Posted On: June 19, 2014 by Nancy Barron

Credit Discrimination Is a Civil Rights Matter

As the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement surfaces again for debate. Most Americans agree that the progress of the 1960s is far from complete. UCLA Professor Emeritus, Jack Rothman, stated this week in an excellent HuffPost piece entitled Civil Rights Need Economic Rights, "The clash between American's declared values of fairness and justice and the functioning of its contentious and uncaring economic system is a potent deterrent to racial progress. We are simply out of alignment as a nation. For the fight for racial equality is hopeless without an all-out fight for economic equality. The country stands in need of a new civil rights transformation -- this time taking aim to upend the broader system of unfairness."

toni%20morrison.jpgPoliticians, academics and advocates alike, including that icon of the Civil Rights Movement, Representative John Lewis (D., Georgia), have long argued that economic justice is the new battleground of the civil rights movement. It is a human rights issue for the 21st century.

"Racism" and "discrimination" are highly charged words. But what is racism, exactly, and why does it harm all races, not just the minority? Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, answered that question brilliantly in a classic 1993 interview which you can listen to here.

The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) is a non-profit organization that advances fairness in the marketplace - including the financial marketplace - for all Americans. After documenting that access to financial products remains unequal, NCLC advocates argue that, "In addition to perpetuating historical discrimination against minority groups, credit discrimination destroys the financial well-being of its victims. Without access to reasonably priced credit, it becomes measurably more difficult to achieve homeownership and build assets, pay for college education or vocational training, or even buy a reliable car for transportation to work." You can read more about NCLC's work for economic justice on its website here.

Californians have the protection of several state laws, in addition to Federal laws, that grant rights and enhanced remedies to people of color and other vulnerable segments of the population. The California state civil rights act is commonly called the "Unruh Act." This and other consumer protection statutes are powerful tools in the effort to obtain economic justice for all.