As if a Black bank teller calling the police on an award-winning movie director out of apparent implicit bias wasn’t bad enough, what’s seemingly being lost in the larger conversation is how she just happens to be employed by a financial institution with a documented history of racist treatment toward its Black and brown customers and employees alike.
The 911 call made by the unnamed Bank of America (BOA) teller — identified only as a “pregnant Black woman” — falsely accusing Hollywood movie director Ryan Coogler is damning in so many ways.
Coogler — who is worth an estimated $25 million after stewarding the seminal “Black Panther” movie to record-setting box office history — presented the required identification the teller asked for when he went into the bank branch in Atlanta to withdraw $12,000 in cash. Because of the amount of money, he wrote his requested transaction on a piece of paper, a concept that is hardly foreign when making large withdrawals at banks. The note also asked the teller to be “discrete,” which is also not an unreasonable request considering how much cash was in question.
When the teller asked questions about his request, Coogler repeatedly directed her to his note, likely because the celebrity-adjacent, wealthy Hollywood mainstay did not want to draw attention to himself and the cash.
That tingled the teller’s Spidey senses and she pretended to step away to consult with her supervisor when she was actually making a call to the police reporting that she was suspicious of Coogler. However, curiously, she couldn’t seem to articulate why she felt that way. When the 911 dispatcher asks the teller if Coogler had a weapon or if he was trying to rob the bank, the teller didn’t answer in the affirmative. All she apparently knew was a Black man asking to withdraw thousands of dollars in cash gave her a California ID at a Georgia, bank branch — virtues that, to be clear, are neither, in fact, illegal nor threatening.
“He had no weapons, correct?” the 911 dispatcher asks.
“Not that I know of,” the teller responds. But she suggests Coogler’s appearance is what made her suspicious, noting that he had on black sunglasses and a black hat.
“I’m so shook up,” the teller continues. “I don’t know what he’s trying to do.”
The 911 dispatcher concludes the call by saying police were “in route,” which we all now know resulted in Coogler being temporarily detained following the false accusation.
Listen to the 911 call below.
While the knee-jerk reaction might be to villainize the teller for her clear implicit bias against a Black customer — and that reaction is one thousand percent valid — it’s easy to forget that she is part of a multi-billion dollar financial corporation that has discriminated against and preyed on Black and brown people for a while now. And not just its own customers, but also its own employees as well as even people who aspired to work there.
Lest we forget that BOA-owned Countrywide Financial company was fined $332 million in 2011 for charging Black and Hispanic borrowers at a much higher interest rate “solely because of their race or national origin.”
Then, in 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) fined BOA $2.2 million in back wages and interest after 1,147 African American job seekers claimed to have dealt with discriminatory hiring practices by the lender at its Charlotte, North Carolina, headquarters from 1993 to 2005.
The case, which was first filed by one African-American employee back in 2005, quickly grew to 1,200 class representatives.
Court documents specify that the presiding judge over the case, administrative law judge Linda Chapman, found that “the bank applied unfair and inconsistent selection criteria resulting in the rejection of qualified African-American applicants for teller and entry-level clerical and administrative positions.” For the most part, the majority of those looking to secure a career with Bank of America’s Charlotte facility were reportedly never even considered.
Four years later, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sued BOA and two of its workers for discriminatory lending in a case centered on Hispanic customers.
Despite those receipts, a 2021 report found that while “racial bias runs deep” at America’s largest banks, BOA was among the financial institutions addressing diversity in its ranks.
“Black Bank of America employees had a 23% chance of being an executive when compared to their White colleagues, according to the report. Latino BofA employees have a 16% chance of reaching the executive ranks,” CNN reported last year. “Respectively, Black and Latino BofA employees are 3.75 and 5.05 times more likely to hold entry level positions than their White peers, researchers found.”
Last year, BOA “increased its $1 billion, four-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity to $1.25 billion over five years.” On the first day of Black History Month this year, BOA issued a statement doubling down on its efforts at “advancing racial equality and economic opportunity.”
Racism in financial institutions — many times revealed through the phenomenon of “banking while Black” — is hardly restricted to BOA.
Just last month, a Black doctor in Houston sued JPMorgan Chase Bank for racial discrimination after a branch refused to deposit a $16,780.16 earned from a signing bonus for a new job. Dr. Malika Mitchell-Stewart’s lawsuit claims staff members at the bank’s First Colony Branch in Sugar Land accused her of her fraud and questioned her employment as a doctor instead of facilitating the deposit.
That came a few years after JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay Black financial advisers $19.5 million in a settlement following a lawsuit by the current and former employees alleging “uniform and national” discrimination.
This is America.