When do efforts to ameliorate past disadvantage turn into unconstitutional discrimination?
It’s a fair enough question; if demographic change gives people of color the power to make the nation’s laws, and they use that power to privilege themselves and disadvantage Whites, that would clearly be wrong. While accusations of “reverse discrimination” tend to be prompted more by racism than actual unfairness, there have been some cases where courts have found such reverse discrimination.
But let’s get real! Efforts to help people overcome longstanding structural disadvantage aren’t plots against Whites. The current attacks on “woke” corporate efforts to ensure fairness are more often than not barely-veiled efforts to maintain previous, racist barriers.
I was particularly struck by a recent report in the Washington Post.
The article began by recounting an entrepreneurial bright idea. Patterning her project after those ubiquitous food trucks, a young Black woman in Atlanta bought an old school bus, painted it white, tore out the floor and seats, and added manicure stations. The effort took off, and she was booking weddings and parties.
Looking to scale up, she approached a grant program for Black, female entrepreneurs run by Fearless Fund, an Atlanta-based venture capital firm.
The firm had planned to name the latest round of grant winners before Labor Day. But Fearless Fund has agreed to delay the awards as it finds itself ensnared in the nation’s rapidly expanding legal brawl over affirmative action.
Edward Blum, whose lawsuit prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the use of racial preferences in college admissions, targeted the Fearless Fund in early August, claiming it engaged in “explicit racial exclusion” by operating a grant program “open only to Black females.” The lawsuit — which asked the court to prevent the fund from selecting its next round of grant winners — is one of the most prominent in a flurry of recent lawsuits and legal claims by conservative activists aimed at applying the Supreme Court’s insistence on race-blind college admissions practices to the corporate sphere of hiring, contracting and investment.
Blum has also sued two law firms over their operation of fellowship programs aimed at students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities, alleging that the exclusion of applicants who don’t fall into those categories is discriminatory, and demanding that the programs be shut down.
It will not surprise you to learn that a Google search to find cases in which Blum challenged programs that preferred White folks was unsuccessful….
Fearless Fund is one of several entities trying to help minority entrepreneurs who have encountered race-based barriers to capital:
Fearless Fund is one of dozens of firms geared toward combating the well-documented racial imbalance in U.S. venture capital: Last year, 1.1 percent of the $214 billion in venture capital funding allocated went to companies with Black founders, according to data from Crunchbase. In 2019, research from Stanford University concluded that founders of color face more bias from professional investors the better they perform.
The women who established Fearless Fund had been personally affected by the wildly disproportionate funding available to Black and White enterprises, and wanted to help other Black women facing the barriers that they’d struggled to overcome. They’ve lined up a heavyweight defense team, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Ben Crump.
The lawsuit against the Fearless Fund, Crump told The Post, “is an attack by the enemies of equality, to say ‘You will never be equal.’”…
The lawsuit claims that the venture capital firm’s practice of awarding $20,000 grants, business support services and mentorship to Black women-owned businesses violates a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that guarantees “race neutrality” in contracts. That legislation, which was passed after the Civil War to protect the rights of people freed from enslavement, is also being used in similar lawsuits — along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — to claim that companies’ attempts to eradicate racial inequality qualify as discrimination.
Unsurprisingly, Blum and his fellow champions of racial neutrality were nowhere to be found–in the courts or in the court of public opinion–when corporate practices blatantly favored Whites, making their current pious pronouncements about favoritism and discrimination ring especially hollow.
Federal laws that were intended to ensure equal opportunity and rights for people of color “are now being used as a weapon to deny them rights,” said Kenneth Davis, professor of law and ethics at Fordham University. “It’s the height of irony.”
That irony is proliferating. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down college affirmative action programs, a federal judge has ruled that an SBA program for historically-disadvantaged groups is unconstitutional.
Maybe next they can attack scholarships for poor students on the grounds that they discriminate against the rich….