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Jun 15, 2019

Hate is all around you

Co-produced with PRX Logo

In the second part of Reveal’s series about hate, we look at how racism and white supremacy are institutionalized in America.

We start with Reveal’s Will Carless, who over the past year has been tracking police officers’ activity on Facebook, finding that hundreds of them belong to racist groups connected to the Confederacy, Islamophobic groups, misogynistic groups and groups connected to violent anti-government militias. He takes us inside this online world where officers share racist memes and jokes and share conspiracy theories.

We then look at banking and finance, beginning with highlights from Reveal’s exposé about mortgage lending and how it skews in favor of white borrowers. Then, Al Letson talks with University of Georgia law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, who explains how other aspects of the banking system are stacked against poor people of color.

We end with a look at Hollywood and how African Americans are represented in films and the movie business. Letson speaks with Brooke Obie, author and managing editor of the film/TV site Shadow and Act.

Credits

This week’s show was produced by Najib Aminy, Samantha Fields, Nathan Tobey and Katharine Mieszkowski, and edited by Kevin Sullivan, Michael Montgomery and Taki Telonidis. It was reported by Will Carless and Aaron Glantz.

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Kaitlin Benz.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Speaker 2: Testing, testing, testing. One, two, three, four. We are testing the nice, brand new, National Socialist Movement's PA system.

 

Al Letson: Almost a year after the Unite the Right rally protest in Charlottesville, Will Carless is in Newnan, Georgia, a small town that's about a 40-minute car ride from Atlanta. He's covering a white supremacist rally held by the National Socialist Movement.

 

Will Carless: Probably a few 100 protestors over there, and the neo-Nazis are setting up.

 

Al Letson: There's a huge police presence. Helicopters are flying in the air. Military-grade vehicles are controlling the streets, and riot teams are on the ready. But the majority of the people at this rally are, in fact, counter protestors.

 

Will Carless: There were hundreds of people just screaming at these neo-Nazis while they were setting up their sound system. They then proceeded to make a bunch of just incoherent speeches that just rambled on and pretty much covered the whole gamut of their hateful worldview but without any coherence or intelligence.

 

Speaker 4: You're being really quiet. First up, we're going to have none other than the commander of the Nationalist Socialist Movement.

 

Will Carless: You kind of hear in the background members of the group shouting to this lady, "hey, this is our name" and that really just summed up to me how pathetic these guys really were.

 

Al Letson: But this scene, as ineffectual as these white supremacists were on that day, it marks a shift in your coverage, right?

 

Will Carless: That's right. I remember going back to my car and taking a breath and calling up my editor and saying "I feel kind of uncomfortable about coming and covering these guys" because they're just not emblematic of the real problems that we have in America when it comes to hate and extremism.

 

Al Letson: And that gets to the root of this hour. This is the second episode where we're looking at white supremacy in America. Last week, we looked at the outward expressions of hate; the type of thing that Will saw at this rally. This hour is about institutional racism, which is what Will began investigating after the rally and he started by focusing on the police.

 

Will Carless: I think as most of us know, the police are so well-protected in America. They have just utter secrecy among police departments. It's so difficult to get disciplinary records from most departments and in fact they're confidential in a lot of states and it's just really hard to find out what these people think, what's going on behind that badge. One of the places people go when they're least guarded is social media and what we've found is that Facebook has these closed groups that are sort of secret discussion groups filled with racist and Islamophobic and anti-immigrant comments plus anti-gay, anti-female comments, and what we found were a bunch of cops joining these groups and posting in them.

 

Al Letson: How did you get into these groups?

 

Will Carless: We just joined them. We just used our real names, we answered the questions, and often we were asked pretty uncomfortable questions like, "do you think Islam should be banned in the United States" or "this group is sometimes racist, does that bother you" and we just had to answer them truthfully so we would say things like, "I prefer to keep my politics to myself" or something like that. We obviously didn't get into all of these groups, we were rejected by a lot of them, but we got into a few and we were able to see some of the stuff that was going on.

 

Al Letson: I've been a part of private Facebook groups before and these are kind of places where you're with like-minded people, so therefore you talk in a way that maybe you're a little bit more guarded outside of those groups. What were you hearing in these groups?

 

Will Carless: You see inside a lot of the groups things like stereotype memes. You see stuff about Jewish people, stuff about African Americans and immigrants. You see people posting pictures of Adolf Hitler or using Pepe the Frog which is the kind of mascot and deity that these guys use, and you also just see peoples saying the "N" word and saying nasty stuff about people of color and immigrants and just being very, very open about it.

 

Will Carless: You also see a lot of people using the code language of the far-right and in addition to saying this hateful stuff behind the closed doors of closed groups, we also found some cops who were quite happy to say really hateful and nasty things specifically about Islam actually on their public Facebook pages. We were just able to go and look at their Facebook page and you'd see people posting things like, "Islam is the religion of the Devil" and memes of roasting pigs that they would post on the first day of Ramadan with the message "happy Ramadan". That's one area where this guy didn't even bother going into closed groups, they just said it right there out in the open and we found a handful of active duty cops who are posting stuff like that and then several retired cops who were doing it as well.

 

Al Letson: Can you confirm that the people that you think are cops in these groups that they actually are police officers?

 

Will Carless: It was a long process but ultimately we were able to confirm almost 400 active duty or retired law enforcement who are members of these extremist groups on Facebook. We confirmed this by looking at people's Facebook pages because some cops just list who they work for. We also searched through people's photos for pictures of them in uniform and when we needed additional information we would call their department and we also reached out to some cops themselves. I'd get them on the phone and just ask them about what they were doing on Facebook.

 

Al Letson: What did they say when you confronted them? Were they scared, were they defiant?

 

Will Carless: Across the board I got a lot of defiance and "there's nothing wrong with what I'm doing" and a lot of people saying, "I can post anti-Muslim stuff on my Facebook page or inside a Facebook group, but that doesn't mean that I'm really biased against Muslims. It's just a joke or it's a political view that I can separate out from what I do when I'm out and I'm wearing my badge and I'm doing my job".

 

Will Carless: For example there's this guy Steve [Famuso] who was a detective in Westchester County in New York and I found him inside one of these nasty dog whistling groups.

 

Steve Famuso: I'm not a racist, I just happen to post a silly meme on what I think in my opinion is a humor website.

 

Will Carless: First of all, what this guy describes as a humor website is absolutely full of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islam memes, jokes. It's not a nice place. It's not a funny place. You go in there and within a few seconds you'll find photos of Hitler, you'll find stereotypical images of African Americans. He wasn't posting the worst stuff on there, but he was posting things like a meme of a guy making the now commonly used gesture of the "okay" symbol with his hands underneath a racist joke about immigrants to the United States. I found him in there posting right under a Tucker Carlson Tonight story about how immigrants from Central America were committing crimes in Mexico and he had posted underneath, "hahahaha F them".

 

Will Carless: A few weeks ago when I got this guy on the phone, I asked him about that.

 

Steve Famuso: If you found my name on the KK website, you would be absolutely applauded. I would applaud you for going through the names on a website like that and going through and finding the police officers. There's no place for a police officer in my opinion in America who's a member of the KKK, but this? This is harmless-

 

Al Letson: That's disturbing because either he doesn't understand or he doesn't want to understand how implicit bias works. If someone says this stuff online, if deep down they believe it, that could affect how they interact with people in real life. How could it not?

 

Will Carless: Right. I can't tell you how many times I had this sort of conversation with police officers. "Look, I might be liking an anti-Islam meme or a member of a group called 'Death to Islam' but I've got no problem with Muslims. I've got no problems with members of that community and I treat them completely fairly". I've heard that from cops all over the country again and again and again now.

 

Al Letson: Did you talk to this detective's superiors? What did they have to say?

 

Will Carless: We made a point of writing to all of these departments; to the superior officers, the police chiefs, the sheriffs of all the people that we found posting stuff. For example, Detective Famuso up in Westchester County, the Westchester Police Department immediately launched an internal affairs investigation into his postings. They've said that they're extremely concerned about them, wanted to look into them. He, guess what, retired shortly after that got started and swears that the two things have nothing to do with each other. He also swears that he has a completely unblemished record, that nobody's ever complained about him in any way, shape, or form. Of course we're not able to find that out because police records are completely confidential in the state of New York, so we have no way of telling whether that's true or not.

 

Al Letson: Out of all of the police officers that you found and those that you were able to find their superior officers and inform them about what they were doing, what was the outcome of that? Did these people get fired or are they still working as police officers?

 

Will Carless: I'll go back to that blanket of silence for a minute because the honest answer is we don't really know what happened to a lot of these police officers that we reported to their superiors. We sent their chiefs and sheriffs information, we sent them screenshots, we sent them what these guys have been up to, but whatever happened to those investigations, we don't know. I've been told by more than 50 departments that they've launched internal affairs investigations and we know in the case of at least one guy by the name of J.T. Thomas or James Thomas who was a detective in the Harris County Sheriff's Department in Houston, he got fired after we found him inside a group called the White Privilege Club and we actually found him posting some questionable stuff in there. For example, he posted the logo for the Black College Football Hall of Fame and he put two words as a caption. He put, "seriously why" question mark, basically questioning why there should even be a black college football hall of fame.

 

Will Carless: The other thing he posted was this screenshot of an elderly African American lady be interviewed by a TV crew right after a hurricane has gone through Houston and she's being interviewed and she's being asked how many churches were open in the wake of the storm. She's responding that she doesn't know because she only eats at Popeye's. Just a clear reference to an old trope about African Americans that he thought was pretty funny.

 

Will Carless: We presented all of this to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. We sent them a letter with screenshots of him and he got fired as a result of what we sent them. The Harris County Sheriff's Office has a clear social media policy and it says, "personnel who through their use of of social media cause undue embarrassment or damage the reputation of or erode the public's confidence in the department shall be deemed to have violated this policy" and they ultimately decided that he'd done that; he'd brought disrepute on the department.

 

Will Carless: He did appeal his firing in a civil service commission and we were able to get a reporter in there while they were discussing the meme that I mentioned earlier.

 

James Thomas: Again, I don't consider that a racist joke about Church's or Popeye's chicken. If you remove the black female and just read that, what's racist about it?

 

Speaker 7: But the whole thing is that it's-

 

James Thomas: I know but I'm just saying if you remove the black female out of the picture, what's racist about it?

 

Speaker 7: You can't remove the black female, she's in it.

 

James Thomas: Well I can. If I wanted to. That's why I'm-

 

Speaker 7: But you didn't.

 

James Thomas: It's debatable though.

 

Speaker 7: Why didn't you remove her?

 

James Thomas: It was part of a screenshot.

 

Speaker 7: So it's your testimony that there's nothing racist about this?

 

James Thomas: In my opinion, no.

 

Speaker 7: Are you familiar with the racial stereotype of black people liking chicken?

 

James Thomas: I've heard of it, yes.

 

Speaker 7: And when you posted this, you didn't think that's what this was?

 

James Thomas: No.

 

Will Carless: We can take some solace in the fact that the commission hearing the appeal did uphold Thomas's firing so he's no longer at the department.

 

Al Letson: You said at the beginning that you were looking into this as a way to understand what was going on with police and in police departments across the country. We know that there's been a lot of issues between police departments and the communities that they serve. I'm wondering if you've been able to tie any of the police officers that you found posting racist things on Facebook to actually taking that prejudice, that anger, and applying it in the real world?

 

Will Carless: Yeah, that was the tricky part of this project honestly, and in most cases we just ran up against that wall of we couldn't find out anything about the police officers so we can't tell you whether this person is being racially biased on the beat because we don't know. We can't see what they're doing.

 

Will Carless: But there were some examples like this guy in Madison County Mississippi by the name of Will [Weisenberger 00:14:04]. He's a member of a Facebook group called White Lives Matter and we also went and took a look at his history and it turns out his whole department is actually being sued by the ACLU for decades of systematic racial profiling. As part of that, Mr. Weisenberger was actually deposed and admitted to, among other things, having punched an African American guy who was handcuffed in the face. He admitted to using the N-word while he's working. We were able to again get a little peek in some cases as to what's going on, but in most cases, that veil of secrecy is just so hard to peek behind that you just can't find out.

 

Al Letson: Will Carless covers hate and extremism for Reveal. Will, thank you so much.

 

Will Carless: Thanks, Al.

 

Al Letson: In case you're wondering how we went about tracking down all these cops in extremist Facebook groups, you can read about that at our website, revealnews.org.

 

Al Letson: Sometimes discrimination isn't as blatant as what Will found on Facebook. Next, we're going to look at people of color are kept out of home ownership.

 

Speaker 8: We're talking about a structure that is a race-based economy that perpetuates by itself without any added racist input necessary.

 

Al Letson: That's next on Reveal.

 

Al Letson: Hey, hey, hey, it's time for Al's Podcast Picks. This one is so easy because it's one of my all-time favorite shows. On the Media from WNYC. It's journalism about journalism so the show looks at the week's biggest stories and looks at what's behind them. Throughout June, On the Media is doing this big, ambitious project. Host, Brooke Gladstone, who is one of my top five favorite podcast hosts, she's teaming up with Pulitzer prize-winning author Matthew Desmond to look at eviction in America. In Chicago, they look at the legacy of racist housing policies, in Atlanta they examine the hopes and failures of public housing, in Indianapolis they meet with landlords, and in Richmond, Virginia they sit down with people who are trying to solve America's eviction crisis. Subscribe to On the Media wherever you get your podcasts.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Today we're looking at some of the ways racism has been institutionalized in America, sometimes in plain sight like housing discrimination. It was totally legal in the U.S. until the late 60s. One major way it played out was with redlining. That's where the federal government drew lines on special maps and shaded some neighborhoods red warning banks not to make loans there. They said it would be financially hazardous because some areas were, and I quote, "infiltrated by Negroes". Immigrants too. Even though those red lines are officially gone, the lines of disparity are still intact.

 

Al Letson: As a part of an investigation we released last year, our team spent a year going through millions of mortgage records to find out who can get a home loan today and who can't.

 

Al Letson: Reporters Emmanuel Martinez, Aaron Glantz, and producer Katharine Mieszkowski teamed up to find out what was going on. Aaron picks up the story in Philadelphia.

 

Aaron Glantz: I'm in a part of West Philadelphia that's not far from the University of Pennsylvania. It's what realtors call a neighborhood in transition. There are blocks pockmarked with vacant lots and houses with peeling paint and sagging front porches. This part of West Philly is mostly black. Aunts, cousins, grandparents often live right on the same block. Families have lived here for decades, settling as far back as the 1940s.

 

Aaron Glantz: But there's a lot of remodeling and construction going on. Newcomers are moving in, attracted by the affordable price of housing and proximity to the university. [Rochelle Furuhl 00:18:37] was one of those young professionals and she was hoping to buy a house in the neighborhood.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: I am from Brooklyn, New York by way of Barbados.

 

Aaron Glantz: Rochelle had graduated from Northwestern and done a stint in the Peace Corps. She was in her early 30s, teaching computer coding at Rutgers University, and renting an apartment here in Philly when she decided to buy a house.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: My mom and her siblings have been obsessed with home ownership and just ingrained this idea in all of us, my brother and I and my three cousins. No matter the cost, buy a home.

 

Aaron Glantz: You can hear how determined Rochelle is, but here's the other thing: she's super organized and prepared. Her mom was a public school teacher who sent her to an elite boarding school. Rochelle went on scholarship and was one of the few African Americans there. She's a high achiever, but buying a house turned out to be a lot harder than Rochelle expected.

 

Aaron Glantz: Her first stop was Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors. It's part of a new breed of independent lenders that are not banks but are making an increasing share of the loans in the economic recovery. Rochelle's broker was a woman named Angela Tobin.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: Anybody who works in the mortgage arena here in Philadelphia seems to know who she is.

 

Aaron Glantz: At first, the broker was enthusiastic. Her emails to Rochelle were full of exclamation points. Angela reviewed Rochelle's credit score, income, and savings and told her everything was on track. But then suddenly Rochelle's application was turned down.

 

Aaron Glantz: Rochelle wasn't on staff at Rutgers. She was teaching there on a contract. Angela told her she hadn't been doing it long enough. She told Rochelle she would have to wait two more years or get a full-time job. Rochelle didn't think that was the real reason. I wanted to know what Angela thought, so I called her up.

 

Angela Tobin: Hey, great, Aaron. How are you?

 

Aaron Glantz: I'm doing well, thank you for taking the time to talk. I appreciate it.

 

Aaron Glantz: First I asked her about the company's performance in Philly. The government keeps track of who gets loans and who doesn't.

 

Aaron Glantz: When we looked at the data, we found that your company, Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors, had made 250, 300 conventional mortgage loans in 2016 and only 10 of them were to African Americans.

 

Angela Tobin: I don't know where your data's coming from.

 

Aaron Glantz: Yeah, our data is coming from the government. Your company and every other company is filing information through the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, and when we look at the data for your company, we see a much larger proportion of borrowers who are white and a much smaller portion of borrowers of color.

 

Angela Tobin: I can't really speak to that because that is not at all who my particular clients are. If you'd like to speak to someone at my office, I'm happy to give their contact information.

 

Aaron Glantz: I told Angela I'd be happy to talk to anyone from the company, but first I asked her about Rochelle's application. Why had Angela turned her down?

 

Aaron Glantz: She was concerned that it might have something to do with her race, that she was turned away.

 

Angela Tobin: No, that's not at all accurate.

 

Aaron Glantz: Why do you say that? Well, you hung up on me.

 

Aaron Glantz: After Angela hung up on me, I tried to set up an interview with an executive at the company, but no one would talk. Instead, they sent a statement. Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors didn't dispute the numbers it had reported to the government, but they said an outside auditing firm had found there was "no elevated risk of unfair lending practices" at the company.

 

Aaron Glantz: Rochelle still wanted to buy a house.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: I was like, "okay, I need to get a full-time job".

 

Aaron Glantz: Rochelle got a job. Associate Director of the South Asia Center at the University of Pennsylvania. An Ivy League institution. She manages a million dollar grant there. She found a two-story house that needed some work, and for a loan she went to Santander Bank, the U.S. outpost of a Spanish bank, with a regional headquarters in Boston.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: My experience was so horrible.

 

Aaron Glantz: The process dragged on for months.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: I had a fair amount of savings and still I had so much trouble just left and right.

 

Aaron Glantz: Her loan officer kept asking for new information or sometimes the same information again. Rochelle answered all their questions.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: It didn't matter, none of it mattered.

 

Aaron Glantz: She felt like she was getting the run-around.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: I was really sad. I remember there was one day where I just sat on the couch and was so defeated.

 

Aaron Glantz: The process went on so long that eventually an unpaid electric bill showed up on her credit report. It was for an apartment in New York where Rochelle didn't live anymore. She'd sublet it to another tenant. When Rochelle found out about the bill, she paid it right away, but it still plunged her good credit score down 50 points and Santander said that was a deal-breaker.

 

Al Letson: Before redlining was outlawed with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, this neighborhood where Rochelle was trying to buy wasn't shaded red, but it was shaded yellow. The government said it was definitely declining because of the infiltration of Jewish people and that the neighborhood was "threatened by negro encroachment". Rochelle wondered, did her race have something to do with the trouble she was having getting a loan because after a year and a half of trying, she was still struggling.

 

Aaron Glantz: Hey there.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: Hi, Aaron. How are you?

 

Aaron Glantz: Thanks for having me over.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: Thank you for coming.

 

Aaron Glantz: When I meet back up with Rochelle, she tells me about her latest attempt to get a mortgage. It was with Santander Bank and again she was having trouble.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: I understandably was really upset because I had been looking for a while and so I was like, "well, what do I do?"

 

Aaron Glantz: Rochelle lays all her documents out on the table stacked in clearly labeled manila folders.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: This is one of many loan documents.

 

Aaron Glantz: Despite everything she's been through to buy a house, she hasn't lost her cool. She tells me she tried to bring on a cosigner to help get the mortgage approved. Rochelle's mom said she'd do it. Her mom is a retired school teacher who owns property and has a good pension, but the bank said no, so Rochelle's partner, [Hanako Franz 00:25:00] suggested they apply together. The two had been dating for less than a year, and Hanako didn't even have a full-time job.

 

Hanako Franz: I worked very part-time at this grocery store and that was it.

 

Aaron Glantz: But they decided to go for it. Because Rochelle had been trying to get a loan for so long, her credit score had taken a beating. When a lender pulls a credit report, the score goes down. The unpaid electric bill hadn't helped either.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: By the time we started the application and I was ready to put an offer on the house, they had done so many pulls that my credit score dropped to 635. And I love you, I love you so hard, but what was your credit score?

 

Hanako Franz: Mine was high, it was 744 or something.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: And you have no money.

 

Hanako Franz: Yeah, we did this after I was a school teacher for four years, quit my job, moved to Japan, was making nine dollars an hour at-

 

Rochelle Furuhl: Selling french fries.

 

Hanako Franz: Yeah, selling french fries.

 

Aaron Glantz: Hanako's most recent paycheck was only $144, but she had something else going for her. She's white-adjacent as Rochelle puts it. Her mother is Japanese and her father is white. Hanako identifies as Asian, but she wondered if the loan officer saw her that way.

 

Hanako Franz: Legally, my first name is Mary and nobody calls me Mary. My email is Hanako. He would call me Mar and then towards the end just completely stopped answering Rochelle's phone calls; just ignored all of them. And then I called and he answered almost immediately and is so friendly.

 

Aaron Glantz: At this point, Rochelle had been trying to buy a house for over a year. A few weeks after Hanako signed on, Rochelle finally go a mortgage.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: Santander allowed me to get a loan-

 

Hanako Franz: Because I came on.

 

Rochelle Furuhl: Because Hanako came on. This process in a lot of ways for me was really disempowering. It was humiliating. It was humiliating and that's where a lot of my bitterness comes from. I was made to feel like nothing that I was contributing was of value, like I didn't matter.

 

Al Letson: Santander, the bank that eventually gave Rochelle a loan after her partner signed on, wouldn't talk to us. Instead the company sent us a statement saying, "while we are sympathetic with her situation, we are confident the loan application was managed fairly".

 

Al Letson: Rochelle's story fits into a larger pattern. When we analyzed millions of mortgage records, we found 61 cities where people of color were far more likely to be turned down for a mortgage than white people, even when they made the same amount of money, tried to take out the same size loan, and buy in the same neighborhood.

 

Al Letson: All this got me thinking about Mehrsa Baradaran. She writes about the banking industry and how it drives the wealth gap. Mehrsa's a law professor at the University of Georgia, but she started her career working on the upper slope of that wealth gap.

 

M. Baradaran: I worked on Wall Street at the banking regulation department of a big law firm and I happened to be there from 2005 until 2010 during the financial crisis and I like to say that I was radicalized on Wall Street.

 

Al Letson: She left Wall Street behind, went into academia, and started writing books about the ways that the U.S. banking system perpetuated racial inequality like denying loans to people of color. Now, this is something that Congress has been working on for years. There was the Fair Housing Act, then in the late 70s, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act or CRA.

 

M. Baradaran: The Community Reinvestment Act says if you're a bank and you have this branch location in an area, you have to give loans to those disadvantaged groups, black and brown groups, in that vicinity. But how do you get around it? You just close up shop in that vicinity. You just move to a predominantly white neighborhood and those obligations are gone. That's what banks were doing anyway. They're merging, they're consolidating, they're being more efficient and so it's easy to avoid those neighborhoods. The CRA is really weak as a response to essentially what was a structural thing that created a white suburb and a black ghetto and created white wealth and black intergenerational families that did not own homes. Then those things tend to self-perpetuate.

 

Al Letson: So what happens in the void if there are these banking deserts in black communities, in Latino communities across the country, other communities? What happens in that void if there's nothing there, if no one's lending money, how do people get by?

 

M. Baradaran: There is quite a industry of lenders but they're not banks and the reason this is significant is because banks are subsidized by the government. They're underwritten, they're guaranteed, their deposits are insured, but what you get when banks leave or as they have never come in, you get fringe lenders, alternative lenders. You get predatory loans, title loans, check cashers. You go to any neighborhood where there isn't a bank, you go to any black neighborhood ... and my students do this, they go take pictures of the payday loans in the area and they're all in one place; there are tons of them. All sorts of high cost, high interest, high debt lending and that's how the other half banks and they're paying more.

 

Al Letson: Several years ago, I was working in an economically depressed community. I was working with kids there, and one of the things that really surprised me when I first started working there is that the parents would come in to pay the after school camp that I went to, and they weren't paying that much money, it was subsidized, but they would come in with cashier's checks or cash. Nobody had their own checks. When I asked the woman that was running the program about it, she told me, "well most of the people here don't have bank accounts". I was shocked by that. You've looked into this extensively, why didn't they have a bank account?

 

M. Baradaran: For several reason. One is that usually banks aren't in those neighborhoods and so there's this just convenience of it. The other is that banks charge overdraft fees. It says "free checking", but it's not actually, so you get a $50 fee and then you get another $50 fee. That's $100 gone from your bank account immediately in a week cycle. A lot of people would decide rather to just do it in cash and what that means though then is you're paying something like 10 percent every time you do a financial transaction, so if you are paying your water bill, if you're paying your phone bill, your electricity bill, your cable bill. You get paid, let's say in a check, you have to turn that into cash, then turn it back into money orders at each different location or go and pay in cash.

 

M. Baradaran: People I think don't understand what poverty is like. Poverty is not you with less money. Poverty's a whole different ecosystem. It is exposure to violence, it's uncertainty, it's scarcity, it's a different mindset, it's predation, it's the disgust of members of society, it's shame, it's a lot of stresses and emotions and psychological effects that people I think, unless you've been poor, it's hard to understand.

 

Al Letson: Mehrsa, thanks to the U.S. government can help level the playing field by providing banking services through the post office.

 

M. Baradaran: Yes, it's not necessarily the whole federal government. All we're talking about is the post office. So the post office would do simple banking so it would be, "here's a savings account", we could do a lending side to so, "here's a simple loan, 10 percent interest", still self-sustaining, it's not a subsidy, it would be something that people could go to if they had an emergency. But that savings account function I think is really easy and totally doable and the reason I know it's doable is that we did it.

 

M. Baradaran: The post office in the United States was a bank from 1910 until 1966 and every other country abroad, developed country, developing country, third-world country, whatever we call it now, they have postal banking. India, China, Brazil, the UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, France. It's not some crazy, radical idea though sometimes when I talk about it people think that it is, but it's simple, and the reason why it makes sense for the post office to do it is because we talked about banking deserts earlier where banks choose not to be, but the post office has always been there.

 

Al Letson: When we came out with our redlining episode, I got a lot of feedback from listeners and one of the nastygrams I got basically was from a gentleman who said that he'd been working in banking for 20 years and that he was not racist and he couldn't understand why anybody would behave that way, but also he was like, "maybe there was one guy who was kind of a jerk, but the rest of the office would correct for it". He didn't quite understand how institutional racism works. How would you describe institutional racism in banking to someone like this gentleman who did not believe it existed?

 

M. Baradaran: Oh gosh, where to even start? I believe this gentleman. I believe people when they say that they're not racist. Of course they're not but we just need to redefine what we're saying. You have two different economies. He's not lending to the black people because they don't have the money because of a history of these programs that deprive them of this money. It's not racism at least the way that we kind of depict that word with the cartoonish villains with the mustaches or even the Klansmen or just nasty white ladies who say mean things. That's not what we're talking about when we talk about racism. We're talking about a structure that is a race-based economy that perpetuates by itself without any added racist input necessary.

 

Al Letson: Mehrsa Baradaran, thank you so much for coming in.

 

M. Baradaran: Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

 

Al Letson: Mehrsa Baradaran is a law professor at the University of Georgia and the author of How the Other Half Banks.

 

Al Letson: One more thing about our investigation. While modern-day redlining remains pervasive, we found that 99 percent of national banks still get a satisfactory or outstanding grade under the Community Reinvestment Act.

 

Al Letson: Up next, a look at race on the big screen.

 

Brooke Obie: White supremacy has been prevalent throughout cinematic history. These tropes are pretty consistent. It's been less overt, I think. I think that's why you can have a movie like Green Book win the Oscar for best picture in 2019.

 

Al Letson: You're listening to Reveal.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Brooke Obie grew up as one of only a handful of black kids in her small Nebraska town in the 90s. TV was her refuge at a time when young black stars were breaking out.

 

Brooke Obie: There was Raven Simone, there was Keshia Knight Pulliam, so I saw myself quite often on Fresh Prince. I always was able to see reflections of myself even though I was growing up in white suburban areas where there weren't a lot of other black kids.

 

Al Letson: But as she got older, she started noticing things on TV that didn't sit right with her.

 

Brooke Obie: I think it was really just the absence that I would start to pay attention to. Watching Lord of the Rings in high school, there are no black people, then the demons, the demonic creatures, are all dark elves with very dark skin. The bad guys are dressed like people from the Middle East and there was always a little bit of a demonization of non-whiteness irrespective of whether black people were present in the movie or not.

 

Al Letson: Brooke is now the managing editor of the online magazine Shadow and Act, reporting on how people of color are represented on screen and I wanted her take on how white supremacy plays out in Hollywood.

 

Al Letson: I think some people who may listen to this conversation might think, "it's just movies, it's not a big deal. So what if black kids don't see a black character on TV, they can always identify with Captain America because Captain America is for everybody", why should it matter?

 

Brooke Obie: That sounds like somebody who has been used to seeing themselves on screen throughout their entire lives. Captain America has a very specific look and there are people in America who look like Captain America and receive the benefits of somebody who looks like Captain American would look. That's just really to not acknowledge the fact that America is actually proven itself throughout history to not be a place for everyone. It is important to have a black character even be called Captain America or to have Black Panther like we had last year. For the first time to have this black superhero that was so well-received and this huge studio movie.

 

Al Letson: I make no bones about the fact that I am a huge comic book nerd and sitting there watching Black Panther with my boys.

 

Speaker 16: Baba?

 

Speaker 17: Yes, my son?

 

Speaker 16: Tell me a story.

 

Al Letson: At the end of it, I couldn't help it, I wept. I was trying to hide it from my boys mostly because I felt like they really wouldn't understand what it means. I did talk to them about it, but I don't think that they would really understand in the moment what it meant to me.

 

Brooke Obie: Right, and I remember actually feeling a similar way, not just with Black Panther, but also with A Wrinkle in Time. I remember auditioning for a play in Nebraska of A Wrinkle in Time and going out for the role of Meg and basically being told that why would I think that Meg could be black? So I actually wept also the next month when Ava DuVernay put out A Wrinkle in Time and there's this beautiful black girl and she is Meg and she's the star of this movie and she is jumping through planets. You're right, I think children today are not going to understand, but for adults who remember what it was like to be children and to not have those opportunities to see ourselves, there is a moment of catharsis that's happening.

 

Al Letson: So let's go way back in time to where all of this got started. The movie that might be the most famous example of white supremacy in cinema history, Birth of a Nation. How did this movie come about?

 

Brooke Obie: There is D.W. Griffith, he's actually making the movie Birth of a Nation based on a book called The Klansmen, and it's really just racist propaganda. There are white men who are in blackface who are attacking white women, it's basically showing black men in a bestial fashion, in a sexually aggressive and dangerous fashion and showing the KKK as heroes.

 

Brooke Obie: The KKK had pretty much died down, but after this movie came out and was so popularized and celebrated, the KKK actually reemerged and it was also the first movie shown in the White House. Woodrow Wilson showed this movie in the White House and so you had the seat of American power celebrating this racist propaganda.

 

Al Letson: How did this movie reflect the common racist tropes of early American cinema?

 

Brooke Obie: You've got the white savior trope which is white people are the ones who are going to come in and correct what is wrong and save the day, you've got black men as dangerous and you've got white women as damsels in distress who need to be rescued.

 

Al Letson: That film is blatantly racist. How did white supremacy on screen evolve in the years that follow? Can you trace that evolution a bit?

 

Brooke Obie: White supremacy has been prevalent throughout cinematic history. These tropes are pretty consistent. It's been less overt, I think. I think that's why you can have a movie like The Help be so celebrated or you can have a movie like Green Book win the Oscar for best picture in 2019. I don't think that it's necessarily gone away, I think what's changed over cinematic history is the ability of black people and other critics of color to be able to speak out about what's happening in these films and these TV shows. I think we have access now to the internet so I think that's what's really changed her is that we have an opportunity to call it out.

 

Al Letson: I want to dive into something you just mentioned, The Help. What makes that movie racist, because the promotion for that movie is that it's about black maids in the South who changed this young white woman's view of the world and stood up for themselves. That sounds like a very positive, engaging message about African American women.

 

Brooke Obie: Looks can be deceiving, I'll just say that. You've got Emma Stone. She is the spunky, young, white journalist and she wants to change the world and so she is telling the audience the story of these black women through her eyes, from her perspective.

 

Speaker 18: I'd like to write something from the point of view of the help. These colored women raise white children and in 20 years, those children become the boss.

 

Speaker 20: Look, no maid in her right mind is every going to tell you the truth. That's a hell of a risk to take in a place like Jackson, Mississippi.

 

Brooke Obie: And so that's again, these black women don't have agency to tell their own stories or to change their own lives or to even share what their personal journey is. It's all through the framing and lens of this white young woman who people may find to be a more acceptable narrator.

 

Al Letson: Specifically, I think that a lot of these movies make white people feel more comfortable with the fact that they are not the raging racist that's wearing the Ku Klux Klan hat or the Ku Klux Klan hood, and so therefore it's got to be a good movie because it reaffirms that I am a good person.

 

Brooke Obie: I would definitely agree with that. You look at a movie like Green Book. This is an opportunity to talk about Dr. Donald Shirley who was this genius black musician, who invented his own genre of music. Instead, we get the story of his white chauffer, this Italian-American driver. He's very overtly racist and mean and then white people can watch that and be like, "well, I don't use those words" or, "I would never think that" or, "I have more than one black friend" and those kinds of things and so it makes them comfortable.

 

Speaker 21: I got the bucket so you could have some.

 

Speaker 22: I've never had fried chicken in my life.

 

Speaker 21: Who're you bullshitting? You people love the fried chicken, the grits, and the collard greens.

 

Brooke Obie: Also you have a little bit of complicity there in the actual storytelling. You have the black character who is so interested and invested in the white person being a better person and building a friendship that it definitely lets the audience off the hook.

 

Al Letson: You know there's the Bechdel test which is basically a litmus test to see how well a movie treats its female characters. There's a couple different criteria, one of them being two female characters talking to each other and their conversation has nothing to do with a man. Now barely half of Hollywood films pass this test, but I'm curious if you think maybe there should be a Bechdel test for African Americans and people of color to see how they're being represented in a movie.

 

Brooke Obie: Absolutely. I would like to create a white savior infographic for people so that they can know what a white savior actually looks like in a movie so while they're reading the scripts they can say, "oh, wow, we should probably avoid this". Are the black people fully fleshed out, what makes the black friend trope? That's the side character who is really really invested in what their white friends are going through and really wants them to have the job they want, the love they want, the life they want, but the black friend actually has none of those desires for themselves. That's a pretty common trope, so I would love for all of these tropes to be put into a test so that people, as their writing these scripts, they can check it off and see, am I making a stereotypical black character?

 

Al Letson: A couple years ago, April Reign started the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. Have we seen fruit from that labor that April and so many others have put forth?

 

Brooke Obie: Obviously there are a lot more black people and people of color in general who are now members of the Academy as a result of the bad press that the Academy has received from #OscarsSoWhite, from these nomination, but we're still seeing firsts. We still had Ruth Carter being the first black person to win in the costume category, we have Hannah Biegler being the first, Peter Ramsey being the first, at the Oscars this year, 2019. There is some change happening on a systemic level but for all of that progress, for all of those black people that won, you still have Green Book that walked away with best picture.

 

Al Letson: Tell me something that you're excited about right now.

 

Brooke Obie: Somebody that's just doing amazing work right now, that I'm so excited about, is Ava DuVernay. She is putting out this amazing min-series, I don't know if you've seen it, it's called When They See Us. It is about the Central Park Five, it tells the true story of these five young men who were coerced by the police into confessing for a horrific rape that happened in Central Park in 1989.

 

Speaker 23: You left a child unaccompanied by a guardian or a lawyer with these men in this room for hours. Shame on you.

 

Brooke Obie: She just gives so much life to these boys. She give so much warmth to their story and care and you can tell that even though it's a tough subject matter that it's made with so much love and I think when we lift up artists like Ava who are out here doing this work for our community and moving our culture forward and creating art that is healing, we're going to continue to see more of that and we're going to continue to see what distinguishes art that's actually made for us from our perspective from a movie that's not for us. They can continue to make their white savior movies if they want to but we have these artists who are out here doing the work that is actually going to push our culture forward and push us forward as people and that's really really exciting.

 

Al Letson: Brook Obie is the managing editor of Shadow and Act and the author of the Book of Addis. Check her out at Shadow and Act. Thanks, Brooke.

 

Brooke Obie: Thank you so much, Al.

 

Al Letson: Our show this week was produced by Najib Aminy, Katharine Mieszkowski, Samantha Fields, and Nathan Tobey, with help from Kaitlin Benz. It was edited by our executive producer Kevin Sullivan, Michael Montgomery, and Taki Telonidis. Thanks to managing editor Andy Donohue and data editor Michael Corey for their work on today's show. Our reporting on cops on Facebook was assisted by [Daneal Kanutza 00:50:21] and Michael Daley. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando my man yo, Arruda. They had help this week from Claire c-note Mullen. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg, Matt Thompson is our editor in chief, our theme music is by [cammorado lightly 00:50:39]. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.