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Exploiting history with a debit card

Tyler Metzger

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.”

shaft.jpg

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.

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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

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  • THowell3

    For a little extra dose of irony, go to the Palm Desert National Bank website at PDNB.com and watch the images of Sr. Management scroll by.
    All the diversity of the Osmund family…

  • Stephanie M

    Great article. Honestly, if a black person were to write this they would be seen as ‘over reacting’. It’s good to see that people outside the race are willing to speak out against bad prinicples whether it’s their problem or not.

  • click4credit

    I agree with you. If people would really like to champion the cause of the black people, they can just go ahead and donate something without the need to exploit other people.

  • NAB

    There is nothing wrong with black people it is only a misconception of them, matter of fact they can do a good job as anybody else.

  • Joe

    I want my white history card!

  • Proud Black Woman

    It was interesting reading this article, because as I did more research on The Black History Card, I came to find that Palm Desert Bank doesn’t even own the card. I talked to the owner himself, Aaron Baldwin, and he informed me that he is an African-American male who started his own finance company, Fairland Financial, and this is the company that owns the Black History Card and has the trademark for it. Palm Desert Bank acts as an issuing bank/company for the card. I’m surprised that you were not able to get a response from Mr. Baldwin himself, he is so passionate about this product and him not giving you a response comes as a surprise. However, 90% of the time, when people are passionate and dedicated about doing something that can help a whole community, they don’t let the ignorant comments phase them.
    I also do not know where you found the information stating that the Black History Card no longer “promotes the card as a tool to celebrate black history”, because it does. This card celebrates black history because it serves as a reminder of all of the historic moments in our history and what our ancestors have done to help us reach the points in society that we have today. This card celebrates the history of black people because it will prove that just as our historic past, we are able to come together and support each other in rough times to accomplish set goals. Just because blacks in America have been able to integrate into this society, we are still unable to stand on our own two feet because sterotypes such as those that you pointed out, and comments that you make bashing opportunities that we have, prevent this. The black community needs to work toward interdependence, the new type of movement. We need this card because our public education system doesn’t celebrate our history but one time a month, the Black History Card reminds the people that this is something that needs to be celebrated all the time. Also, the card offers a better way to manage money that paying check cashing fees, bounced check fees, or vanity prepaid debit cards.
    As for your misconception of the e-cards, they are not trading cards like pokemon or baseball cards, they are like holiday cards that one can send to a family member or friend to truly celebrate black history month. One would be smart enough to analogize them to a greeting card instead of a trading card. The e-cards were offered only briefly on the http://www.blackhistorycard.com site during February 2009 before the card was launched.
    However, I will give you credit on your attempt to emasculate the Black History Card and what it truly offers; if I wasn’t so determined to find my own answers, I would have almost believed you. Better luck next time.
    -Proud Black Woman.