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Keeping Us in Our Place: Story # 1




During today’s podcast Teresa and I share racist incidents that we learned of just this week. We used the episode to highlight the different feelings blacks may experience when celebrating Independence Day. I shared that the 4th of July is a strange holiday for me. African-Americans were not free when the holiday was created in 1776 and still, in 2020, we face oppression and are reminded daily that we are considered inferior to the majority here in America.

One such incident discussed was the one that occurred in Montclair, NJ. According to news reports, Fareed and Norrinda Hayat were installing a stone patio in their backyard. On June 29th the black couple was accosted by neighbor Susan Schulz. During the exchange Schulz repeatedly asked to see a permit, eventually said she was assaulted during the exchange and then called the police on the couple. I don’t have time to unpack all the factors which make this particularly ugly; let’s just say her action earned Schulz the title Permit Karen.

If you noticed my voice get a bit louder or more animated during the podcast when we discussed the Hayat incident, then you picked up on my annoyance with this particular story. During the episode I talked about discrimination African-Americans experience when applying for a mortgage. I will share what my husband and I endured when we bought our first home. I decided that when I share my personal instances of discrimination and racism taken from what has happened in my ordinary life, I will simply title them by number. In my very ordinary life, there have been many and coming up with unique titles for each will exhaust me. Ain’t nobody got time for that. In the future when you see the title “Keeping Us in Our Place” followed by an assigned number, just know I will be sharing my journey navigating through racial waters in that particular blog.

My husband Nashid and I lived in an apartment for five years after we were married. After our son was born (year three), like many young couples, we began to yearn for a bit more space and more importantly we wanted a yard for him to play outside. One habit which made that goal more difficult was our use of credit. Back then, we were in the habit of frequently pulling out our American Express cards for travel, clothes, entertainment and costly dinners. We were having a grand time.

We decided we needed to get serious and make the American dream our reality. Other couples our age were buying houses and now was our time. I had just finished my master’s program and my husband was doing very well as an IT consultant. (Allow me to brag: Nashid was ballin’. I had secured my first management position and was no slouch bringing up the rear.)

Our salaries were solid; our credit, not so much. We paid our rent and bills on time but had quite a bit of debt. Some with hefty interest rates. To get a better handle on our fiscal health, we worked with a credit counselor who developed a financial strategy. That sounds fancy; however, the plan was simple: Pay off all debt, do not incur any new debt, do not have fun, do not buy anything but essential food, which in our case meant a lot of beans. We lived like this for about a year. We met with the counselor faithfully to go over our progress and to make sure we were strictly adhering to the plan. When the counselor first presented us with the plan, we were stunned and overwhelmed. After leaving the counselor’s office when he first shared the plan, we talked about how his plan was ridiculous and decided we were not going to follow it. Absolutely not. That lasted until we got home, looked in our son’s face and started thinking, we would work hard to pull this off for him. He would have space to run beyond a twenty-five feet balcony. We were determined to buy a home.

We hunkered down, paid off every debt we had and did not make any new debt. The financial counselor was practically jumping up and down when he verified we were debt free and verified our incomes. He told us what amount we would most likely qualify for with a bank and assured us we would not have any problem qualifying for a mortgage. Based on what the financial counselor said and our own calculations, (giddy with excitement), we confidently started the mortgage application process. Our financial counselor was a smart man but obviously didn’t consider one crucial fact: We were black and wanted to buy in a predominantly white neighborhood. We didn’t know that was a problem since this would be our first house and beyond thinking about the numbers we didn’t factor in that issue. We really should have. Like the saying goes: If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.

We applied and were denied. We applied and were denied again. I remember feeling flawed, like we were going to somehow be left behind. We were disappointed because we had followed all the rules, could well afford a house but couldn’t find a bank willing to approve the mortgage application. When we told our realtor what was happening, he looked stunned for a minute and began pacing the room. He told us we needed a lawyer. He suggested we go see Eric. (Forgot his last name.)

Our realtor prepped Eric well on our case before we got to his office. When we explained our situation, Eric was connecting the dots. He was quiet as he looked over our documents. While the realtor reacted by appearing stunned, Eric looked furious. Really furious. His cheeks turned red and he seemed to wrestle with staying calm. Eric looked at us and said “Well, they are going to give you that mortgage. And they had better do that now.”

Shortly after, the bank called and said the loan was approved. Apparently there had been some inadvertent error. Not only that, but we learned that the house we liked was overvalued. We shared that information with the sellers and they agreed to a lower figure. We closed on the home and our son had nearby playgrounds at his disposal.

Banking while black, is not just a catchy hashtag. We lived it. From that moment on we made a point to take special care of our finances to always give ourselves a fighting chance when discrimination reared its ugly head in the future. We knew that, even that was no guarantee. Eric let us know that in the future if this happened again and we needed him, he would be there. He turned out to be a man of his word. Stay tuned for Keeping Us in Our Place: Story #2.




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