By William C. Black, Associate Professor of Economics and Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One
On February 6, 2010 I wrote an open letter to Dr. Walter E. Massey, who was then Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bank of America. Dr. Massey is also President, emeritus, of Morehouse College. The context was that B of A has long retained Herr Henkel to create their team of senior business advisors for its operations in Germany. Herr Henkel is a prominent German businessman who ran Germany’s top business association (loosely equivalent to combining our Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable). Dr. Thilo Sarrazin’s verbal assault on Arabs, Turks, and Muslims (and bizarre gratuitous claims about Jews) prompted my letter. Henkel issued a manifesto endorsing Sarrazin’s claims. Henkel chose as his title for his manifesto a phrase that emphasized that he agreed with Sarrazin’s attacks on Arabs, Turks, and Muslims and his bizarre statements about Jews without the slightest reservation (“without” any “if” or “but”).
Henkel, independently, proceeded to blame the global financial crisis on loans to African-Americans and bemoaned the end of “red-lining” – the deliberate discrimination by lenders based on race. Sarrazin had dismissed Arabs and Turks as capable only of working as “fruit and vegetable vendors.” I wrote my open letter to Dr. Massey to remind him that B of A began as the Bank of Italy. The Bank of Italy was proud and eager to have Italian Americans who worked as fruit and vegetable vendors as its customers. I called on B of A to fire Henkel and review the team of advisors he had selected. I never received a response from any B of A representative and it appears that B of A continues to employ Herr Henkel and his team as its senior advisors in Germany.
Sarrazin is a major player in Germany. He is a member of the German central bank (and in the German context that is a far more exalted institution than the U.S. Federal Reserve). Moreover Sarrazin is a Social Democrat, the major German party on the Left. The German central bank chastised Sarrazin for his prior rant and constrained some of his functions. Sarrazin, however, has now followed up with a book – and public comments about its thesis – that renew his attacks on Arabs, Turks, and Muslims. He also made new, equally gratuitous and bizarre claims about Jews. (He states that all Jews share certain genes. All humans share certain genes. Actually, all humans and all potatoes share some genes. And this proves what? That each of us, including Sarazzin, is a Kartoffel Kopf?)
The German government appears to be getting ready to remove Sarazzin from the central bank. That is a big deal. Germans take pride and comfort in their central bank’s independence. It is very difficult under their system to remove a member of the central bank. The difficulty is compounded because the party in power is the rival party to the Social Democrats. Removing Sarazzin will be deeply embarrassing to the Social Democrats. But the greatest difficulty is that many Germans agree with Sarrazin.
Germany’s senior leaders are willing to take extraordinary, painful steps to end the disgrace that Sarazzin has brought upon the central bank and the nation. B of A, by contrast, can fire Henkel for cause, save money, and receive far better business guidance on lending from non-bigots. Only a handful of Americans share Henkel’s nostalgia for the return of red-lining. So, what is B of A’s excuse? Does Henkel’s bigotry represent the values of B of A’s senior leadership in Germany and the United States?
Americans and Germans share a great history with terrible dark aspects. We know our histories. We know how disastrously bigotry ends if it is not stopped. We know that bigotry is built on lies and that scientific racism is an oxymoron propagated by regular morons.