Wandering Eye: Predatory debt collection, diversifying art museum collections, and more

ProPublica has a quiet blockbuster on the prevelance of debt-collection lawsuits in the African-American community. The investigative website looked at these suits nationwide and found them concentrated in black neighborhoods, concluding that generations of racism have left African-Americans "with grossly fewer resources to draw on when they come under financial pressure." Focused on Jennings, Missouri, the piece builds on decades of work by reporters like Michael Hudson who, beginning in the early 1990s, showed how the financial services industry had built a harsh, high-interest parallel industry just for the poor—which hammered African-Americans. Now that industry has its own constellation of "debt buyers" and law firms specializing in debt collection—what ProPublica characterizes as "a little-known but pervasive shift in the way debt is collected in America: Companies now routinely use the courts to pursue millions of people over even small consumer debts." City Paper has plowed some of this ground before, checking in with the bail bonds industry and the more general debt-collection practices, in which unprovable, time-barred, and even trumped-up debts have been routinely validated by judges for years. That system was reformed several years ago in Maryland by then-Chief Judge Ben Clyburn. Nationally and in most states, however, debt collectors can grab up to one quarter of a debtor's pay through garnishment—a practice that impoverishes already-poor people and pushes them into the shadow economy. Cori Winfield's case is illustrative: Sued for $5,000 she supposedly owed on a car she no longer even had, she'll owe it until it's paid—at 30 percent interest, compounding. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

On Sunday, the New York Times published a piece about how the art world is attempting to correct its white-male-centric canon by putting more art by black artists in the spotlight. Randy Kennedy cites efforts made by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Whitney, LACMA, the Met, MoMA, and other big institutions in the U.S. to promote and permanently acquire more work by black artists, and several sharp quotes from collectors, artists, curators, and museum directors stand out. "I'm sorry, but I really believe that if [Sam Gilliam] were a white artist, you wouldn't be able to afford him now; you wouldn't be able to touch him unless you had several million," former professional basketball player and coach Darrell Walker says of the Washington, D.C.-based abstract expressionist painter. Of course, institutions shouldn't be fleshing out their collections just in terms of numbers, or diversity as a vague concept—they need to do more. Harlem's Studio Museum director Thelma Golden said it well: "What we need to continue to understand is that the exhibition and collection of this work is not a special initiative, or a fad, but a fundamental part of museums' missions — and that progress is not simply about numbers, but understanding this work, in the context of art history and museum practice, as essential." (Rebekah Kirkman)

 

The porn star James Deen was once seen as an industry sweetheart for his boyish good looks and public stances on consent and diversity in adult films, but that is all changing now that several women have come foward and said Deen sexually assualted them, according to a story in The Washington Post. Online publication The Frisky and adult film studio Kink.com have already announced they are severing business ties with Deen, leading The Post and Daily Beast to make this clear connection: Deen may be porn's Bill Cosby. "For decades, Cosby's behavior was cloaked by his image as the nation’s model TV dad — a benevolent, sweater-wearing, Jello-loving mensch," writes The Post's Caitlin Gibson. "Within the adult film industry, Deen had also established his own unique reputation as an impish Jewish guy who valued women and just happened to enjoy a little kink." In a series of tweets, Deen called the accusations "false and defamatory" and said, "I respect women and I know and respect limits both professionally and privately." (Brandon Weigel)

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