Listen & Learn: JVN in Conversation with Author Mehrsa Baradaran about the Racial Wealth Gap

We’re huge fans of Jonathan Van Ness, and his Getting Curious podcast is an absolute can’t-miss! Dig into this episode with the incredible Mehrsa Baradaran to learn more about the history of Black banks and the racial wealth gap

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Graphic: JonathanVanNess.com/GettingCurious

We can’t get enough of Jonathan Van Ness‘ incredible podcast, Getting Curious with JVN, which is a bright, educational and just generally fabulous addition to our queue. JVN always brings us the best conversations, and some of the smartest folks on the planet, and this episode from last month is no exception. Scroll down for the full conversation, but here’s a little taster if you just can’t wait:

Your eyes do not deceive you! Yes, that’s the one and only Mehrsa Baradaran, the professor of law at UCI with a particular expertise in banking law, contracts, property, housing and inequality – all of which informs her scholarship into the racial wealth gap. She and JVN sat down in January to discuss her (best-selling) book The Color of Money: Black banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, a work that (fellow best-selling) author Ta-Nehisi Coates described as “a beautiful, heartbreaking book.” Here are a few of the broad strokes, per Harvard’s literature hub:

“When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the Black community owned less than one percent of the United States’ total wealth. More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged. The Color of Money pursues the persistence of this racial wealth gap by focusing on the generators of wealth in the Black community: Black banks. Studying these institutions over time, Mehrsa Baradaran challenges the myth that Black communities could ever accumulate wealth in a segregated economy. Instead, housing segregation, racism, and Jim Crow credit policies created an inescapable, but hard to detect, economic trap for Black communities and their banks.

“The catch-22 of Black banking is that the very institutions needed to help communities escape the deep poverty caused by discrimination and segregation inevitably became victims of that same poverty. Not only could Black banks not “control the Black dollar” due to the dynamics of bank depositing and lending but they drained Black capital into white banks, leaving the Black economy with the scraps.

“Baradaran challenges the long-standing notion that Black banking and community self-help is the solution to the racial wealth gap. These initiatives have functioned as a potent political decoy to avoid more fundamental reforms and racial redress. Examining the fruits of past policies and the operation of banking in a segregated economy, she makes clear that only bolder, more realistic views of banking’s relation to Black communities will end the cycle of poverty and promote Black wealth.”

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 “The hand that drives Black poverty is not a natural and invisible one,” she writes, “but rather the coercive hand of the state that has consistently excluded Blacks from full participation in American capitalism.”
– Mehrsa Baradaran

We’ll also say this book, and this conversation, are for absolutely everyone – especially those of us (:raises own hand:) who perhaps aren’t the most financially literate or aware of the big, institutional goings-on in the fiscal world. And beyond learning about how banks and loans actually work, it’s next-level eye-opening to see how they have led to disparate outcomes in communities across America. This book and Baradaran’s scholarship were so groundbreaking that Netflix literally pledged to donate $100 million to Black communities, and the Washington Post’s opinion section is calling for Baradaran’s appointment to Biden’s administration as head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Clearly she’s put her finger on something urgent and important, so we wanted to make sure you had a chance to listen in!

Here’s the full podcast – and, as always, major shoutout from our hearts to JVN for always bringing us new opportunities to learn and grow!

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