Jerry Brown has nominated Teveia Barnes to be the new commissioner for California’s Department of Financial Institutions. This means that she is the ultimate regulatory authority for more than 300 California-chartered banks and other financial institutions.
Barnes has an impressive resume, including a lengthy stint as associate general counsel and senior vice president at Bank of America. This is a woman who knows banks. Before law, she was a serious academic at Rice, which is a serious school. She graduated in 1975 with a triple undergraduate degree in economics, German studies, and poly sci. She then got her law degree from the New York University Law School. She entered law school in 1975, which was a time when law schools were finally acknowledging that women were part of the legal package. Those women I know who graduated from law schools back then had a tough time. They were not made to feel welcome.
In addition to her solid academic and professional resume, Barnes is also a committed Democrat. Or at least she’s become a committed Democrat since Obama’s rise. From the years 2000 to 2007, she made $500 in donations to Democrat groups. Beginning in 2008, and continuing through to this year, her donations totaled $12,500, all to Obama’s campaign, Obama’s PACs or general Democrat groups. She made herself visible and Jerry Brown responded. That’s fine. That’s how politics works.
The one thing that concerns me is that, for the past 13 years, Barnes’ has committed her life to the diversity industry. She comes to her government job from a long stint as president of Lawyers for One America. In many ways, just as Barnes is exemplary, so too is the organization. One of its major goals is to see that minorities in America get good legal representation, something that is often achieved by encouraging high powered lawyers and law firms to take on pro bono work. The other major goal, however, is simply the usual diversity business:
The lack of meaningful diversity in the legal profession is a grave issue directly related to opportunity. While people of color comprise approximately one-quarter of the American population, just 10 percent of the legal profession consists of people of color. Attorneys of color comprise just 3 percent of attorneys in law firms, traditionally the centers of power in the profession. LFOA assists in increasing the percentage of lawyers of color in the profession. This work helps provide economic opportunity to those to whom it was previously unavailable.
In other words, this is all about affirmative action. What the affirmative action mavens refuse to acknowledge is that affirmative action doesn’t necessarily serve minority communities well. The communities get lawyers but, sadly, they don’t always get good lawyers. Instead, they get lawyers who have been pushed into and through the system because of their race. Some of them end up doing very well, of course. Others, well, not so much. Putting people in over their head means that a few of the strongest will swim, but most will drown.
Despite statistical evidence showing that affirmative action probably ran its course about thirty years ago, Barnes and her group think that professional profiling (Is someone the right race? Is someone the right sex?) is the only thing that matters when it comes to ensuring good lawyering for minorities:
Ms. Barnes said the legal profession in general is behind the times when it comes to promoting women and people of color. She believes the dominance of white men in the legal profession hurts all of society because minority attorneys are not readily available to provide volunteer legal-aide services.
“For women and lawyers of color, it is difficult for them to have that added time to do that pro bono work that I would otherwise hope they want to do, because they’re struggling with their careers,” she said. “They’re working twice as hard to just maintain their career, to just showcase what they can do, and to prove their value to the organization. And so they have to be pretty well established before they’ll risk doing the pro bono work that all lawyers should be doing.”
This obsession with race and gender strikes me as peculiarly antebellum South. It’s as if America’s blacks internalized entirely the old Southern message about white male superiority, and black and female inferiority and then, 150 years later, regurgitated it, only backwards. It was a horrible, limiting, prejudicial attitude back then, and it’s just as bad now, even with the roles reversed.
My concern as a citizen of the once great state of California is that Barnes’ racial and gender blinders, blinders just as thick and distorted as those worn by a Southern planter back in the 1850s, will lead her to make impositions upon and demands of California’s financial institutions that have nothing to do with good financial practices, and everything to do with advancing an antiquated view of humans, one that sees them controlled and limited by their skin color or sex.
I hope that Barnes, with her impressive academic and professional background, will be able to overcome her own prejudices. I’m not sanguine, though, given that the last twelve years of her life have seen her completely submersed in the racial diversity machinery, one that believes that government’s job is to give minorities a helping hand, and to give whites, especially white men, the back of the hand.