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The Color of Money

Editorials and letters

Boycott a redlining bank?
I wouldn't dream of it

By Jeff Dickerson, The Atlanta Journal

Published June 3, 1988, Editorial Page, Page A14

Copyright 1988, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

I can't imagine why anyone would want to boycott an Atlanta bank. Yes, they've done a great disservice to Atlanta's black Southside, as a string of stories in these newspapers attests. Wittingly or unwittingly they've reinvested deposits from the black Southside into the white Northside. They've gleefully deposited blacks' savings, but have frowned on loans to build their backyard pools or additions -- much less a loan to breathe life into an aged Southside storefront.

Atlanta's major banks, according to reams of research by staff writer Bill Dedman, write five times as many home loans on the Northside as on the Southside. They grant more home loans to whites of lower income than to blacks of higher income. They write loans based on the color of neighborhoods. To paraphrase a schoolyard rhyme, bankers figure if your neighborhood is white, it's right. If it's black, get back.

But I wouldn't think of boycotting them.

Boycotting is so old-fashioned. Boycotts smell of coercion: If you don't . . . then I won't. . . . They stink of dependence: If this banker doesn't give me a loan, then nowhere will I get a loan. And at some point the message boycotts convey is self-deprecating: Please treat me right so you can profit off me.

No, I wouldn't give a redlining banker the satisfaction of boycotting him. I wouldn't give him the sense of power that boycotting him confers.

I will, however, forget him. Forget he existed. Forget his ads on billboards and TV and in newspapers. I can, upon knowledge that he has done me or my neighbor wrong, write him off.

More than a few black Atlantans, in the wake of redlining reports in these newspapers, have written off their former bankers. How can you tell? Just ask the folks at Citizens Trust Bank how business has been since the Journal-Constitution started reporting lending imbalances.

Faye Miller of black-owned Citizens Trust tells me that since our series began, the number of new depositors has soared 58 percent. Not only did the bank get brand-new depositors; some old depositors probably transferred funds from other banks, because Citizen Trust's deposits skyrocketed 134 percent as well.

Those bank customers are not boycotting anybody. They're exercising an economic choice. If bank A offers a service bank B does not, bank A gets my business. If I later learn that bank A redlines my neighborhood, then on we go to bank C.

I don't boycott banks A and B when I decide to deposit at bank C; I simply exercise an economic choice.

We must all make those economic choices. And the banks can decide on their own, with no prodding except that dictated in the marketplace, whether they want business on the Southside or not. They may decide that they do not. Citizens Trust, for one, will not be disappointed.


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