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JP Morgan admits US slavery links

This is one of those stories that makes you sick to your stomach, but it raises opportunities for discussion on race, reparations and society’s self-image. (BBC News):

Thousands of slaves were accepted as collateral for loans by two banks that later became part of JP Morgan Chase. The admission is part of an apology sent to JP Morgan staff after the bank researched its links to slavery in order to meet legislation in Chicago.

Citizens Bank and Canal Bank are the two lenders that were identified. They are now closed, but were linked to Bank One, which JP Morgan bought last year. About 13,000 slaves were used as loan collateral between 1831 and 1865.



William Harrison Jr., chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase. James Dimon, chief operating officer.

…Because of defaults by plantation owners, Citizens and Canal ended up owning about 1,250 slaves. “We all know slavery existed in our country, but it is quite different to see how our history and the institution of slavery were intertwined,” JP Morgan chief executive William Harrison and chief operating officer James Dimon said in the letter. “Slavery was tragically ingrained in American society, but that is no excuse.”

“We apologise to the African-American community, particularly those who are descendants of slaves, and to the rest of the American public for the role that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank played.”

JP Morgan said that it was setting up a $5m scholarship programme for students living in Louisiana, the state where the events took place.

Important dates

1831 Canal Bank formed

1833 Citizens Bank formed

1924 Citizens and Canal join to form Canal Commercial Trust & Savings Bank (CCTSB)

1931 Chase Bank takes control of Canal

1933 CCTSB fails during Great Depression and goes into liquidation

1933 National Bank of Commerce in New Orleans (NBCNO) formed with some Canal Bank deposits and loans

1971 NBCNO becomes First National Bank of Commerce

1998 First National Bank of Commerce merged into Bank One Louisiana

2004 Bank One merged with JP Morgan Chase & Co.

I personally don’t favor reparations. I don’t see how there is any possible way for this country to undo the injustice done to blacks as a result of slavery by writing a check. The wealth of this nation was built on the backs of slave labor, but to just right a check and call things square is not going to address the impact race and slavery has had over the generations in terms of identity, class and prejudice. Besides, how do you identify the aggrieved parties? To resolve the issue there would need to be a true definition of what is “race” for someone to qualify. We’ve been trying to get away from that artificial social construct both actively (legislation) and passively (intermarriage) over the last century with some measure of success.

The backlash from both the fight to determine who “qualifies” for any attempt to rectify the situation only increases resentment from other groups that wouldn’t benefit from the reparation. Affirmative action as we know it is itself controversial and sometimes bullheaded because the construct of race is artificial and nonsensical. Should a middle class black kid from a family that has been middle class for generations receive a scholarship ahead of a poor white kid from the Kentucky mountains whose family has always been dirt poor? We can easily identify poverty, no matter what the socioeconomic history behind its existence. That is what needs to be addressed. Those are the people, no matter their color, that society has an obligation to help out in constructive, empowering ways.

But back to the construct of race. I still have a problem with this country’s attempt to pigeon-hole everyone into a neat racial box. Katie, my wife, is half-Lebanese, but she is technically “white” as far as government forms are concerned. All Middle Eastern people are considered Caucasian for statistics sake, yet for instance, Hispanics (another artificial construct) have a distinct category. I don’t see how someone from Lebanon has any ethnic, cultural or melanin-based resemblance to someone from a Scandinavian nation? I doubt Freepers or the Klan would consider Arabs to be white. In fact, Katie’s father was on the receiving end of discrimination in the South as a young man because, in fact, he is darker than I am, and well, the dumbass rednecks don’t really give a sh*t whether you check white in a box if they can see you’re not “white” to them. This is about politics and numbers and attempts to divide and conquer by creating this implied racial hierarchy, which of course, the masses buy into. The fact that the expliding population of biracial and multiracial people are putting pressure on this inflexible model is a good thing to squirm about — both for all of us as individuals and for our nation as a whole.

Yesterday Bush said — “Our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.” That would be a great goal, though I don’t believe that he or his minions even know how to begin to abandon something they internally hold sacred because their power is ensured by keeping the status quo. But hey, it’s only my opinion.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding