Graphic: Michael Harriot (The Root; image via iStock)

Lie. ... This is the first rule of talking about race. If you wish to discuss racism, the first thing you must learn is that you cannot call a thing exactly what it is. Even when you’re exposing the most egregious forms of discrimination, in America there is no room for truth.

You must euphemize the systematic underfunding of black schools as the “education gap.” Call the disproportionate, state-sponsored murder of black people “use of force.” Call criminal injustice “sentencing disparity.” Call economic racism “wage inequality.”

Truth gives America the heebie-jeebies.

If any form of discrimination keeps white people more educated, better paid or even alive, you must still refer to the inequity as a “disparity” or a “gap.” Lie. Equivocate. Soft-pedal. Beat around the white bush.

And for God’s sake, never say “white supremacy.”

For instance, a New America study on America’s personal-banking industry revealed that small community banks routinely charge significantly higher fees to people who live in black neighborhoods. The report also shows that Asian, Latinx and African Americans pay substantially higher overdraft fees and expenses to maintain checking accounts than whites.

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Because this subject is important, we shall not call it what it is. If we want to solve the problem, we cannot say the name of this phenomenon. We shall call this study “The Racialized Costs of Banking.”

The four biggest banks in America (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup) have all settled lawsuits for discriminating against black and Hispanic customers. Collectively, these banks that participated in the textbook definition of structural racism hold one-third of all deposits in the U.S.

Banks open branches in disproportionately white communities, according to a study by Columbia University researchers. Between 2009 and 2014, banks across the U.S. disproportionately closed branches in minority communities. These “banking deserts” make it harder for black and Hispanic citizens to open bank accounts. Black homebuyers who often have the same income and credit qualifications are denied mortgages more often than whites and are steered toward higher-interest subprime mortgages and charged unnecessary lender fees.

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Let there be no doubt: The banking industry is built on structural racism.

It is not just the big banks. The New America study examined data from a random sample of more than 6,000 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-insured “small” and “community” banks, and it turns out that these banks have the discretion to charge customers different fees however they choose.

The study’s results solidify the financial industry’s institutional racism by exposing some alarming statistics:

  • The average checking account costs and fees are $190.09 higher for blacks, $25.53 higher for Asians and $262.09 higher for Latinx than for whites.
  • The average black checking account holder must maintain a minimum account balance (the amount required to keep the account open) that is $173.98 more than that required of the average white account holder. For Lantinx bank account owners, the average minimum balance required to maintain an account is $231.21 higher than the requirement for whites.
  • Even when they are owned by the same bank, branches located in white neighborhoods often have lower overdraft fees than branches in minority neighborhoods.
  • In black neighborhoods, the minimum amount required to open a checking account is $12.10 higher than in white neighborhoods.

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Much of this is due to the “ad hoc policy” that these banks are allowed to use under the guise of tailoring their services to the community. Overdraft fees, minimum account balances and banking fees are determined on an individual basis—in fact, the fees that these banks charge may be totally dependent on the whim of the bank employee the customer talks to when opening an account.

This should be easy to fix. All that is needed is a law that requires banks to charge the same fees to customers across the board. Congress could also require banks to report their racial data so that overseers could make sure that financial institutions are treating customers equally. Consumers also need a law that makes it easy to sue banks when they discover racial discrimination.

If you think this is a no-brainer, it actually is. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act had all of these regulations in place. The laws, passed during the Obama administration, sought to protect consumers and the economy from the practices that led to the Great Recession.

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Then came the Orange Muskrat’s presidency.

The Trump administration rolled back these protections. It dismantled the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (pdf) elimination of mandatory arbitration clauses that forced customers into signing agreements not to sue banks. Congress rolled back the requirement for small banks to report race and demographic information.

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Even though banks are financial “institutions” that have displayed verifiable racism, they didn’t call it “institutional racism.” They didn’t refer to the racist structure of forcing minorities to pay arbitrarily determined higher fees as “structural racism.”

They called it “deregulation.”

It’s white supremacy.