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Episode 4: Broken Bootstraps

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“To pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” was originally a metaphor for the impossible. It’s now one of the most American of American idioms — encapsulating a belief that one’s fortunes and failures hinge on individual responsibility alone. It simultaneously obscures the systemic economic theft of Black people and other people of color in the US by state and commercial interests, as well as the systemic economic enrichment of white populations by those same forces. In this episode, Carvell Wallace and Jeffery Robinson explore how Black wealth has been routinely destroyed, using the example of a 1919 massacre in Elaine, Arkansas, where Black sharecroppers organizing for better financial conditions were killed by a white mob. We’ll also hear from law professor and scholar of banking history Dr. Mehrsa Baradaran on how discriminatory housing policies, unequal access to credit, and predatory banking continue to hinder attempts at wealth-building, even among the Black middle class.

Additional Resources

  • “A Massacre of Blacks Haunted This Arkansas City. Then a Memorial.” The Washington Post, August, 30, 2019. Accessed October 5, 2020.

  • Agyeman, Julian, Kofi Boone. “Land Loss Has Plagued Black America since Emancipation – Is It Time ...”, The Conversation, June 18, 2020

  • “Blacks in the U.S. Face a Huge Gap in Homeownership Rates.” The Washington Post, July 23, 2020.

  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case for Reparations.“ The Atlantic, June 2014

  • Fan, Andrew, Linda Lutton, Alden Loury. “Where Banks Don’t Lend”. June 3, 2020. WBEZ.org

  • George, Alice. “The 1968 Kerner Commission Got It Right, But Nobody Listened.” The Smithsonian Magazine, March 1, 2018

  • Merritt, Keri Leigh. “Land and the Roots of African-American Poverty.” Aeon, March 11, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2020.

  • Meyer, Stephen Grant. As Long As They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

  • Sisson, Patrick. “The Fair Housing Act: An Explainer,” Curbed. April 11, 2017

  • Washington, Booker T. “The Awakening of the Negro”. The Atlantic, September 1896.

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