The Importance of Black Banking & Fighting Systemic Racism
By Alec Banks
I’ve been pushing the line on Black banking for years.
However, in order to explain its importance you have to go back a number of decades. Black people have only been free for 60, 70 years. But there are people who will say to me, "Well, Michael, slavery ended in the late 1800s. By 1865, 66 it was over.” Well, slavery was over, but reconstruction didn’t last long.
During reconstruction we enjoyed some semblance of rights. We were able to run for and win political office. We were able to own land, to control our destiny. But, after the great compromise in which the cousins of the North and the South made a deal, descendants of Africans were once again cut out.
The South repatriated itself as not only a part of the Union, but somehow the Confederacy became this romantic, exotic thing. This war that was waged of aggression by the North somehow made them not culpable in the horror, evil and genocide that was slavery. They rewrote their history and then they brought in an apartheid called Jim Crowism that said, “Well, fair’s fair, but you can’t be fair with us.
“You can’t sell with us. You can’t buy from us. You don’t have the ability to live where you want. You can’t engage in commerce.”
So Black banks, starting with the Freedman’s Savings Bank and with what Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas tried to do with many banks after that, tried to make up for a 200-some-odd year, now 400-year wealth gap in which the whites on top — the ones who really control the coin — would be called to task.
Because what we’ve seen is that we have been systemically shut out of banking. We’ve been shut out of agriculture. Black farmers who’ve been robbed of their land have been denied government loans. We’ve been cut out of the G.I. Bill, which after World War II would’ve given us homeownership, and that’s usually the first step of building wealth that a family can pass from one generation to the next. We’ve been systemically shut out and I want to help change things.
It’s no secret that the current financial system has failed Black and Latinx communities, and that’s why I’ve teamed up with Andrew Young and Ryan Glover to launch Greenwood, a new banking platform that specifically helps Black and Latinx people and their businesses. It’s modern banking for the culture.
The bank’s name is inspired by the early 1900’s Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the recirculation of Black wealth occurred all day, every day, and where Black businesses thrived after the people who were once enslaved were freed.
Blacks weren’t given shit, Blacks had to work. Then when they got it they formed their own communities as they weren’t allowed in the larger community because of segregation. But because of that, the dollar turned more times in their own community and so they were able to build banks, stores, schools, churches. But as always in those times, it didn’t sit well with poor working class whites.
What happened next was the classic story of a Black boy saying something or doing something to a white woman. It was then used as an excuse to destroy the entire town. To murder, or to facilitate the murder of Black residents, to take over the township and destroy what people call Black Wall Street.
Now there have been many Black Wall Streets. There are Black Wall Streets in Atlanta, in the Auburn Avenue and Edgewood district. There’s, of course, Greenwood in Tulsa. There’s Inglewood. There’s Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, and Miami when the city was bolstering with business. But many of them are now gone.
Atlanta still stands as one of the last fortresses of the Black dollar. We know we can rebuild other cities to be that, whether those cities are Tampa, Jacksonville, Savannah, Birmingham, Montgomery. But the only way it works is if you start off with stability. And Greenwood as a platform is keeping the spirit of Greenwood the place alive, and it’s giving people the opportunity to provide stability to create more Greenwoods.
We want to get the unbanked banked, many of whom are Black, Latinx, poor, and working class whites. We want to give the unbanked an opportunity to have a system that unlike cheque cashing places and liquor stores who gouge them for 20, 25% of the dollar, helps them start saving money. So instead of being renters they become buyers.
We also wanna get those who are not being banked with fairly banking with us. But what’s not fair? Not fair is Blacks are typically charged more for checking accounts than whites. We can have pretty much the same application but I will be turned down 21% of the time, whereas my white counterparts with a comparable application will only be turned down 8% of the time.
Greenwood is gonna be a place where fairness can happen. A place where you can look like me and actually have a checking account that’s not punitive. Does not treat you in a way like you’re a suspect, in terms of not overcharging you. There are no hidden fees and charges.
Not only that, Greenwood is the future of banking in that 65% of people are now doing their banking right out of their hands. Right out of their phone, and it better prepares us to be ready to bank out of our hand more than any other banking platform right now. The digital doors officially open in January. You can go to www.bankgreenwood.com and sign up to get on the waiting list, which currently stands at over 150,000.
The next phase for Greenwood is to do things like auto loans, home loans. And then another phase is to do small business loans, medium business loans, and incorporate an injection of capital into ideas, goods and services that can help the community and make money for the people involved and help fund the next capital districts.
I appreciate that I’m a part of a longer struggle in making sure that a people that ended up on a continent by means of the transatlantic slave trade are fully recognised. I’m proud in a lineage of those people to still be fighting for the opportunity to have my full rights recognised and to be a whole human being. And a big part of being a whole human being in Western society is being able to control your coin.
*HEADER CREDIT: Killer Mike, Atlanta GA (photo by Dan Medhurst)