I grew up with the belief that my entire family, except for my maternal grandfather, was German. My Dad’s family told stories of growing up with the Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. This meant seven sweets and seven sours for holiday dinners, cooking for Sunday on Saturday and farming in Lancaster County which is where the family settled when they arrived in the 1730’s. Even though we lived in Western Pennsylvania, all the relatives lived in southeastern Pennsylvania, the home of the Amish with towns named Intercourse and Blue Balls.
On my mother’s side we heard family tales of the trip over from Germany and the illness that took many of the lives of the family. The story goes that anyone with my grandmother’s maiden name was related since all the others had died on the trip over. I even have pictures taken in the early 20th century of the entire clan. My grandfather on the other hand was English and very proud of it.
So when I sent away for the DNA kit to find out my genetic heritage I truly expected that it would come back saying 75% German and 25% English. Boy was I in for a surprise. The test did find that I am primarily from Western Europe and Great Britain as expected. But the shockers came when it revealed that I am 2% North African and 1% Mid-Eastern. In addition I have Italian/Greek genes and Spanish genes. Basically if you look at a map of the Holy Roman Empire at its heights, I am representative of all of it.
So this got me to thinking. Have I been answering the Government Monitoring information incorrectly? I always listed “White” and “Female”, but should I have said African-American or Asian-American? Would I have been eligible for more opportunities if I had? Did my children miss out on scholarships or special events and classes because I failed to categorize their race properly?
And that leads me to another question, what percentage of African genes does a person need to be considered African American? Do I have a high enough percentage of Mid-Eastern blood flowing through my veins to be considered Asian-American and become eligible for a Su-Su partnership? And of those who call themselves African-American or Asian-American how can we be sure they actually are? For example, many African-Americans are descended from children fathered by whites. One only has to read about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Henning to understand that. So should everyone have this test done in order to ensure that our “fairness” is fair? Should we set percentage standards to be eligible to be considered non-white?
Now don’t take me wrong. I am a very strong advocate of Fair Lending Programs, but I do worry that we may have gone off the deep end just a bit. Let’s look at the HMDA data. There is a general outcry that African-Americans are denied at twice the rate of whites and just looking at the data on the surface, that appears to be true. However, what if we took out that factor, or counted anyone with African genes (like me) as African- American? What if we said that anyone with the DNA of Western Europe, no matter how much, could no longer be considered African-American, and apply this same standard to Asian-American’s as well. After all there are a lot of Asians with white and black fathers (Think Tiger Woods). What would the HMDA results be then?
The reality is that much of the HMDA data is just plain bad. Many people refuse to complete the Government Monitoring Information at all, which is their choice, and with the advent of internet applications they don’t even have to provide it. In addition, some lenders still haven’t figured how to compile the data they do have correctly or may even manufacture the data just to satisfy the regulatory requirement. Filing bad data was never the intention of Fair Lending or HMDA. I think it would be much more productive to take a deep dive into why loans are denied. What attributes or issues are common among them? Why do some lenders have a very high percentage of withdrawn loans rather than denials? And probably most important, who does discriminate and on what basis. The tools are available today to do this type of study, but who among us will take on the challenge to validate or destroy all of these preconceived notions that we cling to. Let’s not all raise our hands at once. But if there is someone brave enough to do so, let me know. I will be happy to join the battle. I’m sure somewhere in my very diverse gene pool is a great warrior waiting to get into the struggle.
About The Author
rjbWalzak Consulting, Inc. was founded and is led by Rebecca Walzak, a leader in operational risk management programs in all areas of the consumer lending industry. In addition to consulting experience in mortgage banking, student lending and other types of consumer lending, she has hands on practical experience in these organizations as well as having held numerous positions from top to bottom of the consumer lending industry over the past 25 years.