On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives voted to end an Obama-era action designed to address racial discrimination in the auto sales industry. This Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guideline was designed to address and rectify the fact that people of color – even those with superior credit – pay an average of $2,500 more to purchase the same car as a white person. An NPR interview with the architect of this dismantlement – Texas Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling – is such a classic example of racist subterfuge that I thought it worthy of careful analysis. I’m posting the entire conversation in italics with my commentary interspersed.
DEBBIE GOLDSTEIN: They sent in white and nonwhite paired testers to the same auto dealership and found nonwhite borrowers ended up paying on average $2,500 more than a white borrower over the life of their car loan. And, of course, a car is a really vital tool for most families. It’s how you get to work. So it’s something that you really need, but that you might be paying for more just because of the color of your skin and the arrangement you got for your financing.
– You can read the entire National Fair Housing Alliance report here.
GREENE: Now, Congressman Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, saw this study but was not convinced.
JEB HENSARLING: Yeah. I looked at those findings. Did you know that was based on a universe of two people? So this is, at best, junk science. But also, the Bureau’s rule predated this study. So the rule was not even based upon the faulty study. And so it is frankly unfair, it is unjust and it never should have happened in the first place.
– First, the study is not junk science and passed peer review. The two people referenced were the black and white people sent into each dealership, who each sought to purchase the same vehicle with very different results. This is a not a flaw in the study, but the proper methodology. In addition, Hensarling quickly turns the study on its head and suggests the study – rather than the racial discrimination it exposes – is unjust. According to Hensarling, it is the auto dealerships that are being mistreated and must be protected.
GREENE: So you dispute the notion that discrimination exists in the lending process?
HENSARLING: No. I didn’t say that.
– Of course, not. That would be ridiculous since Hensarling knows this study is one of hundreds that demonstrate racial bias in nearly every aspect of our society.
– Great question.
HENSARLING: I said it’s very serious, and it needs to be proven.
– So Hensarling acknowledges the existence of racial discrimination and its seriousness, but asserts it needs to be proven. If you find this response completely incomprehensible, you’re not alone. The interviewer obviously can’t make heads or tails of it either.
GREENE: But let me just – I do want to mention that there was a Vanderbilt University study, as well, from 2006 that suggested there was discrimination in this process. But I mean, you clearly don’t – you’ve not seen enough evidence yet to convince you that this is a problem.
– No, he already said a problem exists and it is serious. This has nothing to do with science or evidence. He is disinterested in changing a system with clear racial bias.
HENSARLING: Well, what I believe is that it is actionable. But if you look at the internal documents of the Bureau, they knew their evidence was shaky, and they were trying to press the envelope and they hurt consumers by doing so.
– So now Hensarling is protecting both consumers and auto dealerships from these nasty guidelines intended to protect the civil rights of people of color. He is the champion of the people, if you define the people as white people.
GREENE: Hurt consumers.
– I’m not certain if this is a question or an expression of her shock at the absurdity of this argument.
GREENE: Yeah. One of the Republican arguments here is that this guidance from the Obama administration made lenders afraid to offer discounts to anyone, regardless of race. And I asked Debbie Goldstein about that.
GOLDSTEIN: It’s not clear they are offering discounts to people of color. It seems like they’re offering discounts in a biased way to white borrowers. And I think here government policy should be aimed at rooting out discrimination, first and foremost.
GREENE: What do you tell a member of Congress who has voted or is voting to scrap these rules, and they say they clearly are not effective in terms of reducing this discrimination, they’re an extra burden on lenders so let’s scrap these and find a better way to enforce the law that’s already there?
– I would tell a Republican member of Congress that they obviously have no interest in remedying this situation. Does anyone really believe the Republicans are upset because these guidelines were not sufficiently and effectively reducing discrimination? Is anyone really holding their breath while they craft a better set of guidelines? If so, take a big breath. Hensarling is about to finish his racist subterfuge with the oldest trick in the racist book.
GOLDSTEIN: I think that the message that Congress is sending when they overturn the guidance is that they don’t think discrimination is a problem and that the auto lending industry should be permitted to do what it wants.
GREENE: Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling said that’s not the message at all. He says he takes charges of discrimination very seriously but that what he sees as government overreach is not the answer.
HENSARLING: Where you have a specific dealer, a specific auto dealer engaged in reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities. But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire industry. That’s outrageous.
– Oh, I think we all know what is outrageous. It is outrageous that in 2018 a white politician is still using one of the oldest tricks in the racist book – imply any evidence of racism is an individual aberration and not a systemic problem. This subterfuge has been used by generations of racists arguing for inaction in the face of blatant and pervasive systemic racism. What Hensarling says in defense of automobile dealers echoes a long litany of reprehensible and racist rhetoric.
In the 1850s, they said of slave owners, “Where you have a specific slave owner engaged in reprehensible, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities. But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire class of gentleman farmers.” Subtext: Most slave owners are wonderful Americans.”
In the 1890s, they said of the KKK, “Where you have a specific KKK member engaged in reprehensible, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities. But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire organization.” Subtext: Belonging to the KKK is perfectly fine.
In the 1920s, they said of lynching, “Where you have a specific lynch mob leader engaged in reprehensible, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities. But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire community.” Subtext: Ignoring, attending and applauding a lynching is defensible.
In the 1950s, they said of Jim Crow “Where you have a specific white person engaged in reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities. But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire society.” Subtext: We have no intention of addressing systemic racism even when we know it is problematic, serious and proven.
Oddly, as an alleged champion of individual responsibility, Mr. Hensarling doesn’t call for charges against the eight individual auto dealerships exposed by the study as behaving in reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct in their selling of cars. Of course, in this, Mr. Hensarling is in good company. Not only are racist politicians like himself unwilling to address systemic racism, they aren’t even interested in eliminating the “rare” instances of reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct they acknowledge.
One piece of evidence is clear. Mr. Hensarling and his Republican allies are working to sustain the systemic privileges of white power and entitlement, protecting the right of white people to purchase cars at a $2,500 discount.
In 2018, that truly is outrageous.