Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Celebrate Black History but Recognize Today’s Challenges

 By Opal Tomashevska, Multicultural Business Strategy Manager

February is Black History Month, a time to honor and celebrate the cultures, achievements and history of black people. 

At CUNA Mutual Group we’re marking the month with displays of African crafts, recommended reading and facts on our buildings’ internal signage, and cultural food on the menu. In addition, we have revered racial justice activist Jane Elliott speaking to our employees about the ‘Anatomy of Prejudice.’

And it’s that word, prejudice, that we must also remember this month (and indeed all other months) because people of color are still struggling to achieve social and financial equity in so much of the world. For example, did you know black households are woefully underserved by traditional financial services, with one in five classified as unbanked, and one in three classified as underbanked? 

What does this mean in practice? Paying fees every time you need to cash a check, having low or no credit (Need a loan? Forget it.) and facing persistent risks of theft or loss. 

There are a whole host of reasons why black and other people of color shy away from financial institutions – from ingrained cultural trends to lack of branch access or a previous bad experience. 

In fact, in a recent article Marcus Anthony Hunter, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Los Angeles, explains the origin of this distrust, which extends back to the Civil War. But it persists because too many financial institutions continue to demonstrate a willingness for financial prejudice, from overcharging for loans or denying fair access to credit to people of color. 

I’m proud to work for an organization – and as part of a broader movement – that not only recognizes this as a problem, but is actively working toward a solution. 

I consider myself blessed to have been involved in developing CUNA Mutual Group’s multicultural center of expertise: a team formed specifically to increase our understanding of how race and culture can influence financial behaviors – to ensure that we, and the credit unions we support, are able to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population for generations to come. 

Prejudice isn’t always intentional. That’s one thing I know for certain. But, I’ve learned we can marginalize whole communities with something as simple as how we accept bill payments or the language we use.  

So as we continue to honor, observe and celebrate Black History Month, I’m so excited to see the celebrations across CUNA Mutual Group. I’m also proud to hear us having the tough conversations. We don’t know all the answers, but the first step is asking the questions.