Blacks still face unfair treatment in many ways


April 7   BY LEWIS W. DIUGUID          The Kansas City Star
In a voice that seemed like a cry to the heavens, an older African-American friend asked: “What advanced age does a black man have to reach to receive nondiscriminatory treatment?”

Recently, he had been unfairly treated like a suspect. His experience keeps recurring for blacks. It happens in racial profiling traffic stops, when store employees appear to disproportionately follow black customers, and when restaurants seat blacks in less desirable spots by the kitchen or exterior doors or hotels assign them noisy rooms by elevators. All instances exceed happenstance.Finance companies and banks do it, too. A disproportionate share of blacks got sucked into sub-prime mortgages for home purchases, resulting in many foreclosures. A disproportionate number of blacks also are “unbanked” with no bank accounts. Many use payday and title loan joints, which charge high fees to cash checks and outrageous interest rates on loans.

It’s no wonder that employees at two bank branches that I normally don’t frequent made me think of my friend’s refrain when I stopped by for routine transactions.

In one case I was rushing to the airport to get a friend. I made what I thought would be a quick stop at a Northland bank branch. The teller was nice enough and offered to help when I searched for slips on a counter to fill out and take to her.

First she said she had the withdrawal forms that I was looking for. “No,” I responded. “I’m actually looking for deposit slips.”

“I can help you with your checking account,” she said eagerly. “Actually,” I said, “it’s for a money market account.”

She looked surprised. But she took the cash I gave her, my driver’s license and had me fill out a special form before my account was credited and I could go. So much for trust and a quick stop.

Certainly banks have to be careful because of identity theft and thieves making deposits so they can return to clean out an unsuspecting customer’s account. I wrote it off to that bank’s personnel not knowing me.

But the weirdness happened again at another bank close to a school where I was to speak. Dressed in a suit and tie I went in with a check to make a savings deposit and get cash back for expenses. I took the appropriate slips to a male bank teller and offered my driver’s license. He was a nice guy and asked how I pronounced my name and its origin. I smiled, pronounced it and explained that it’s Scottish. He went away and came back with his supervisor, who asked the same questions. I gave the same answers. “Have you ever been in this branch before?” the manager asked.

“Maybe once,” I responded, adding that I mostly go to a branch downtown. Clearly the two thought something was fishy. It was obvious they were unfamiliar with an African-American man adding to an account.

I know now why many black friends bank online or not at all. It eliminates wondering whether they might have a racist moment.

My banking experience pointed out that African-Americans frequently have to explain themselves to whites who too often embrace stereotypes rather than accept us as everyday people shopping, going to work, paying taxes, raising our children and being good citizens.

The questioning, suspicions and doubt impede progress, recalling the days when freed men in the Antebellum South has to show their papers. Today, Latinos face similar hurdles, asked to prove they’re in this country legally even though many have families who’ve been here for generations. When speed counts in the race to advance, each stop keeps people of color behind.

I understand the enduring cautions from my parents’ generation. Because we’re a far cry from a post-racial America, this Derrick Bell quote still applies: “It appears that my worst fears have been realized: we have made progress in everything, yet nothing has changed.”


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