Civil Rights showdown with Justice Department and Comcast outlines the true struggle for equality in America
OPINION: The case that has amounted to a standoff between defenders of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and Comcast brings to the forefront how the Trump Administration truly regards the statute
There is an expression that goes: “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous”, meaning that on more than a few occasions the congruence of time and circumstance can be the result of a Divine Hand.
For example, consider that over this past weekend The New York Times Magazine published its epic 1619 Project, which contains numerous essays, articles and artistic expressions connecting the 250-year history of race-based slavery in the United States to the reality of life in America to this very day.
The words “to this very day” are important because the day after the Times series appeared, there was an announcement that the Department of Justice, headed by noted Trump whisperer Attorney General William Barr, filed a brief essentially supporting the defendant Comcast Corp., in a lawsuit filed by Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Black-owned media company Entertainment Studios (the parent company of theGrio.com) which contends that racial bias has been a motivating factor in Comcast’s decision not to carry its programming content.
An ironic twist
Here is where the irony comes in — the suit filed by Allen and the National Association of African American-Owned Media argues that the actions of Comcast are a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981. This federal law was enacted in order to protect recently freed slaves from racial discrimination in their efforts to establish and develop businesses. But here we are, 400 years after the beginning of race based slavery, and 153 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the argument against racial discrimination against black people must still be litigated.
What is worse, if not a surprise, is that the Trump administration, having already put its thumb on the scales of justice by appointing two right wing judges to the Supreme Court, now puts Donald Trump’s entire hand on those scales by having DOJ essentially argue that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 doesn’t say what it says.
The fact that such a transparently racist argument that sounds like “don’t believe your lying eyes” would emanate from the United States Department of Justice should not be a surprise in the age of Trump. What is a surprise is that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled that the Entertainment Studios argument has a legal basis and that only evidentiary issues should be argued at this point.
Here’s where divine anonymity comes in — with the new public awareness of the impact of slavery thanks to the 1619 Project, it is clearly time for the public debate regarding the civil and human rights of Black Americans to be revisited. The fact that 153 years ago the United States Congress saw fit to protect former slaves in their efforts to establish some level of economic freedom and that today the U.S. Department of Justice and the President of the United States are seeking to limit if not eliminate that protection is stunningly important and deserves the attention of not only the entire black community, but of all men and women of good will.
As we have seen over the years, it is one thing to pass a law. But what is ultimately important is the interpretation and enforcement of that law. The fields of commercial combat in these United States are littered with the shattered hopes and broken dreams of Black men and women entrepreneurs who, having been denied the basic and elementary protections offered by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 saw their businesses destroyed, or their ideas stolen, or their market opportunities sealed off or their suppliers suddenly unwilling to supply.
The true problem
Knowledgeable observers of the political landscape know that Trump’s insults, lies, misogyny, racism and the sheer ugliness of his persona are only bright shiny objects which are meant to distract from the very real damage that he is doing to this country.
The environment, international alliances, infrastructure, public education, healthcare are all in jeopardy as Trump afflicts this country like a curse. In this particular case, we see Trump minions seeking to further limit the economic opportunities for Black entrepreneurs, feigning gossamer allegiance to some “strict construction” of the Constitution – strict only when it serves the ideological ideals of the right wing of the right wing which, in this case encompasses continued white supremacy and sustained domination of black Americans.
The divine coincidence of the 1619 Project and the appearance of the lawsuit against Comcast in the news provides an opportunity to learn and understand what the true nature of the struggle for equality in America is all about — if we just listen and read and learn and act.
Wallace Ford is an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Administration at Medgar Evers College in the City University of New York. He is the author of the “Point of View” contemporary commentary. Read more at thewallaceford.com.