Detective John Shaft seems worried. His girlfriend asks if he has a problem. He replies: “Yeah, I got a couple of them. I was born black … and I was born poor.”
Those terse words from the 1971 movie Shaft helped define a genre of film called Blaxploitation, which advanced stereotypes about race through images of pimps, misogyny and poverty. Critics of the films said they did nothing to assist the people they claimed to help; the movies simply preyed on their subjects’ circumstances. And today, we see the practice is still alive, even in the world of credit cards.
Enter the Black History Card. It’s a prepaid debit card issued by the California-based Palm Desert National Bank. The card allows its user to “enjoy all the convenience of a debit MasterCard with the added pride of carrying the card that celebrates [black] history,” according to its Web site.
It’s a great idea. To celebrate and promote black history, proceeds from the card could go toward black charities, organizations or educational programs. Maybe some money could go toward black politicians, too. Nope. The only thing this card does to celebrate black history is to offer “downloadable Black History Trading e-Cards” on its Web site (Trade me seven Sojourner Truths for one Barack Obama?). But hurry, because the trading cards are only available during February, when you can sign up for the debit card for free.
So just like the film directors who made bank from painting pimps as role models, the hustlers behind this card are exploiting African Americans solely for the cash. Black history is just a means to an end for them.
Ya, ya. I know. Chill out Tyler. I’m aware people have a choice to use this card or not, and probably the majority of folks who use it just like the convenience of a prepaid debit card. I mean, its appealing features, which are almost identical to that of UniRush’s Baby Phat card, include direct deposit, online bill pay and the chance to build credit. Plus, it’s a good way to teach people how to manage money instead of spend it, which is the opposite message promoted by contemporary rap (not hip-hop; yes, there is a difference).
But that’s where it ends for me. The problem is that the issuer paints this like it is helping people. THEY AREN’T. Excuse the hater caps, but get real. We all got to hustle, but the only people benefiting from this are the folks of Palm Desert National Bank, and trust me, they aren’t celebrating history.
I gave them a chance to address this when I called and asked how their card specifically celebrated black history. The operator drew a blank — a very large blank actually — and said she would get back to me on that. I’m still waiting. Maybe she forgot to study her trading cards?
Now listen. See that pasty mug in the top left corner? He doesn’t look like a black historian to me. That’s because he’s not. He’s from a town where a lot of people have the same pigment as him. However, he believes that using someone’s rich history to get rich and not helping anyone along the way is just plain wrong. He believes if the issuer, which is headquartered in a town where 98.8 percent of the population have the same pigment, is truly trying to celebrate black history, it should donate money to or fund programs about black history. It’s common sense. Put your money where your mouth is, right?
So, Mr. and Mrs. Black History Card givers, please show a little awareness and sensitivity, or John Shaft might be making a visit to your bank, and I heard he’s a bad mother — shut your mouth!
Update: As of Feb. 25, BlackHistoryCard.com no longer promotes the card as a tool to celebrate black history. It is not even included in the features of the card. However, BlackHistoryCard.org still promotes the card the same.
Note: This post is included in the 52nd edition of the Money Hacks Carnival hosted by One Million Bucks. The host decided to not have a theme, so dive in for some great, uninterrupted reading.
See related: Is credit card issuance a matter of black and white?, Proof of racial profiling in credit card offers