What’s to stop black bankers who, in all probability, would be as greedy for profit as any other banker, from exploiting the most vulnerable and penniless among their own?
Ghanian financial firm Groupe Nduom swooped in and rescued a failing black-owned bank, Illinois Service Federal Savings and Loan Association (ISF Bank), located in the Bronzeville community of Chicago, the AtlantaBlackStar.com reports.
Nduom invested $9 million in the struggling black institution. Before any curious minds could ask about the motivation behind Nduom’s decision, company chairman Dr. Papa Kwesi Ndoum supplied them with the answer.
This acquisition is “a major step for Africans,” he explained, a gateway for Ghanaians to start businesses in the black community.
ISF’s former Chairman and CEO, Norman J. Williams, could not be more thrilled about the transaction, telling reporters that the bank’s new proprietors will usher in “a new chapter in the life of the bank, which will enable it to sustain the rigors of financial stress that have plagued many communities in Chicago and continue to provide much-needed banking services and access to credit.”
Williams added, “Given the current climate in our country, the bank is needed more than ever to provide financial services and drive redevelopment in our market.”
Black banks returned to the center of black discourse as Black Lives Matter made its transition from a hashtag to an organized social movement. However, the proposal to #BankBlack as a means of developing group economic awareness and achieving financial liberation is as old as the black freedom struggle itself.
Black leaders have been advocating for economic control of black life since the Reconstruction. During the post-Civil War era, newly freed blacks, suddenly thrust into the wage labor economy and under the thumb of capitalism, made deposits to Freedman’s Trust Bank, established by Congress in 1864. Ambitious in scope, the project lasted just 10 years but spawned the creation of other black banking institutions, such as Mechanics and Farmers Bank (1902), Carver Federal Savings (1949), First Independence Bank (1970) and Liberty Bank (1972).
With the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille and so many others, the current wave of the #BankBlack initiative — if only the idea of it if not the practice — took off and gained a new urgency.
Celebrities like the rapper Killer Mike took to the radio to tell — or, rather, remind — blacks that America only understands the language of power — money power — and urged them to withdraw their checking and savings accounts from the coffers of soaking-red organizations like Well Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America and invest in their own.
“We need one million people in Atlanta to take $100 out of their existing accounts, put $100 into a Citizens Trust [Bank] account … take that $100 million and promise $15,000 to $18,000 loans for Black businesses or small homes,” Mike told interviews.
Soon, #BankBlack hashtag had grown and was trending online. Think pieces, full of data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) about the 40-year steep decline of black banks — from 130 to 48, to its current number, 22 — went up to help black readers understand what it means to take stock of the moment.
The argument is that as black communities across the country yearn for a pragmatic lens to conceptualize the meaning and purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement beyond the context of street uprisings, chants and protests, beyond simply pressuring establishment politicians and office-seekers on the come-up to pursue reform agendas in state and local halls of power, toward something larger and more substantial, the old idea of banking black once again shows promise. It would give to the movement and to black lives a concrete force which they have never in the history of their entire tenure in North America possessed: financial power.
For black executives and CEOs working in the banking industry, black financial empowerment is the next, logical and most important chapter of the movement for Black lives, essential to improving the overall quality of life in black cities and neighborhoods. It is consistent with their religiously held belief that the only people blacks can rely on are themselves — no one else.
This is a sentiment Ndoum tapped into during a black town hall meeting in Chicago after breathing new economic life into ISF:
“In the Jewish community, they find a way to help each other and they have moved on,” the investment firm president said. “The Chinese start with little and move on, and the Koreans also come here and move on. So, we have this idea: What is it about African-Americans, Africans, specifically Ghanaians? … The African has talent, the African-American has talent, the Ghanaian has talent; the problem is a lack of opportunity.”
By “opportunity,” Ndoum means money and wealth. And, more specifically, black wealth. That’s the idea: black banks will produce, spread and preserve black wealth. Black banks, given enough community investment and capital, would open the door for black entrepreneurs and sustainable employment for black workers across the occupational spectrum of black America. Granted, structurally, black banks would resemble their white counterparts — if they intend to compete, they have little choice but to — with one exceptional caveat: their function in the market is to serve and prioritize black depositors.
Of course, lurking in the shadows of this generous and idyllic interpretation of what a black bank could be, and how it might be the game-changing ingredient indispensable to propelling blacks into “A Nation within A Nation,” is a serious danger worth noting. For if a black banking system is the economic parallel of a white banking system, and both systems are beholden to the rule and logic of capital, what’s to stop black bankers — who presumably want to gobble up as much profit as white financiers — from exploiting the most vulnerable and penniless among its own?
While it’s absolutely true that the majority of black people lack financial power and must fight for a larger portion of the American pie, I can’t help but wonder if the banking black movement is really about greasing the quantitative wheels of black producers and consumers for the grand emergence of black capitalism, an ethnic microcosm of the bigger free market, neoliberal hellhole, feeding on the lower classes of its ranks and proving itself to be as parasitic to black liberation as anything white supremacist capitalism can sic on black existence.