Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wells Fargo Says It Plans to Be Nicer to Black People: Oh Really?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

I got a call not too long ago. It was from Wells Fargo, the bank that has been sued by one county after another for engaging in predatory lending toward the African American community. My first question to my business manager was "What do they want? I'm probably not going to be interested." My personal negotiations with Wells Fargo didn't go very far. I had no interest in being associated with the company that many believe to have ripped billions of dollars in wealth from a community that has such little wealth to begin with. Also, after watching my grandparents lose the home they'd lived in for over 40 years, it was personal for me. I also applaud Tavis Smiley for ending his affiliation with Wells Fargo after the predatory lending allegations surfaced during the financial crisis.

You can imagine my dismay when the NAACP made a deal with Wells Fargo that led to the company immediately becoming the title sponsor of the organization's national convention this year. I spoke with NAACP President Ben Jealous about the matter, and I was ultimately left unsatisfied with the degree of transparency behind the deal. It's one thing to say that you're going into the demon's house to clean it up, but you must provide proof that you're not simply entering the house to enjoy the spoils of colluding with the demon. To date, the NAACP has not done an adequate job of describing the nature of its financial deal with Wells Fargo, and the group has also not made clear exactly how Wells Fargo is going to make up for the billions in losses that have been caused to the African American community. Having the most powerful civil rights organization in America as a "partner" effectively releases Wells Fargo from the threat of any significant criticism for their activities in the black community (other than conversations that occur behind closed doors). If this partnership is not clearly defined and empowered, Wells Fargo could hire thugs to rob old ladies in the hood and the NAACP wouldn't be able to say a thing.


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