We must clap back against the typhoon of disinformation surrounding Black entrepreneurship, equity and innovation

OPINION: Conservatives are using the same tactics that ended affirmative action in higher education to stop funding for Black businesses and entrepreneurs. We must expose these efforts for what they are: a sham.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

We are in the middle of the largest coordinated attack on racial justice in a long time. This assault has many faces: it’s conservative media figures and politicians parroting talking points about “woke” capitalism on the nightly news; it’s conservative state and local elected leaders passing laws that ban diversity, equity and inclusion efforts; and now it’s being carried out via lawsuits brought by well-funded legal activists targeting Black and brown organizations and the institutions that support them.

While their vicious onslaught began by focusing on higher education and affirmative action, it is now bleeding into the space of startups and entrepreneurship, aimed squarely at crippling organizations that issue grants that help black and brown innovators thrive in what is already a deeply challenging environment.

After the Supreme Court declared this June in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College that affirmative action is unconstitutional for higher education admissions, law firms began signaling that companies should “review” their diversity programs. Attorney generals from thirteen states have now threatened Fortune 100 CEOs with “serious legal consequences” if race is taken into consideration in hiring practices.

Most recently, equity efforts seeking to address generational discrimination endured by Black people and communities of color, including the work of the Fearless Fund and its Women of Color Grant, are now the target of lawsuits intended to intimidate the entire business community and impact-focused efforts.

While a federal appeals court has recently blocked the Black women-owned venture capitalist firm from issuing grants, the case is still ongoing, and the fight continues.

It’s time we clap back against this cynical gaslighting and expose these efforts to rewrite history for what they are: a sham. When you pull back the curtain on the real state of affairs facing Black entrepreneurs, along with the Black community more broadly, inequity is everywhere. In the almost 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the racial wealth gap has not closed; systemic racism undergirds our economy — especially when it comes to the sphere of startups and tech.

Contrary to what these so-called conservative activists want you to believe, we do not live in a color-blind, race-neutral society, nor have we remotely outgrown the legacy of slavery and segregation. Just look at the data. Black Americans represent 13% of the U.S. population and own 2.3% of U.S. businesses, but only account for 1% of venture capital funding – and dollars are rolling back as we speak. Compare this with white men, who represent 30% of the population and 58% of all VC investors, and manage a staggering 93% of VC dollars.

Black entrepreneurs and business owners, as well as organizations like the one that I run that advocate for Black economic development and fight to create Black opportunity witness firsthand how the recent wave of conservative attacks threatens to stifle our progress towards a more inclusive tech ecosystem.

Black founders and entrepreneurs face barriers woven into the very fabric of this nation. Like many founders, my lack of access to capital as a business owner caused me to rely heavily on high-interest business credit cards, which cost me tens of thousands in interest payments over the years. I was turned away from lower-interest debt products despite having A1 credit and cash reserves. My story is far too common and these deep-set inequities compound to make the journey of being an entrepreneur of color exponentially more difficult.

Conservative opponents launder their half-baked ideas under the guise of “meritocracy” or “fairness,” but let’s not mince words: this is a racist, concerted campaign to defend the status quo, and to roll back the progress we’ve made since the days of Jim Crow. This is not just a mere policy disagreement about grant issuance policies; it is a fundamental challenge to the future of innovation, equity and the very idea of an inclusive society.

This moment and the goal of equal access to prosperity requires a unified call to arms not just for tech leaders, entrepreneurs, and organizations. It’s for every stakeholder in a strong American economy. If history is any indication, a future where Black innovation is cultivated is a future where we’re all made better.

Kelly Burton is the founder and CEO of the Black Innovation Alliance.

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