The Fearless Fund And the Threat to Civil Rights: The Dangers of Weaponizing History

This is not just about one grant program; it’s about the broader struggle for racial justice and equality in America.

In a stunning and deeply concerning development, the U.S. Court of Appeals recently suspended the Fearless Fund’s grant program for Black women entrepreneurs. This decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by Edward Blum's American Alliance for Equal Rights, which claims that the program discriminates against non-Black applicants, invoking the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This ruling, while not final, not only represents a sick victory for conservative groups but highlights a troubling trend: using historic civil rights laws to attack Black people.

The Fearless Fund Under Siege

The Fearless Fund, based in Atlanta, was created to address racial disparities in venture capital funding. Black women receive less than 1% of venture capital funding. The Fearless Fund’s Strivers Grant Contest, which offers $20,000 grants to businesses majority-owned by Black women, was a step towards leveling the playing field. The fund included no tax dollars and was privately funded.

Blum, 73, the conservative activist infamous for his role in ending affirmative action in college admissions, targeted the Fearless Fund. Blum’s organization argues that the grant program violates the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits racial discrimination in contract enforcement. Initially, this law aimed to protect formerly enslaved individuals from economic exclusion. The irony and insidiousness of using this historical law to dismantle programs designed to support Black women cannot be overstated.

A Dangerous Precedent

The appeals court panel, which included two Trump appointees, agreed with Blum’s lawsuit and ordered the suspension of the grant program. This decision reversed a previous federal judge's ruling, allowing the contest to continue. Blum’s success in ending affirmative action, which took over a decade, and now targeting Black women programs signals a broader agenda. By leveraging the Civil Rights Act of 1866 against initiatives meant to uplift Black people, Blum and his allies are setting a dangerous precedent. Their actions suggest a concerted effort to dismantle civil rights advancements piece by piece.

If conservative activists can successfully weaponize the Civil Rights Act of 1866 against modern equity initiatives, what’s stopping them from going after the Civil Rights Act of 1964? This foundational law, which banned discrimination in public accommodations and employment, is crucial to maintaining the progress made in civil rights over the past several decades. Civil rights acts have been overturned before. Therefore, arguably, the ultimate goal of the right is to end the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming it’s no longer needed, whining that it's reverse racism against white people and an argument for “colorblind” policies. 

More DEI Attacks

This ruling is not just a setback for the Fearless Fund but a signal to DEI programs across various sectors by using the courts to challenge DEI initiatives. While some lawsuits against companies like Amazon, Pfizer, and Starbucks have been dismissed, there is an increasing legal push to dismantle workplace diversity programs. David Glasgow of NYU's Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging told 11 Alive that he predicts outcomes will likely continue to split along ideological lines, “We are going to see some pro-DEI outcomes in liberal circuits and anti-DEI outcomes in conservative circuits.”

The Broader Implications for Civil Rights

If the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were overturned or weaponized against Black people, the consequences would be far-reaching. This landmark legislation outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, fundamentally transforming American society. Without legal protections, businesses, schools, and other institutions could openly discriminate, undoing decades of progress in equality. Employment discrimination would increase, making it harder for marginalized groups to secure jobs, promotions, and fair wages. Fair housing laws, rooted in the Civil Rights Act, would weaken, allowing discriminatory practices in renting and selling homes. Additionally, many federal programs and protections that ensure equal opportunity would be at risk, leading to increased inequality and social unrest.

Overall, overturning the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would mark a significant regression in American civil rights, increasing discrimination and inequality across multiple facets of society.

The Fight Ahead

The Fearless Fund’s case is a clarion call for vigilance and action. Civil rights groups and advocates must prepare for a sustained battle to protect equity initiatives. The use of the 1866 Civil Rights Act to challenge programs designed to support Black entrepreneurs is an example of the perverse strategies employed by conservative activists.

This fight is not just about one grant program but the broader struggle for racial justice and equality in America. As Arian Simone, CEO of the Fearless Fund, poignantly stated, this ruling is a blow to every girl of color with a dream, “I am shattered for every girl of color who has a dream but will grow up in a nation determined not to give her a shot to live it. On their behalf, we will turn the pain into purpose and fight with all our might.”

The stakes are high, and the need for solidarity and action is greater than ever. The long game of dismantling civil rights protections is insidious and demands our vigilance. Do not check out; your rights and your citizenship are at stake. 

Clay Cane is a SiriusXM radio host and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Grift: The Downward Spiral of Black Republicans From the Party of Lincoln to the Cult of Trump.

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