Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Enduring Assumption of Black Servitude

Recently, my friend John and I were discussing a problem that we keep having. We both have extremely busy schedules Monday through Friday so we find ourselves confined to running around shopping and doing errands on the weekends. From time to time, we’ll venture into Sam’s Club or Costco to pick some things up. Without fail, whether we’re by ourselves or with our families, someone will approach us and ask us if we work there. This might sound somewhat innocuous if not two things: we’re both black and every single person who’s asked us the question is white.

Before you accuse me of playing the oft-referred to “race card” (and I’ll be submitting a lengthy commentary regarding whites who disingenuously accuse blacks of doing just that in a future post) keep in mind that neither John nor I were wearing blue or red vests, name tags or any other identification that might lead one to believe we were employed by these companies. Neither were we assisting any other customers or giving anyone directions. Generally, we were wearing some standard combination of blue jeans and a shirt and, dutifully playing the role of consumers ourselves when we’ve been approached.

I’ve come up with two reasons why this continues to happen.

1) It is the result of an assumption of dominance – on the part of the white people who ask this question – or, at the very least, the belief that a customer/servant relationship automatically exists between whites and blacks and/or

2) Of the roughly 37 million black people living in this country, the only ones with whom these whites generally interact are usually operating in a service capacity.

I simply can’t explain it any other way. I cannot imagine a scenario in which a clean-cut, middle class, thirty-something white man and his equally middle-class white buddy walk into a Costco, occasionally with family in tow, and repeatedly have someone ask for their help finding the diapers or the plasma televisions. The postulation of supremacy is so clear in this that it has progressed from being slightly amusing to annoying to downright insulting. John and I are both reasonable men. But when someone asks us to help them with a purchase what we’re beginning to hear now is, “Pardon me, boy. Since you can’t possibly be here to make a purchase would you be so kind as to do your job and help me out?”

Of course, not many whites would equate the assumptions that lead to these retail interactions with racism. The overwhelming majority of white people with whom I’ve interacted not only do not grasp the concept of institutionalized racism, they apparently can not acknowledge the presence of racism at all outside of a white sheet and hood (more on this later also). But like it or not, racism is exactly what this amounts to. Consider this. These help-seekers unknowingly concede that in this country there exists a permanent black underclass whose continued presence they not only benefit from, but seek to exploit. After all, it’s convenient to have a Negro around to help with the bags or take your order or shine your shoes. And since we’re generally viewed as a collective “other” rather than as individuals, it makes perfect sense for them to randomly assign this status to any black person beside whom they happen to be standing when they’re doing their weekend shopping.

As for John and I, we’re considering wearing t-shirts that read, “Believe it or not, we’re actually here to buy some shit!”


Friday, February 17, 2006

Housing Scams That Target Minorities and the Poor

I just came across some information that needs to be disseminated as far and wide as possible. It’s regarding mortgage scams that are being perpetrated against unsuspecting, enthusiastic families who are looking to purchase a home. The targets of these scams – usually minorities or poorer people who might have some credit problems – can be bilked for thousands of dollars. So far, I only have information on two of these cons. Do us all a favor and pass this along. Here’s the first:

  1. Properties that can easily appraise higher than current market rates (new homes or revitalized neighborhoods) are found.

  1. The "investor" goes to the seller with a proposal to purchase the property at a higher price than the selling price (or with a new home, it may be at the listing price). The investor places a secondary lien on the home before the home is sold to them, many times in another person's name. The mortgage broker (who is in on this too, he is selling the note to an unsuspecting company) has an appraiser who will appraise high to make the property look good to an underwriter.

  1. The home is sold and the "investor" and the mortgage banker (and possibly the builder) take the money from the closing on the second lien and split it. The house sits for months (many times as long as a year) and eventually goes into foreclosure. This can take very long because of the huge number of foreclosures each company is dealing with.

So let's say a recently built house, which had been listed at $369,900, is done in this way. The investor puts a $40,000 lien on the home. They close on the house with no money down. They get $40k and split with the shady mortgage broker. They let it go into foreclosure, they have no reason to want to rent it....they have money in their pocket.

Many times, they are using identity theft to do this, taking someone's good credit to get the note. Model homes are particularly easy to do this way as well because they can appraise very high. The models are bought by the investor and then leased back by the builder. The builder is making payments, so the scam is hidden for a long time. The investor can continue to do this with many properties because they can show great payment history (since the payments are being made by the builder).

Here’s the second scheme. This particular one was executed on a black couple two houses down from where we live.

  1. Owner/Investor takes over home and rents it out. Has renter put down a down payment with a lease-to-own agreement.

  1. Then, the owner collects monthly rent from his tenants and makes no mortgage payments.

  1. The house is foreclosed and the renters are forced out onto the street with complete loss of down payment and any equity above normal rent fees.


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