PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley is discovering that accountability is a double-edged sword.
Tavis is under fire for his longtime relationship with Wells Fargo, which is being sued by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The lawsuit alleges that Wells Fargo’s “wealth building” seminars helped steer black and Hispanic borrowers into subprime mortgages.
Tavis is living well by supposedly doing good for black folks. While he wants to hold elected officials accountable, he was in bed with Wells Fargo until the media spotlight got too hot (h/t Richard Prince).
Back in June, blogger Gemma Holmes observed that if Tavis were white, his relationship with Wells Fargo and its “ghetto loans” would be “front page news”:
When Mr. Smiley first partnered with Wells Fargo in 2005, he was a TEACHER of economic empowerment and assembled seminars around the country as the keynote speaker for wealth building. Press releases filled every major news outlet inbox and black newspapers were infected with faxes stating Mr. Smiley’s desire to teach the principles of home ownership as the key for breaking the cycle of poverty in the African American community. All this knowledge was given at no charge to trusting black folks. This was the golden ticket to obtaining the elusive piece of the pie via Mr. Smiley’s recommendations.
Mr. Smiley stated he was “thrilled” to help black folks achieve their dreams but now that many of them have found themselves in a nightmare, where is he? Has he spoken out against the “ghetto loans” statement by Wells Fargo employees? Has he demanded accountability that he touts must be part of helping President Obama be the best President he can be?
A recent story in the Washington Independent turned up the volume. Mary Kane reported:
But what appeared on the surface as a way to help black borrowers build wealth was actually just the opposite, according to a little-noticed explanation of the “Wealth Building” seminar strategy, contained in a lawsuit recently filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Wells’ plan for the seminars all along was to target black borrowers for higher-cost subprime mortgages, not for wealth-building, the suit charged. And the seminars were a part of the bank’s overall illegal and discriminatory practice of steering black and Hispanic borrowers into riskier and more expensive loans, the suit said.
In the wake of the new media glare, Tavis issued a statement:
In this economic climate we continue to be reminded every day that there is no perfect company. Part of the process of accountability is making sure that companies are taking steps to do the right thing, and that includes appropriate outreach to communities of color.
Our relationship with Wells Fargo began in 2005 as part of its commitment to increase financial literacy among African Americans. Those efforts included free wealth-building strategy seminars designed to help prepare attendees for their families’ futures through credit management, home ownership, investing and entrepreneurship.
Tavis has since, um, revised and extended his remarks:
Recently there has been a flurry of false reports about my relationship with Wells Fargo Bank and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc. amidst charges that the company unfairly steered African American customers into costly sub-prime mortgages.
I addressed this issue many months ago with a statement posted on my website during the first quarter of this year when these allegations against Wells Fargo first surfaced.
My statement thoroughly explained that I was no longer conducting any business with the Wells Fargo Company. That initial statement has remained accessible on my website homepage since it was first posted, shortly after the State of the Black Union symposium, February 2009.
Over a year ago in an AOL Black Voices post, I wrote:
The subprime mortgage scheme has recast the future for African American homeowners who are facing foreclosure.
Baltimore has filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo alleging the bank intentionally targeted African Americans for high-interest mortgages in violation of federal law. Similar lawsuits have been filed against Wells Fargo by the city of Cleveland and the NAACP.
So, while Smiley pleaded for “a language of love as we make our choices” between Obama and Hillary Clinton (read: cut him some slack), he showed no love for Wells Fargo’s victims. By the time Smiley is out promoting his book on accountability next year, thousands of Wells Fargo’s borrowers will be out of their homes.
Smiley asked participants to give it up for the “free seat” made possible by Wells Fargo and his other corporate sponsors. That “free seat” was partly paid for by African Americans who were taken for a ride in their pursuit of the American dream of homeownership.
A year later, Tavis conveniently severs his relationship with Wells Fargo “shortly after the State of the Black Union symposium, February 2009.”
That is, after he got paid. Negro, please.