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Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap

4.56  ·  Rating details ·  1,241 ratings  ·  227 reviews
When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the black community owned less than one percent of the United States' total wealth. More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged. The Color of Money pursues the persistence of this racial wealth gap by focusing on the generators of wealth in the black community: black banks. Studying these institutions over ...more
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published September 1st 2017 by Belknap
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Andrew Leoni This is exactly what I did after reading The Color of Money. I researched many different black banks and found OneUnited to fit my needs. I think exam…moreThis is exactly what I did after reading The Color of Money. I researched many different black banks and found OneUnited to fit my needs. I think examining racial divide in its many different manifestations is an important step in our nation's transformation. I believe banking black is a practical step in the right direction. (less)

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Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I mean, don't act surprised cause I wrote it! ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"to be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships."
- W.E.B. DuBois


Every few years there is a book that is so powerful it turns me into a book nerd, policy evangelical. I go out and buy several copies and press them into friends hands with the fervor of a recent convert and tell them they "NEED" to read it. I think the last nonfiction book to do this for me was Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Rig
krn ਕਰਨ
Nov 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: human-equity
Personal reading strategy for 'heavy' books: Always read the Acknowledgments first.

Three reasons.

One, easiest to read. No strenuous effort required. Work-shy readers ftw! :)

Two, puts paid to the notion of author as solitary warrior. In spite of the way books are packaged and sold, works of scholarship - even when there is only one named author - are always hives of collaboration. Takes a village, as they say. I love to read the names of the villagers as they tumble down the page / scroll up t
Lisa Butterworth
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's all unfair, I know that, you know that, but this book lays out all the hidden and complicated ways that money flows to white folks and away from black folks. They can work harder and smarter and never have a chance because the system disadvantages them at every turn, this book spells out those disadvantages in agonizing and depressing detail. Everyone needs to read this book. Especially free market libertarians ugh.

Favorite quote:
In speaking about the collapse of subprime loans, "This Mar
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot from Mehrsa Baradaran’s book about Black banks and the racial wealth gap. It covers Black economic/banking history from the end of slavery to our current moment. This was a history that I was mostly unfamiliar with especially when it dealt with the banks and the government policies that created the current environment we are now in. Baradaran has a way of writing complex topics and makes it understandable to someone who is not an expert on economic and banking issues. Highly reco ...more
Alicia (PrettyBrownEyeReader)
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
The author explains the American banking system while walking the reader through Black American history in relation to wealth building. Since Emancipation, Black banking has been the hope of Black America for wealth creation but the banking system of yesteryear and currently will not produce the wealth it does for non Blacks. The author explains in terms everyone can understand why this will not happen and American Black wealth is essentially the same as it was at the time of Emancipation.
This is an excellent history of Black banking and economics in the USA. Showing that whilst African Americans have constantly sought control of their own economic independence since emancipation, the establishment has purposely kept Black communities and entrepreneurs out of the wider economy.

Whilst the author does not provide a specific solution, she highlights a pattern that despite everything, Black banking has over the past decades always managed to re-establish itself. And this might sugge
Ian Scuffling
I've recently been reading a lot more non-fiction than I used to, but it's a strange field out there. The mixed bag is such that you can pick up one book and it feels like a bloated magazine article (because it usually is--that's how a lot of NF-publishing works), and sometimes it feels so diluted as to be written for an audience that wouldn't be interested in the book to begin with. But then, as is the case with Mehrsa Baradaran's The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, you h ...more
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating and fast-paced history of banking, with a focus on more than 150 years of targeted *economic* discrimination against black Americans. I was shocked to learn some of the on-the-record statements made by blatantly racist politicians – including many who have occupied the Oval Office.

The author explains the incredible power of banking’s money multiplier effect, and how this power could not be realized in ghetto “savings & thrift” banks that were not also lending to their local custom
Eric Bybee
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a stunning achievement and sets a new bar for historical narratives of racial inequality in the United States. Perhaps no other metric captures the collective impact of centuries of anti-Black prejudice and discrimination across various domains of social life (including housing, education, and voting--to name a few) like the racial wealth gap. Accordingly, it should not be surprising that this metric frequently emerges in the everywhere from the writings of Ta Nehisi Coates to the p ...more
Audacia Ray
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a serious achievement - a history of black banking and the role of racism in banking institutions in the US, with lots of examples of policies and businesses initiatives and the harm they’ve wrought on black communities. In particular, the author documents the wily ways of racism and capitalism, and how they adapt to appropriate movements. I was especially interested in the sections about Nixon and how he appropriated the messaging of black power and packaged it into black capitalis ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very good. If you're like me, you’ve probably read a number of books on the African-American experience spanning the gamut, from historical to present day perspectives. Here's another for your bookshelf from a economic standpoint, covering: black banking, corporate & government malfeasance, and their persistent adherence to a financial policy intended to keep black communities in a state of financial disrepair.

Professor Baradaran ranges from the beginning when “...the currency of the South was t
Andrew Fairweather
“the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slave, a legal entity, but it failed to free the Negro, a person.” —MLK

A fantastic book!

Come for the analysis of black disparity in America, stay for the striking analysis of how the doctrine of bootstraps laissez faire has been used to deny people in need (blacks, primarily) access to capital—during reconstruction this was denied while simultaneously distributing land and capital for railroad construction. During the depression this was denied while simu
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic. I've always disliked learning about finance and economics, probably because I took one Econ class in college that was thoroughly capitalist/neoliberalist, and I hated it, and I assumed all of Econ was that way. But Mehrsa Baradaran has totally turned me into a "finance/banking is a social justice issue" policy nerd, and I love it so much. This book is a comprehensive study of the racial wealth gap, and it methodically shows how policies affecting the accumulation of weal ...more
Conor Hilton
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing

Seriously. Read it.

This book was filled with historical information that I didn't know (including some fascinating tidbits about George Romney), insight into the financial & banking sectors, and sharp diagnosis of the failures (intentional and unintentional) of people and movements seeking to address racial inequality in the United States. Every chapter brought new information about historical events and figures, always coupled with clear analysis and explanation of what the effects
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. This book was not so much about the black banking industry itself as it was about the history of racial and economic discrimination against blacks in the U.S. through government policies that benefited whites at the expense of blacks and created the deep racial wealth gap of the present day. Still, all information was relevant and necessary to the discussion, and the research was very thoroughly cited. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as quoted in the book, said it best, "the insepar ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you’re a history, banking or economist nerd then this book is for you. I tend to fall into the first category, as my how banking works and economy knowledge is pretty much zilch. That being said I found the history angle tough because the subject is so frustrating, but informative and well researched. The author knows her stuff.
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Baradaran expertly details how the banking industry has failed African Americans, and has contributed to the persistence of a significant racial wealth gap. In a well functioning banking system, wealth is created through a “multiplier effect,” but this multiplier effect can only function properly if loans stay within the community. She shows how banks that serve customers in a poor segregated community are thus unable to create wealth, but instead only end up exploiting the very people that need ...more
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
"A 2016 study glibly predicted that, based on the current racial wealth gap, it would take 228 years for blacks to have as much wealth as whites do today." In The Color of Money, Mehrsa Baradaran outlines the ways the racial wealth gap came to be and lays out potential for fighting it head on.

In the aftermath of slavery, the US government, for about 9 months, gave reparations to ex-slaves in the form of land that had once belonged to their Southern masters. But then Lincoln was killed and Southe
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
I initially felt bad about such a low rating, but I had to accept this book, while easy to read and decently footnoted, ultimately lacks any real profound ideas or deep analysis. The premise is stated in the Introduction, and, while accurate, leaves little reason to read the remainder. It is just that simple to state:
Black People lack wealth because White Supremacist America denies them reparations for over two centuries of slavery and more than a century of structural racism post-slavery. Simpl
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
Wow reading this summer is hard and slow going. As usual loved Mehrsa Baradaran’s writing. Incredibly detailed summary of the (intellectual) history of Black banking and Black capitalism (and all its woes). This book functioned well as a survey more so than a really deep dive into any particular bank/policy. Her closing chapter about possible policies for reparations as a means to close the wealth gap leaves you with the useful litmus test that [paraphrasing] “if the policy doesn’t cost white pe ...more
Alison Miron
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal! I found this book to be incredibly digestible despite the fact that I can barely do my own taxes and still don’t understand wtf happened with GameStop. The book clearly articulates the deep history of Black Americans being excluded from the economic system while also explaining how most government policies have fell short in offering support or relief. An important book and one that provides key context for understanding social injustices in the United States.
I'm not sure whether to rate this as a 4 or 5 star read, so I'm going with 4.5 stars. This book was really impactful and it brought light to another area of American history where discrimination has been devastating to the Black community. But, it was also a bit dry and sometimes repetitive. The most interesting aspect of this book is the systematic analysis of the concept of Black capitalism's ability to pull Black people out of poverty. This book makes a convincing argument that only governmen ...more
Nov 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A deeply important book. This book is dense but in a good way, one where you know the author knows her stuff. This is the book that I wished I had in my high school U.S. history class.
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I thought this would be a book about black-owned banks, but it's really about years of U.S. economic policy that has stacked the decks against black Americans. I knew about red lining and predatory subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, but there's so much more. A well-written, really accessible, and important read* (*for me, a listen because it was my first audio book!). ...more
Jack Waters
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
A must-read. It talks about the domineering and persistent racial wealth gap and masterfully weaves the history of America into the pursuit. The focus is on black banks, ostensibly a site of wealth for black communities -- but are we as hoodwinked by the assumption that it's a good thing as bad-faith purveyors of them like Richard Nixon made them out to be? Baradaran's narrative has power and is essential reading so that we don't repeatedly make mistakes that seem to solve so-called problems whe ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very informative. I listened to it on Audiobook and I liked the narrator. It was a lot of information all at once but it was educational—there were some things I didn’t know about and I’ve read several books on Black history. I’m glad I gave this one a shot!
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5. Very interesting look at why the system has always - whether intentionally or not - blocked progress for large groups of people. No answers, just more heartbreak.
Fraser Kinnear
A lot of this book is 20th century civil rights history. Very valuable context if you haven't read it anywhere else, but ends up being a mile wide and an inch deep if you haven't. The more one reads about the history of blacks in America, the more examples one finds of how thoroughly the odds have been stacked against him.

Where Baradaran does go deep is the particulars of how the structure of our economy disadvantaged poor black communities. Part of this Baradaran diagnoses as being by design, w
Emily Carlin
Apr 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Dang. This is a tough read but extremely worthwhile.

Every American should have to read this or somehow have an opportunity to encounter Baradaran's account of the racial wealth gap.

The writing is accessible and clear but a touch dense. I think that's sort of inevitable given the scope of this project, though. This is a survey of political, legal, economic, and cultural history. So I don't know that inter-weavings of personal histories / other non-fiction readability enhancers would have worked.
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Mehrsa Baradaran is Professor of Law at UC Irvine Law and a celebrated authority on banking law. In addition to the prizewinning The Color of Money, she is author of How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy. She has advised US senators and representatives on policy and spoken at national and international forums including the World Bank.

Articles featuring this book

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
71 likes · 17 comments
“We might want to apply the following short litmus tests to any policy proposal: does the program require some collective sacrifice or does it place the burden of closing the wealth gap entirely on the black community? If the latter, this is a cop-out that refuses to acknowledge that the black community did not create the problem in the first place.” 2 likes
“It is worth distilling this message in order to fully appreciate the irony. The story was that after decades of New Deal–era federal subsidies had created a white middle class, reinforced a segregated black underclass, and created cyclic poverty that made it difficult for many to find shelter and food without government aid, it was black people who were being unjustly enriched by the overly generous hand of the state.” 2 likes
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