Race and Economy

There have only been a handful of Black financial regulators, for generations

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Sep 7, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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About 3% of the financial regulators that oversee Wall Street have been Black, according to a report out from Georgetown University. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
Race and Economy

There have only been a handful of Black financial regulators, for generations

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Sep 7, 2020
About 3% of the financial regulators that oversee Wall Street have been Black, according to a report out from Georgetown University. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
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Right now, only one of the federal government’s politically appointed financial regulators is Black. A new report from Georgetown University finds that white men have dominated financial regulation for generations.

Since the New Deal, only 10 of 327 top financial regulators appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate were Black. These regulators oversee Wall Street at the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission, among others. Chris Brummer, author of the report and professor of law at Georgetown, looked at diversity at seven federal agencies.

“Our methodology was just designed to identify — to paraphrase the musical ‘Hamilton’ — who’s in the room when it happens?” Brummer said.

And who’s not in the room. 

“About 3% of all financial regulators have been Black,” he said. “That headline number was really jarring.”

But these numbers aren’t surprising for Paul Thornell. He was a senate staffer in the 1990s, and he’s been in the rooms where things happened. But he says, as a Black man, he was the exception in those rooms.

“I know that there are not that many people that look like me in them,” Thornell said.

Senators tend to support people for top financial regulator jobs whom they know, like senate staffers.

“There are just fewer Black and brown people who have those long standing relationships with senators because few Black and brown people have had top jobs in the Senate,” Thornell said.

He said without diverse voices around the table, those at the table can hurt communities they’re trying to help.

Attorney Petal Walker was chief counsel to a commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. She grew up in the 1980s in Jamaica, Queens — a diverse, poorer neighborhood on the outskirts of New York City. Walker said that experience influenced her perspective, because she realized that too much market risk could lead to a crisis with spikes in unemployment.

“If we don’t properly oversee the market — if there’s too much risk in one area, not enough collateral in another area — those things can create the crisis of the future,” Walker said. “When those jobs are lost, people — the people who are most vulnerable — really feel it.”

Walker said she was very aware of how the decisions financial regulators made would ultimately affect individuals who may never get a seat at the table.

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