Killing Affirmative Action Wasn’t Enough, Now Conservatives Are Coming for Black Women Entrepreneurs

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 07: (L-R) Tobey R. Sanders, actress Keisha Knight Pulliam, and Arian Simone attend the “Festival of Laughs” tour at Philips Arena on April 7, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

ATLANTA, GA – APRIL 07: (L-R) Tobey R. Sanders, actress Keisha Knight Pulliam, and Arian Simone attend the “Festival of Laughs” tour at Philips Arena on April 7, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Clearly, making it harder for Black and Latino kids to get into college wasn’t far enough for the man behind the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision. Now, he’s coming after Black women with small businesses.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit American Alliance for Equal Rights filed a lawsuit against an Atlanta-based venture capital fund that supports Black women and other minority-owned small businesses. The nonprofit was founded by none other than right-wing crusader Edward Blum, who has made it his mission to destroy affirmative action.

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The lawsuit filed against the Fearless Fund alleges that the fund is “operating a racially-discriminatory program” in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The Fearless Fund was founded by three Black women — executive Ayana Parsons, actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, and entrepreneur Arian Simone.

As their website notes, less than 2.2.% of all Venture Capital funding goes towards women-founded businesses, and less than 1% of total funding goes towards businesses founded by women of color. And yet, for some reason, folks like Blum are convinced this number should be even lower.

It’s worth noting that Blum and his team are clearly riding high from Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision. In fact, they cite it at the top of their lawsuit.

Even before this lawsuit, conservatives were looking for ways to weaponize the Supreme Court’s decision in the workplace. In July, 13 Republican attorneys general wrote a letter demanding that Fortune 100 companies stop their affirmative action programs.

The Root spoke to legal experts, who said that as it stands, nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision makes affirmative action within the workplace illegal:

Amalea Smirniotopoulos, NAACP Legal Defense Fund Senior Policy Counsel, says that these Republican attorneys general are trying to make the Supreme Court’s affirmative decision about something it’s not.

“This was another attempt to chill completely lawful efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion by corporations,” says Smirniotopoulos. “By really trying to stretch the meaning of the decision in the Harvard and UNC cases and frankly by also restating things that have always been true about discrimination law and employment.”

However, they agreed that this didn’t make these arguments any less of a threat to diversity efforts in the office:

“This letter is a scare tactic,” says University of New Mexico Constitutional and Employment Law Professor Vinay Harpalani. “And unfortunately, it’s a pretty good one.”

Although the Supreme Court decision didn’t touch on hiring practices, Harpalani says that conservatives will certainly try to use it as a basis for challenging race in employment. “The law, as it is now, allows affirmative action in employment,” says Harpalani. “But if the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, I’m not at all confident that they would continue to allow it.”

The immediate threat is that companies begin to back-away from DEI programs, said Justin Hansford, Executive Director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University.

“Some of these companies weren’t really doing that much anyway… and what they were doing was done only under pressure,” says Hansford. “This could be an excuse for some companies that already didn’t want to push the envelope on diversity to start walking things back.”

As for the lawsuit against Fearless Fund, an obvious concern is that it could scare off investors who might otherwise want to similarly invest in women of color. However, it’s still too soon to say (especially in this climate) whether the case has legs.

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