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What Do the Racial Wealth Gap, Police Brutality, and the Climate Crisis Have in Common? Wall Street

Well-dressed plantation owner and family visiting the slave quarters. Date: 1876 Source: Harper's Weekly, 1876 August 193, p. 677 Author: Harper's Weekly

The biggest banks, it turns out, are every bit as complicit in the climate crisis as they were in the slave trade.

(Common Dreams) In case you missed their tweets and statements, Wall Street wants you to know that it is definitely, without a doubt, very much not racist. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, even took a knee for one particularly well-lit photo opportunity. Yet, peek behind the curtain and it’s clear that white supremacy continues to pull Wall Street’s strings.

Not that this should surprise anyone.

For generations, the slave trade and the financial system operated in a twisted symbiosis. Banks provided loans to white plantation owners to buy black slaves. Plantation owners used slaves as collateral to take out more loans. In southern states, as many as eighty percent of mortgages were taken out using enslaved black people as collateral.

When plantation owners defaulted on their debts, banks would take direct ownership of slaves. JPMorgan Chase has admitted that its forebears owned more than 1,250 enslaved people. It should surprise no one that Wall Street was New York’s first slave market. And banks weren’t the only ones making a killing. Insurance companies like AIG and New York Life sold policies to slave owners guaranteeing pay-outs if their slaves were killed or injured. In all, forty percent of cotton revenue may have ended up in New York.

Meanwhile, even free blacks in northern states were unable to secure a line of credit, making starting a business or entering the housing market all but impossible.

The end of slavery certainly didn’t bring an end to Wall Street’s white supremacy. Redlining systematically cut black communities out of the housing market, preventing them from participating in the largest mass-based wealth creation opportunity in American history.

In 1968, the federal government finally outlawed housing discrimination. But as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor details in her book “Race for Profit,” redlining was immediately replaced with predatory lending practices. Practicing what Taylor calls “predatory inclusion,” banks and real estate agents targeted poor black people they thought were likely to default on mortgage payments. When black community members defaulted on their mortgage, the banks took possession of their homes and sold them on for a profit. The result was more profit for Wall Street and a whole new generation of black communities beaten down with debt and foreclosure.

The new century only brought the same old white supremacy. Just look at Exhibit A: the bank managed by the kneeling CEO, JPMorgan Chase.

  • In 2017, Chase paid out $55 million in response to a lawsuit claiming that it had routinely charged black people more for loans than white people.
  • In 2018, Chase paid out $24 million to six employees in response to a lawsuit alleging “uniform and national” racism across the company
  • In 2019, The New York Times detailed how black mortgage borrowers are routinely charged higher interest rates than white borrowers, and how black borrowers are routinely denied mortgages that white borrowers would have approved. They even documented how Chase refused a multi-millionaire former-NFL player business. Why? Because he was black
  • In 2020, it was revealed that Chase has loaned forty-one times more money to white neighborhoods than black neighborhoods in Chicago since 2012

When we consider all of this, two things become clear. One) Wall Street’s racism helps explain why the average white American has ten times the wealth of the average black American. Two) There is a very real argument that Wall Street, as well as the federal government, owes the African-American community reparations ― which is exactly what some in Chicago are now calling for.

Yet, instead of offering reparations to black communities, Wall Street continues to give billions to industries that disproportionately harm and kill black people.

report by the Action Center on Race and the Economy has highlighted how Wall Street made $891 million in profit from what they call police brutality bonds―high-interest rate loans to cities and counties that cover the costs of police brutality legal settlements.

Then there is the fact that since the Paris Agreement was signed, the world’s largest banks have loaned more than $2.7 trillion to the fossil fuel industry. JPMorgan Chase alone has provided over $296 billion to the fossil fuel industry in that time.

The fossil fuel corporations funded by Wall Street cause vast harm to black communities; yet, black communities reap almost no benefit from the industry. As a 2014 NAACP report documented, 68% of African Americans live within thirty miles of a coal-fired power plant, resulting in higher rates of birth defects, cancers, heart disease, and other maladies, as well as lower property values. Yet, African Americans hold only 1.1% of the nation’s energy jobs and claim just 0.001% of the revenue from energy industries.

Of course, fossil fuel companies are also wrecking our planet’s climate. As the 130 organizations in the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition have been pointing out, the money that Wall Street pipes to the fossil fuel industry is the oxygen upon which the fire of global warming burns. Without it, the fossil fuel industry simply couldn’t afford to build its new coal mines and oil pipelines.

Wall Street, it turns out, is every bit as complicit in the climate crisis as it was in the slave trade.

If Wall Street truly denounced white supremacy this sort of lending wouldn’t be possible. In a nation where one in every thousand black men will be murdered by police, only white supremacy enables Wall Street to profit from police violence. In a world where 400,000 black and brown people already die every year as a direct result of the climate crisis, only white supremacy enables Wall Street to continue to loan billions of dollars to the corporations responsible.

Jamie Dimon and his Wall Street CEO chums can take a knee and put out all the statements they like, but until they start investing in black communities and stop investing in the corporations that destroy black lives their words and photos are less than meaningless.

Alec Connon

Alec Connon is the coordinator of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, a coalition of over 120 organizations working to stop the flow of money from Wall Street to the fossil fuel industry. He is also a writer. His first novel, The Activist, was published in 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @alecconnon

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