that districts not vary more than 10% in population. Because of this arrangement there are seven state Senate districts that would not be constitutional if the prisoners in their state prisons were not included in the district's population. Counting those 45,000 prisoners as residing where they did prior to incarceration would result in a cascade of changes that would shift the boundaries and political control of many districts. Similar patterns have been found in other states as well, from Texas to Nevada to Montana to Wisconsin.
Miscounting Prisoners can Distort Criminal Justice Policy: The shift of power from urban, progressive communities with large numbers of criminal offenders to the rural, conservative legislative districts that house those offenders played into the politics of criminal justice policy in a particularly dysfunctional way. Like farm district legislators protecting their local economies through control of agriculture policy, representatives from prison districts often protect the prison economies in their districts by blocking any attempt to reform draconian sentencing policies. Across the country, conservative lawmakers have funnelled tax dollars to prison construction in their districts to warehouse prisoners from other parts of the state, using the expanding prison population itself to augment their political clout to block reform -- clout they would not have had if the prisoners in their districts had been counted as residing in their homes and not their cells.
Miscounting Prisoners Denies Them Representation: For example, roughly 45,000 prisoners from New York City are housed in prisons somewhere else in the state. But this is 76% of the state's total prisoners. And only 10% of prisoners come from rural upstate areas while 75% of prisoners are housed in these areas. Therefore, most of the "constituents" that fill these prisons are imported from distant urban areas. This is a national problem: rural counties contain only 20% of the US population, but they have 60% of new prison construction. However, prison communities in no way represent these prisoners, to which they have no bonds at all. Echoing Councilman Young's comment about the prisoners that constitute over 9 in 10 of his "constituents," Senator Volker, former chairman of the Codes Committee and a leading conservative on criminal justice issues, has acknowledged that if the prisoners in his district could vote they would have every reason to vote against him. Any true representation for incarcerated individuals must come from the community in which they resided prior to being imprisoned. It is this community into which they will likely return and attempt to reintegrate.
Miscounting Prisoners Distorts Government Funding: While it is difficult to generalize across states because of the significant variation in budget practices, it is clear that in many instances prison populations boost funding to rural prison communities, usually at the expense of neighboring communities without prisons. Arizona gives a clear demonstration of this principle due to its large rural prisons and robust revenue sharing within the state. Florence, Arizona, has a free population of about 5,000 and another 12,000 who are incarcerated. The state and federal funds specifically linked to the incarcerated population have been estimated at $4 million annually, compared to $1.8 million for the free residents and $2.3 million in local revenue. This windfall led other towns to attempt to annex prisons nearby, with some towns fighting to annex the same prison.Steps Governments Can Take to Fix the Problem
By Mary Kane
Republished courtesy of The Washington Independent
Smiley declined any comment for our story. On Friday, he told Richard Prince, author of the Maynard Institute’s “Journal-isms” column, that he has severed all ties with Wells Fargo until charges that the company unfairly steered African American borrowers into costly subprime mortgages are resolved. “I cut everything off with Wells Fargo,” Smiley told Prince.
Prince noted that Smiley’s comments came as TWI’s story “circulated.”
Today, Smiley has a new posting on his Website regarding his business relationship with Wells Fargo, saying that he severed his ties to the bank earlier this year, and not in recent days.
In his latest statement, Smiley says he actually made that decision in “the first quarter of this year,” some time “shortly after the State of the Black Union” and announced it then in a statement he posted on his Website.
The undated PDF file, which was not issued as a press release, notes that “Wells Fargo currently is not a sponsor of TSG or Tavis Smiley Foundation programs or events and will not be a sponsor for SOBU for 2010.” Wells had sponsored the State of the Black Union 2009, which was held on February 27-28. According to C-SPAN footage, Smiley lauded the bank at the symposium, telling the predominantly African American audience that “Wells Fargo is your financial action planning guide to every stage of life.” Later that day Smiley praised Wells Fargo for its generosity and said, “This conference is free this year because of Wells Fargo. Give them some love.”
On Friday, Smiley told Prince that Wells Fargo sponsored Smiley’s radio show on Public Radio International, and underwrote the annual C-SPAN-televised “State of the Black Union” conference that Smiley organizes. Smiley’s foundation also distributed Wells Fargo materials to young people at foundation events, he told Prince. Smiley also said the move to end his relationship with Wells cost “a lot of money,” but he said he did not know how much.
In the new statement, Smiley says that “I addressed this issue months ago with a statement on my website during the first quarter of this year when allegations against Wells Fargo first surfaced.”
The NAACP filed suits against Wells Fargo and HSBC on March 13, alleging racial discrimination in lending.
TWI cited Smiley’s earlier statement regarding his relationship with Wells in its story last week. Smiley has declined any additional comment.
Afro-Netizen on Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 11:20 PM in Business & Entrepreneurship, Community & Consumer Activism, Economy/Finance, Race, Culture & History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Afro-Netizen, Blacks, housing, Latinos, lawsuit, minorities, mortgages, NAACP, predatory lending, racial discrimination, racism, redlining, State of the Black Union, Tavis Smiley, wealth-building, Wells Fargo
Let us consider the Congressman first. There’s not much more to say beyond what President Carter elucidated earlier this week. What hasn’t been said is that the Senator is representative of many White Americans who cannot contain themselves, want to crawl out of their very skins, and shout from the highest mountain a string of racial slurs toward the White House.
How can this mere Negro have the audacity to give the government orders? These citizens can hardly stomach the fact that a Black man is in charge. Resorting to behavior that would have warranted a timeout had he been in a preschool class, Senator Wilson, who is not a racist according to his son, just had to say something to disrespect and discredit the President. He really couldn’t hold it in any longer. Hate from racial prejudice overwhelmed him. I guess he hasn’t gotten the memo announcing that we live in a post-racial society in which these open acts of racism covertly guised as disagreement are passé.
Then there’s Mr. West. Okay, so we all have to concede the fact that Kanye was out of pocket when he decided to make a spectacle of himself at the VMA’s. Typical West behavior though was met with an unanticipated backlash this time. We all know Mr. West is a loose canon libel to say anything at any time. No filter. What we didn’t expect was for him to victimize a White girl. Yes. I said it. If Kanye had, hypothetically speaking, instead taken the mic from Jay-Z and insisted that Lil Wayne should have won some award, we would have been shocked for many reasons. We would not, however, deem Jay-Z a victim. West would have been allowed to remain until the show’s and his cognac’s end without incident. It would have made the news.
But we would not have called for Kanye’s immediate apology. We all would have laughed at his crazy antics and gone on to talk about Patrick Swayze’s passing as we should have. But no, Kanye chose the wrong one to pull his publicity stunt on this time. White women are to remain untarnished, unharmed by Black men. History has shown us this over and over. The extreme hatred of OJ Simpson for example. Emmett Till’s murder. There are countless examples of the lengths White America will go in protecting the honor of White women. Kanye should have known better. Even in this "post-racial" society, some acts will always be infractions when White women are involved.So, does the same hold true for Black women? What would have happened had Mr. West upstaged Beyoncé? Would the media dedicate as much time and attention to the reporting of that story? Do Black women have equal value and protection in this society?
I wonder if we know that now more than ever, race is a centralized social construct people consistently use to guide their decisions, yet we, society as a whole, both Black and White folks alike, would rather not acknowledge the validity of its effects on the normal day-to-day interactions between people. However, without that acknowledgment, without racism as explanative in understanding why events like these or that in Philadelphia with the children banned from the pool, or that at Harvard with Professor Gates, it becomes difficult to understand the impetus of such treatment. This is a dangerous endeavor indeed, this denial of the importance race and racism in this country.
For without an answer, without racism and hatred as root causes for the effects of damaging behavior, those victimized are then compelled to internalize the blame. Because racism no longer is present in our society, then the mistreatment must be either a figment of my imagination or the result of something I, the victim, have done wrong. Racism is then internalized and the victim becomes responsible for the perpetrator’s behavior.Come on folks. Racism is alive and well. We cannot deny its power. We cannot deny its effects any longer if we wish to move forward in peace and solidarity in this country within the next century. Calling it what it is, identifying the reason for maltreatment, naming racism causes discomfort for all involved. It is through the discomfort, by treating infection, suffering through the symptoms while healing occurs do we cure the disease. Until we recognize that we are sick with racism, the virus will continue to spread.
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
Rema Reynolds is a former teacher, counselor, administrator, and currently organizes parents for the improvement of Black student achievement in various schools. She is an Assistant Professor at Azusa Pacific University teaching aspiring school counselors and school psychologists and offers support and instruction to pre-service Secondary teachers at UCLA’s teacher education program, Center X.
Tags: birthers, Black women, Blacks, conservatives, deathers, Jay-Z, Jimmy Carter, Joe Wilson, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, neocons, post-racial, racism, Rema Reynolds, Serena Williams, Tashawnea Hill, teabaggers
By Mary Kane
Republished courtesy of The Washington Independent
As the housing market began booming in the mid-2000s, Wells Fargo & Co. teamed up with prominent African American commentator and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley and financial author Kelvin Boston, the host of “Moneywise,” a multi-cultural financial affairs show, to host something called “Wealth Building” seminars in Black neighborhoods.
Smiley was the keynote speaker, and the big draw, according to Boston and Keith Corbett, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending, who attended two of the seminars. Smiley would charge up the audience — and rattle the Wells Fargo executives in attendance — by launching into a story about how he hated banks, and how they used to refuse to lend him money for his real estate projects in Compton, Calif., and elsewhere. After Hurricane Katrina, Smiley also emphasized the importance of building assets and wealth, saying those who had done so were able to leave New Orleans, while people with nothing had to stay behind, Boston said.
“My spiel was the financial planning process, how you want to be able to save and invest for the future, and to have a plan of action,” Boston said. “Then Tavis talked about his experiences with the banks, and how people should be thinking about some real estate.”
The seminars in some cities drew standing room only crowds, with numerous Wells Fargo representatives on hand, seated at carrels to meet one-on-one with potential borrowers who lined up after the speeches, which were usually held in hotels. The free, day-long events were heavily advertised in the black media, and launched in eight cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Richmond, Va., and San Francisco.
But what appeared on the surface as a way to help Black borrowers build wealth was actually just the opposite, according to a little-noticed explanation of the “Wealth Building” seminar strategy, contained in a lawsuit recently filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Wells’ plan for the seminars all along was to target Black borrowers for higher-cost subprime mortgages, not for wealth-building, the suit charged. And the seminars were a part of the bank’s overall illegal and discriminatory practice of steering Black and Latino borrowers into riskier and more expensive loans, the suit said.
“According to a former Wells Fargo Home Mortgage employee, one of these ‘Wealth Building’ seminars held in Maryland was planned for an audience that would be virtually all African American,” the suit said. “The plan for the seminar was for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage employees to talk about subprime mortgages, although they were directed by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage to use the term ‘alternative lending’ when marketing these products.”
The former employee, who is white, was scheduled to speak at the seminar, but was told by a manager that she was “too white,” and that only Black employees could make presentations, the suit said.
Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders and a recipient of $25 billion in government bailout money, has denied all the charges in the Illinois suit, as well as other allegations of unfair lending. The bank did not respond to requests for comment on the seminars. Smiley, an author and advocate who hosts the late night talk show, “Tavis Smiley,” and who organizes the State of the Black Union symposiums each year, also declined comment.
Corbett pointed out that Wells’ outreach to the minority community through the seminars wasn’t unusual. Lenders sponsoring financial literacy sessions, holding wealth building seminars, or contributing to local minority advocacy organizations, became a common marketing strategy as the subprime market grew. Some of the efforts were genuine, aimed at finding new customers in Black and Latino neighborhoods once deprived of credit. But sometimes they were used instead as a cover to push predatory loans, Corbett said.“The wealth building seminars are certainly needed,” Corbett said. “But, if, in fact, Wells was selling bad products out of them, it was totally wrong.”
Boston, for his part, described himself as the small player in the seminars, giving an opening talk before Smiley went on. Boston said he spoke in general terms about the need to save money and to invest. Neither he nor Smiley ever mentioned or discussed subprime loans, he said.
“Basically we were just speakers for hire,” Boston said. “We didn’t have any role or any control over what else happened. The main point is that we were not involved in any of their discussions or in anything they sold.”
Corbett said that after the speakers finished, bank employees and other financial experts were offering credit checks, real estate counseling, and other kinds of assistance. Corbett said he also believes some employees were signing up people for loan pre-approvals, on the spot, though he couldn’t be sure of what kind of loans they were. He said attendees lined up to talk to the Wells employees in both events. “If they weren’t actually selling loans, they were setting up borrowers for the kill,” Corbett said.
Once their speeches were over, however, Boston said he and Smiley had nothing to do with the workshops and counseling. He said he and Smiley together did about 15 seminars over a period of about two years. He declined to comment on how much he or Smiley were paid.
In 2005, before the subprime crisis, Boston said, the main worry in the Black community over mortgage lending was the banks were lagging behind in their lending to Black and Latino neighborhoods. He said expressed his concerns about this to Wells Fargo. Smiley, he said, also later raised questions about subprime lending tactics with the bank. “Tavis definitely had some dealings with them on this issue,” Boston said.
Nonetheless, in hindsight and with the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, Boston said he has second thoughts about participating in the seminars.
“Were we probably used? We probably were,” he said. “If I had the chance to do it over again, would I do it in a different manner? Probably.”
“You look back now and you feel for the homeowner who could have qualified for a better mortgage and got the costly type of mortgage. That concerns me a lot, not just for Wells Fargo, but for everybody out there, Citigroup, Countrywide … they were all doing the same events.”
But at the time, Boston said, having a major bank doing outreach in the Black community was considered an encouraging development, after so many years of redlining and restricted access to credit. “We all thought at the time that we were doing a positive thing,” he said.
Boston said he quit doing the seminars after his contract ended two years ago. Smiley, he said, continued to work with Wells Fargo, particularly on his annual State of the Black Union symposiums. On his website, Smiley recently posted a statement regarding Wells Fargo that said, “in this economic climate, we continue to be reminded every day that there is no perfect company.”
Smiley said in the statement that his relationship with Wells began in 2005, as part of the bank’s “commitment to increase financial literacy in the African American community.” He said that “the partnership with Wells Fargo focused on building personal wealth, which for most Americans begins with buying a house.”
According to the statement, Smiley also has had partnerships with other companies, but has never served as a spokesperson or representative for any of them, including Wells Fargo. The statement also said Wells Fargo will no longer be one of the sponsors of his Black State of the Union event in 2010, although the bank sponsored the event as recently as last spring.
“Given the fact that Wells Fargo has been an industry leader, they have partnered with many African American and Latino national civil rights organizations on various community initiatives,” the statement said.The Illinois lawsuit against Wells is one of many such actions winding their way through the court system around the country, offering more details of alleged discriminatory tactics by lenders during the height of the subprime boom. As TWI reported last week, housing advocates call these lawsuits the “smoking guns” of the housing crisis, providing what they see as proof that lenders deliberately targeted minorities for high-rate and risky subprime mortgages, while white borrowers with similar incomes and credit scores received lower-cost loans.
In a city of Baltimore lawsuit against Wells, former employees charged that Wells Fargo loan officers referred to minority borrowers as “mud people” and called subprime mortgages “ghetto loans.” But some prominent black bloggers find the “wealth building” seminars just as egregious, and question why Smiley, Boston, and anyone else who participated in them hasn’t been called on further to account for their actions.“If Tavis Smiley was white, Wells Fargo and ‘Ghetto Loans’ would be front page news,” wrote Genma Stringer Holmes, a Nashville, Tenn., business owner and blogger who has blasted out several posts on the seminars.
Holmes said Smiley should speak out more against discriminatory subprime lending practices – but he hasn’t been forced to, because the Black media has been silent on the issue, she said. The scandal that remains is that the ads and seminars targeted the most vulnerable members of black community, according to Holmes. “People who follow Tavis will follow him off a cliff,” Holmes said.
Boston said he still does seminars and presentations pushing wealth building, but he focuses on avoiding foreclosures and helping with loan modifications. He recently wrapped up work on an upcoming show on helping homeowners facing foreclosures, he said.
Tags: Blacks, ghetto loans, Kelvin Boston, Latinos, minorities, mortgages, predatory lending, racial discrimination, racism, redlining, State of the Black Union, subprime, Tavis Smiley, wealth-building, Wells Fargo
The symbol of the black panther was an export from Alabama. That's right. It didn't come from the streets of Oakland but from the struggle for freedom in the rural south where the cat was once common and eventually became a symbol on ballots during the voting rights drive in Lowndes, Alabama. That is just one of the remarkable stories in Hasan Kwame Jeffries' new book, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt. A professor of history at Ohio State University, Jeffries discusses the legacy of the African-American struggle for freedom and the roots of the civil rights movement, which he traces back to the moment of emancipation.
Tags: African Americans, Afro-Netizen, Alabama, Black belt, Black Panthers, Black power, Blacks, civil rights, GRITtv.org, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Laura Flanders, liberation, Lowndes, Oakland, racism
By Larry Margasak
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House ethics committee said Wednesday it will put off for now an expanded investigation into whether Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. or his representatives tried to buy President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
The committee revealed that the deferred investigation now includes allegations that Jackson, a Democrat, improperly used his staff in Washington and Chicago to mount a public campaign to secure the Senate seat.
The committee acted at the behest of federal prosecutors who already are investigating former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The panel normally defers investigations when requested by law enforcement, to avoid interference with prosecutors.
The committee is looking into Jackson's interactions with Blagojevich, who has been indicted on corruption charges including alleged attempts to sell the seat now held by Democratic Sen. Roland Burris.
According to a criminal complaint, Jackson was one of several candidates to whom Blagojevich tried to shop the seat. Jackson's supporters were willing to raise $1.5 million for Blagojevich if he picked the congressman, according to the criminal complaint.
The congressman says he did nothing wrong.
Jackson's alleged use of staff was in a report by the new Office of Congressional Ethics, which reviews potential ethical violations by House members and staff and refers cases to the ethics committee of five Democrats and five Republicans.
The referral, made public by the ethics committee, stated, "In the course of conducting this review, the OCE learned that staff resources of the representative's Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Illinois offices were used to mount a 'public campaign' to secure the representative's appointment to the U.S. Senate.
"In doing so, Representative Jackson may have violated federal law and House rules concerning the proper use of the Member's Representational Allowance." The allowance is a monetary amount allotted to each congressional office for official operations.
The committee also said it would delay for 45 days inquiries involving California Democrat Maxine Waters and Missouri Republican Sam Graves.Read more