In 2007, the NAACP brought a predatory lending suit against banking giant Wells Fargo — and eventually, 14 others like it, including Citibank and HSBC — for lobbing unfair and discriminatory practices against brown folks. Last year, in the first formal enforcement action and largest consumer-enforcement fine ever imposed by the agency, the Federal Reserve strong-armed the Wells Fargo powers-that-be into paying $85 million in restitution for allegedly steering borrowers—again, of the Black and Latino variety—into high-cost, subprime loans, though they never really admitted any guilt.
Then, in the beginning of 2012, the company also agreed to a $175 million settlement in a fair-lending case for saddling the same kind of customers with those cursed and dreaded adjustable-rate loans, forcing them to unknowingly pay more than white borrowers. Between 2004 and 2009, Wells Fargo was showered with accusations and findings that pointed to the active pimping of our communities. It’s not a secret, it’s not classified information. It’s all over the news, corporate press releases and the web.
So it stands to reason that, even if he didn’t know anything about their underhanded financial debauchery before, Tavis Smiley could’ve, at the very least, performed a simple keyword search online (“Wells Fargo, African-Americans” works quite nicely) before agreeing to galvanize the masses and lead them into “wealth-building seminars.” Hosted by Wells Fargo for five years until 2009, the events, held in Black communities, were introduced as part of the company’s reparations package following its reign of lending tyranny. Tavis was the face of the effort and lent his celebrity and credibility to get attendees involved in the programs. Incidentally, Wells Fargo also helped to finance his radio show.
For leading the lambs to slaughter, he was paid a handsome $4 million. All we got was shafted with what Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called “nothing more than sales pitches for high-rate subprime loans.” Tavis severed his relationship with Wells Fargo and issued a statement about his involvement, throwing in that closing the deal caused him to lose a great deal of money, but the damage was already done. Before you sign up for any endorsement deal or business partnership, it’s your responsibility to know who you’re working with.
So on her show last week, Melissa Harris-Perry took Tavis to task, albeit a little late, comparing him to Nurse Rivers, the woman who infamously led some 600 men into deception about the real purpose of the Tuskegee Experiment with syphilis. (Mmmm…ouch.) One consciously allowed the people under her care to be put through agonizing medical trial, the other rallied the troops to jump over the financial cliff.
Now, we already know there’s bad blood between her, Tavis and Dr. West. There’s nothing worse than when a group of highly intelligent, highly influential, highly visible Black folks with a heavy dose of media influence and airtime dedicate their energy to volleying digs back and forth at one another. It’s exhausting for the viewer (namely me) who just wants to know the issues without being sucked into the commentator’s personal vendettas. I love me some Melissa Harris-Perry — this video right here is part of the reason why — but it took a little dirt-digging to come up with this one. Still, Tavis deserved to be called out for his double-dealing. That obligates her to stay squeaky clean, though, because best believe he and Dr. West are going to be on the prowl for the next round of retaliation. Scholars gone wild…even better than Real Housewives.