Sep 24, 2019

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Mehrsa Baradaran, Esq., tackles exclusion and inequality in America

by | Sep 24, 2019

Note: Mehrsa Baradaran, Esq. will be the keynote speaker at Colorado Center on Law and Policies 6th Annual Pathways from Poverty Breakfast, Oct. 17 at History Colorado Center. Seating is limited, so RSVP now.

Money dominates the conversation in today’s world. Whether its economic trends, changes in the stock market, or the value of global currencies, money, wealth and finance is a part of every individual’s private and public life.

It’s no secret, also, that our country’s financial capital is not evenly spread across different demographic groups. A topic of more recent prevalence has been a glaring problem in our nation’s economy and our family’s pockets: the racial wealth divide, or, the fact that Americans of color disproportionately poorer than white Americans.

The keynote speaker for our 6th Annual Pathways from Poverty Breakfast comes to us with a lifetime of expertise on this very issue. Mehrsa Baradaran, Esq. is a law professor with a specialty in banking law, which includes regulation, contracts and administrative law. She is currently a professor of banking law at the University of California, Irvine.

Baradaran’s deep interest in American inequality is informed by her life’s beginnings outside of it. She and her family immigrated to the United States from Orumieh, Iran, in 1986, just eight years after she was born. In 2017, she wrote an article for Slate about her experience as a refugee from a terrorist-designated country.

Her opening words in the interview were “In 1986, I was a 9-year-old Muslim immigrant from the ‘terrorist country’ of Iran trying to escape war and a revolution gone wrong. My mom (in a hijab), my dad, my two younger sisters, and I, each with bowl haircuts, stood in front of a U.S. bureaucrat sitting in her office. She looked us up and down deciding whether to accept or reject our visa application.” Baradaran goes on to write about how she worked hard to learn about American culture and say the Pledge of Allegiance in her classroom with pride, but also mentions the difficult parts of growing up as an immigrant. She ends the article with a message of hope about the future of immigrants in the country, saying “This is my home and I will keep working to make America great because I have so much hope in America.”

Baradaran attended Brigham Young University for her undergraduate degree, and her law degree from New York University. Before entering the field of higher education, she practiced law at the Davis, Polk & Wardwell financial institutions group in New York state. She also served on a mission in Houston, Texas.

Baradaran has published two critically acclaimed books that examine the racial wealth divide in America. Her first book, How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy, was featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Financial Times, among others. The book highlights the corruption inherent in the banking industry, and how it is designed to profit off less-affluent, often minority, Americans.

Her second book, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, dives deeply into the reasons behind the racial wealth divide, including the different manifestations of segregationist housing policies, racism and credit policies. She then discusses policies we could pursue to help close this gap and end the poverty cycle of inherited poverty. Her thoughts on these and other proposed solutions have been published by several news outlets, including the The New York Times, where she discussed the concept of “black capitalism” that emerged in the country as a result of the Nixon presidency, and its influences on President Trump’s “opportunity zones” intended to invest in under-served communities.

“These programs fail because the benefits of capitalism always accrue to the owners of the capital, not to the people living in enterprise zones or promise zones. Using capitalism to fix the racial wealth gap will work only if there is a means to transfer capital, assets, wealth or housing,” she says in the article.

Baradaran has received multiple awards for The Color of Money, including Best Book of the Year by the Urban Affairs Association, the PROSE Award Honorable Mention in the Business, Finance & Management category. She was also selected as a finalist at the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Awards for the book in the category of history/biography.

In addition to publishing her books, Baradaran has also written several academic articles for established law review journals on concepts such as postal banking, the ILC, and “Jim Crow Credit,” including the Irvine Law Review, Vanderbilt Law Review, Harvard Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Emory Law Journal, George Washington Law Review, and the SMU Law Review. She has also been involved in the political sector, testifying before the United States Senate on digital currencies and blockchains.

Last July, Baradaran compelling and illuminating presentation at the Colorado Health Foundation’s Colorado Health Symposium, generated acclaim and positive feedback among event participants. She also contributed four sidebars to Matthew Desmond’s examination of how African slaves built capitalism in the Aug. 14 edition of The New York Times Magazine.

Join us for what’s certain to be an eye-opening keynote speech during our Pathways from Poverty Breakfast, Oct 17. Seating is limited, to RVSP now.

-By Duranya Freeman

Recent articles

Five takeaways for work after COVID-19

Supported by a generous grant from the ECMC Foundation, Colorado Center on Law and Policy set out to track how the experiences of unemployed Coloradans have changed since February 2020. By analyzing economic and labor force data, as well as conducting interviews with...