When customizing her Wells Fargo debit card online, Baltimore high school teacher Rachel Nash had several images to choose from — flowers, the American flag, colorful patterns and puppies. She even had the option of uploading her own image.
"I don't need extra pictures of my dog," Nash said. Instead, she wanted an image that would make people think, and help her show solidarity with people of color.
The 29-year-old, who works for the city public school system, designed a customized card that read "Black Lives Matter" with a fist held in the air, using an image she found on the internet. But Wells Fargo denied the card design, citing guidelines that prohibit political content.
When Nash first received an email last week saying her design was denied, she thought it was because the image she had used was copyrighted or trademarked — neither of which are permitted according to the Wells Fargo's Card Design Studio guidelines. So Nash designed a similar image using the Microsoft Paint program.
Days later, her design was rejected again. This time, Nash called the bank directly to find out why, but received mixed messages, she said.
A Wells Fargo representative told Nash that the company did not want to be associated with anything "anti-social" or "offensive," Nash said.
Nash asked to speak to the supervisor, who told her "Black Lives Matter" was trademarked, which Nash knew was not true.
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, one application for "Black Lives Matter" and one for "Black Lives Matter." (note the period) were submitted last year and are now pending approval. Previous applications filed in 2015 for variations of the slogan, used in protests and civil rights movements across the country, were denied.
The bank representative later said Nash's Black Lives Matter-themed design was political in nature, Nash said, which Wells Fargo's card design guidelines prohibits. Nash asked why her design was considered political and couldn't get a straight answer, she said.
She then designed another card with a black background that read "Black People are Important." It, too, was denied.
"Generally speaking, we try to err on the side of caution in determining what's political," Wells Fargo spokesman Kris Dahl told The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday. "And essentially, we reject any cards that depict a particular political group or movement — not as a statement of acceptance or rejection of those political movements, but to keep our cards and our products politically neutral."
Dahl added in an email that he does not believe Wells Fargo has approved any card designs featuring Blue Lives Matter, a slogan used to support law enforcement. However, the company does offer a "Pride" collection of card designs supporting the LGBTQ community.
Dahl also noted that Wells Fargo offers pre-approved designs that focus on different cultures, including the "Untold Histories" collection, released last February during Black History Month to celebrate the African-American experience. The available images feature a boombox and an African-American family embracing.
"We support a number of different groups as a part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we don't consider that support to be political," Dahl said.
Nash said she received an apology on Friday from a Wells Fargo representative who had reviewed the audio from the phone call.
"We sincerely apologize for the initial communication to Ms. Nash because it did not correctly reflect the reason for the decline and was counter to our commitment to treating our customers with respect," Dahl said in an emailed statement, adding that the card's design was rejected "because of its political nature – not because Wells Fargo believes Black Lives Matter is offensive or anti-social, which is not the case."
Still, Nash said she's disappointed that Wells Fargo sees the lives of African-Americans or human rights of any group as a political statement, "especially when Wells Fargo is comfortable making similar shows of support for other marginalized groups."
"But I'm not necessarily surprised that this happened, and I'm not surprised by the backlash that this limited attention has garnered," she said.
Since telling her story to news outlets, Nash said a number of people have vowed to change banks because of Wells Fargo's decision. Her students have been supportive, she said, but Nash has also received several negative messages about her choice.
"Despite the haters, good conversations are happening and productive conversations are happening, and that's what's important. If even one person gets it, that's good," she said.
Moving forward, Nash said she is debating her options. She said that black-owned banks have reached out to her in support of helping her design a card that would reflect her views.
She's also thinking of trying another design with Wells Fargo, enlisting one of her friends to create a thoughtful image "that hopefully won't raise any red flags."