America recently experienced its second-largest bank failure, nearly sending the entire country into a financial crisis. But while a lack of federal regulations was to blame, right-wingers have a different explanation: The bank was too “woke.”
On March 10, the Silicone Valley Bank (SVB) — a bank for startups, venture capitalists, and tech firms — lost a lot of money. The loss frightened its customers, causing them to withdraw their funds and effectively collapsing the bank. By March 12, the federal government stepped in to basically bail out up to $250,000 in depositors’ funds.
Almost immediately, conservatives blamed their favorite bogeyman: woke ideology.
The former president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and alt-right figure Mike Cernovich both re-posted a tweet from @The_Real_Fly with a quote attributed to Jay Ersapah, a person who the tweet identified as the Head of Financial Risk at SVB. In reality, she holds that position within SVB’s U.K. subsidiary (a subsidiary operated by the British financial company HSBC which, in no way, had any connection to what happened to SVB in the United States).
The tweet included a quote in which Ersapah mentioned her identity as a queer immigrant of color and praised SVB for creating a sense of community among queer employees and allies. The tweet also mentioned SVB’s employee resource groups (ERGs) that focus on diversity within the bank.
@The_Real_Fly criticized Ersapah, writing, “Head of Financial Risk at SVB Jay Ersapah might’ve been busy with more important projects at the bank, such as LGBTQ issues, rather than assessing risk.”
Trump Jr. re-tweeted the post, writing, “SVB is what happens when you push a leftist/woke ideology and have that take precedent over common sense business practices. This won’t be the last failure of this nature so long as people are rewarded for pushing this bs.” This take was turned into a New York Post article entitled, “While Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, top executive pushed ‘woke’ programs.”
On March 13, Fox News host Jesse Watters piled on, stating on his broadcast, “Silicon Valley Bank is a woke Biden bank. They were holding seminars on Lesbian Visibility Day and National Pride Month. Now, if you want to hold a pride month, that’s fine, but you’ve got to be able to chew gum at the same time and walk. So, keep an eye on the balance sheet, guys.”
Watters’s comment was especially notable considering that Fox News has a diversity and inclusion webpage that also touts its own ERGs.
In a recent article, Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler noted that the bank’s board was 45 percent women and had one Black member, one LGBTQ+ member, and two veterans, and wrote, “I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess, but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appeared on the Fox Business Channel last Sunday to say, “This bank, they’re so concerned with DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] and politics and all kinds of stuff. I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission.”
That same day, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) appeared on Fox to say that SVB was “one of the most woke banks in their quest for ESG-type policy.”
ESG, another “woke” right-wing bogeyman, stands for “environmental, social, and governance,” meaning funding plans with ostensibly socially conscious aims, like furthering renewable energy resources.
The same day that Watters made his comment, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs (R) wrote on Twitter that the bank’s resources had been “blown on woke/DEI initiatives.” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted, “So these SVB guys spend all their time funding woke garbage (‘climate change solutions’) rather than actual banking and now want a handout from taxpayers to save them.”
Perhaps right-wingers have just gotten used to blaming wokeness for anything they don’t like, such as anti-racist education and acknowledging LGBTQ+ identities in schools. Or perhaps Republicans are trying to distract from the fact that they support the kind of bank deregulation that led to SVB’s collapse.
Regardless, the idea of a “woke” bank is pretty laughable, as Vox points out.
“If anything, a bank is the opposite of ‘woke,'” wrote Vox financial journalist Whizy Kim. “It’s a powerful institution that has historically served the privileged elite while refusing to serve marginalized groups or offering them predatory terms. SVB was a bank that served major players in Silicon Valley — the industry that ushered in the app-based gig economy, collectors of massive data troves and enablers of surveillance capitalism, and growing partners of the US military, no less — none of which is very popular with the left.”