Wells Fargo Sub-prime Loans, Baltimore & Systemic Racism

David Mura

May 01, 2015

On a friend’s Facebook page today, I found a photo of abandoned row houses, presumably in Baltimore, with the caption: “Where were all the folks concerned with Baltimore’s private property when Wells Fargo Bank first pushed sup-prime mortages on Bmore’s black families, then foreclosed on their homes, leaving a trail of destruction 1,000 times worse than the #BaltimoreUprising”*   Wells Fargo employees referred to these subprime loans as “ghetto loans” and their black clients as “Mud People.”  The practices of Wells Fargo* and other sub-prime lenders and their effect upon Black communities across the nation are well documented in Ta-Nehesi Coates’ article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.”*

The Black people of Baltimore understand that if you steal a forty ounce, you are a "thug" and the police will come after you with a vengeance. But if you steal millions and bankrupt a community, as Wells Fargo did, that crime will go unpunished. Two systems of justice, separate and unequal.

The forces arrayed against the Black community in Baltimore go far beyond the documented instances of police brutality and arbitrary arrests. The financial system, the political system, the justice system, the education system have not simply failed the Black community; no, they have actively worked to segregate, disempower and impoverish that community for decades, if not longer. Again the anger in Baltimore stems from a system of oppression which is vast, concentrated and serves the interests of those outside that community. It's difficult to apprehend the totality of this system, the maleficent and multifarious ways in which it works; certainly, the workings of the system cannot be apprehended merely through a focus on individuals or singular actions by entities such as the police.

The notion that it's a "few bad apples" in the police would be laughable if it weren't so effective as a camouflage for a systemic racism that has its roots in slavery and continues to this day. Individual actions need to be seen as socially constructed, and thus, as instances of social not individual practice. In turn, social practice is always political, never simply neutral or natural--i.e, social practice determines the distribution of power in a society. And in order to see and think politically, one must connect the dots, the links between the different social, cultural, legal, political and economic realms rather than looking at each in isolation.

Finally, the political is based on the epistemological (how we think about what we think, how we acquire knowledge) and the ontological (the basic categories of our thought which most often remain unconscious and uncritiqued). How, for instance, are our concepts of Whiteness (standard, human, innocent, citizen) and Blackness (substandard, inhuman, guilty, criminal) constructed? Where, when and how did we learn these definitions? Whom do they benefit?

We have to be able to see and think on all these levels in order to apprehend the nature and enormity of the problem. Only by apprehending the nature of the problem can we truly became to solve it and dismantle this oppressive system which has been an integral part of this country since its inception.

* From a FB note from my friend Richard Hoffman:  “David, if you follow the money back, behind Wells-Fargo you find Wachovia, partially formed of mergers of Atlanta Bank & Trust (1865) and Southtrust, formerly Birmingham Trust and Savings, founded during Reconstruction, in other words $ made on slave labor, later on convict labor during Jim Crow. Douglas Blackmon is good on this in Slavery By Another Name.”