Despite the Civil Rights movement and efforts toward great human equality, there is a substantial wealth gap between the average white versus Black American. This summer Bloomberg reported that “Black Americans in 2019 had one-sixth the wealth of White Americans on an average, per capita basis.” In a famous 2016 study, the Brookings Institute put an average white family’s wealth at $171,000, $17,150 for a Black family.
Home ownership was the great gap that separated the two groups. Redlining of low-income neighborhoods, bank’s refusal to lend mortgages and poor banking services combined to keep home ownership from many Black working family’s grasp.
Have things changed? If one looks at advertising images, banks, financial services and insurance companies all highlight diverse people.
In The White Wall: How Big Finance Bankrupts Black America Emily Flitter looks at those financial institutions and their own internal operations. Despite showing a publicly diverse face, Black Americans who wear a suit and join these high finance corporations find themselves shunned, shunted to poor performing areas and never given those vaunted equal opportunities.
Whether in brokerage houses, insurance firms or banks, corporations are often eager to recruit a diverse workshop but fail in workplace supports. Flitter documents multiple lawsuits by alienated Black employees. Despite promises and commitments, they were shunned by their white counterparts or assigned to poor performing areas. Brokerage and investment houses grandfathered older accounts to help new employees – who invariably were white, while Black workers were left to their own devices.
Prestigious corporate names like CitiGroup, Wells-Fargo, J.P. Morgan-Chase and other recur throughout the book. Covering the financial industry for the New York Times, Flitter would write a story about a settlement with a Black employee – which would unleash a phone call torrent from others in the same situation.
Investment companies encouraged Black employees to build their reputation by going “door to door” to find new clients. Knocking doors in predominately white areas, where wealth was located, brought calls from the police or rude rebukes.
“Good neighbor” State Farm and other home insurance companies refused to honor Black policy holders’ damage claims or made the insured prove their claims were not fraudulent. After Mississippi financially assisted homeowners with claims pending with State Farm Insurance, the state sued the insurance giant. A State Farm subsidiary reimbursed Mississippi $12 million for allegedly minimizing payments to insured homeowners who were predominately Black.
St. Louis’ Edward Jones financial services gave its potential agents minimal training, often restricting Black agents to low-performing areas. These new agents were required to help pay for offices and expenses. If they tried to quit, the company required them to refund $75,000 for training costs.
Finally, the book tackles the reparations question to enslaved people’s descendants. With bank consolidations, there are few banks or financial companies without a slave trade, cotton kingdom predecessor. Although the enslaved labored in the South, the North controlled the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, plantation financing and banking.
Flitter argues these profitable companies should use their lobby and marketing power to support a government reparations program.
A good union job helped many Black Americans into the middle class and home ownership. Their children who went to college and dressed business professional suffered continuing, systematic discrimination, telling tales well documented in The White Wall.
The White Wall: How Big Finance Bankrupts Black America
By Emily Flitter
One Signal Publisher, 2022