America’s black banking revolution

Recent racial unrest in the US has bloomed into a different kind of protest. ‘Black banking’ is emerging as a tool of empowerment for communities in America, and further afield

At a time of heightened racial unrest, black Americans are being urged to empower their communities through banking. OneUnited Bank, which is believed to be the largest black-owned bank in the US, launched the #BankBlack campaign earlier this year, urging people to invest $100 (£82) into one of the 318 such financial institutions currently in the US.

“The #BankBlack movement is part protest and part progress,” says Teri Williams, president of OneUnited Bank, which reports lending more than $1bn (£820m) to low to moderate income communities since 1995. “Many practices in the financial services industry have particularly disadvantaged the black community. This is a protest against these predatory banking practices and an opportunity for the black community to make progress by using our $1.2tn [£984bn] annual spending power to create local jobs.”

Through social media posts following the campaign’s launch, rappers Killer Mike and David Banner helped draw attention to what they see as a shortage of black banks. Jason Warner, president of the Own the Vision foundation – an organisation that supports the development of black communities – also backs it. He mentions one Mississippi-based bank that was fined for deliberately discriminating against minorities in its lending practices.

This is a protest against predatory banking practices and an opportunity for the black community to make progress

“I truly believe the goal is to spark a mindset shift among all people. It sends the message that injustice and inequity will no longer be tolerated,” Warner tells Positive News.

“Banking black allows blacks and other people of colour to receive fair and equitable treatment from their banking partner.”

Warner also explains that while strong group economic models exist among some cultures, these economic ecosystems are not as developed within black American communities: “If you don’t own a seat at the capitalism table as a group, then you will never command a seat at the social justice table. Black America talks about the nearly $1.3tn annual spending power, however, that number means nothing if the community owns and controls nothing.”

Financial literacy, say some experts, is another barrier to funding. Danielle Robinson Bell is marketing director at digitalundivided (DID), a Georgia-based platform for black female entrepreneurs in the tech and innovation sectors.

She says: “We focus on economic growth and empowerment of communities of colour and we do this by giving black and Hispanic women entrepreneurs access to training, networks and capital to grow their businesses. Our offices are in downtown Atlanta’s emerging tech scene.”

Collaborating with a small team of investors and mentors, DID works with women who are often overlooked and regarded by mainstream banks as big financial risks.

The goal is to spark a mindset shift among all people

Rohan Clarke, who owns a shoe company based in Brixton, south London, believes that things are similar in the UK. Here, a government report published in 2013 urged the banking industry to do more to ensure ethnic minority businesses have access to finance. It found there were higher aspirations to start up businesses among ethnic minority groups – 35 per cent in black African communities compared to just 10 per cent for white British people – but that the ‘conversion’ rates into successful businesses were low.

Clarke established Uptown Yardie seven years ago but was unable to secure financial backing from mainstream British banks: “It was a constant struggle,” he says. “We mortgaged our property and relied on our own people, paying all upfront costs.”

He hopes the #BankBlack movement in the US could shift things here too, better supporting black business owners in the future. “I hope the situation in America will wake people up and that mindset will trickle over to the UK. I’m hoping it will be easier for the next generation.”

Image: Majka Czapski