Racial justice should be central to the practice of consumer law on behalf of low-income people. Advocates should be open to changing their practice to meet the specific needs of the communities they serve.
This white paper from the Shriver Center’s Legal Impact Network highlights the work of consumer advocates who are seeking to actively acknowledge and directly confront the ways in which racism impacts their consumer clients and consumer advocacy.
Structural racism embedded in American laws and institutions has resulted in deep and enduring disparities in health, employment, housing, and economic opportunity for Black, Latino/a/x, Indigenous, Asian, and other consumers of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened these inequities as individuals and hard-hit communities struggle to recover from the health and economic challenges caused by the pandemic. Enforcement of consumer protection laws can ameliorate some of the issues surrounding housing and abusive lending practices.
The role of the courts in sustaining a false notion of justice while perpetuating housing insecurity in communities of color cannot be overlooked. This article describes parallels between the COVID-19 and foreclosure crises, considers the historical origins of the courts’ expansive equitable powers, and proposes a path toward reclaiming a place for equity in the courtroom through consistent, zealous advocacy and greater public scrutiny of judicial candidates.
Springdale, Arkansas, is home to over 12,000 former inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, a remote area in the South Pacific made up of a small chain of volcanic islands. Marshall Islanders have relocated to Arkansas in search of opportunity and stability. Advocates at Legal Aid of Arkansas realized that, in order to address the needs of this unique community, they had to change their approach to traditional legal aid, center race in their work, and invest in building trust and cultural competence with a community in desperate need of support.
One of the most powerful forces operating against the economic security and mobility of Black families in Mississippi is the prevalence of payday loan servicers. The culture of debt and siphoning of wages from Black families perpetuated by the payday lending industry harkens back to the region’s history of sharecropping. This article uses the frame of this historical linkage to describe the proliferation and power of payday lending institutions in Mississippi. To assist Black consumers in the state, the Mississippi Center for Justice has created alternative low-cost micro-loan opportunities while also engaging in other supportive work.
Nearly two out of three small loan companies in New Mexico are located within 15 miles of Native American lands. This article describes how the high-cost lending industry in the state is grounded in the ongoing colonization and extraction of wealth from Native communities. Using a racial justice perspective, advocates at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and their partners have worked to change the narrative about predatory lending in New Mexico and urge the state legislature to reform lending laws.
In July 2021, the Shriver Center and the National Consumer Law Center offered a series of free webinars featuring Legal Impact Network members and other advocates discussing strategies for applying a race equity lens to consumer law advocacy.
Session 1: July 13, 2021
During this session, we discussed why race is a critical part of anti-poverty advocacy generally and consumer advocacy specifically. Speakers introduced concepts to help advocates advance racial equity in their work and discussed how racial justice may require advocates to change their approach in advocacy and in court. Presenters: Ben Carter (Kentucky Equal Justice Center), Kimberly Merchant (Shriver Center on Poverty Law), & Odette Williamson (National Consumer Law Center)
Session 2: July 20, 2021
This session focused on how Legal Aid of Arkansas changed their approach to consumer advocacy to better support a vibrant community of Marshallese in-migrants being targeted by predatory consumer practices. Presenters: Eldon Alik (Marshallese Consulate, Springdale AR), Melisa Laelan (Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese), Susan Purtle (Legal Aid of Arkansas), & Mallory Sanders (Legal Aid of Arkansas)
Session 3: July 27, 2021
During this session, advocates discussed how specific regional histories of indigenous oppression in New Mexico and sharecropping in Mississippi have informed their understanding of the predatory payday lending landscape in their states. Contextualizing payday lending in this way surfaced new issues and presented different approaches in two unique communities within different political environments. Presenters: Lindsay Cutler (New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty) & Charles Lee (Mississippi Center for Justice)