Is this the struggle Fredrick Douglass foretold prior to our progress?

The tapestry of American history is woven with stories of valor, resilience, and an unwavering pursuit of justice.

People like Harriet Tubman, whose daring Underground Railroad escapades gave freedom to hundreds; Frederick Douglass, whose voice echoed the hopes of countless enslaved individuals; and Fannie Lou Hamer, whose relentless activism shook the foundations of racial barriers, all have painted a vivid picture of Black leadership and its impact on America. Their collective legacy, sculpted over blood, sweat, and tears, has never just been about resistance; it’s about crafting a future rooted in equity and justice.

Yet, today, the pillars these luminaries established are being tested. Amid the challenges facing Black America in recent times, it is essential to recognize the history of struggle, resilience, and progress. The advancements in policies and initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field, particularly for Black Americans, now appear to be under threat – creating a slippery slope.

The systematic marginalization of Black people is still palpable in every facet of American life, echoing the pain of exclusion and prejudice. It was this deep-seated discrimination that gave birth to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, led to the integration of a more comprehensive Black history curriculum in schools, and was the catalyst for affirmative action. All these were structured to dismantle centuries-old oppressive systems.

Now, however, there’s an emerging, worrisome undercurrent pushing back against these achievements that hints at troubling regressions. In addition to the dismantling of affirmative action in the college admission process, a glaring example is the lawsuit spearheaded by the American Alliance for Equal Rights (AAER) against Atlanta’s Fearless Fund. AAER is the same group that was backed by the conservative activist behind the U.S. Supreme Court Cases leading to the dismantling of race-based college admission programs earlier this year. Fearless Fund, championing Black women entrepreneurs, is now under scrutiny for supposedly violating Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

 

“In some respects, even if it’s not successful legally, it’s like trolling. It’s an effort to intimidate folks that are using race base standards to try to remedy past injustices and are trying to create greater equity. It is indeed part of a broader attack not just on protections that the Constitution gives but private efforts to try to extend diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace so, again, it’s a very aggressive effort.”

To appreciate the full impact of this lawsuit, one must venture into the annals of systemic discrimination where Black communities, especially Black women, were systemically muted. Be it business, academia, or the arts, Black women consistently grappled with biases. This reality is why initiatives like the Fearless Fund aren’t just valuable; they’re vital.

The National Council of Negro Women stands in solidarity with initiatives such as the targeted Fearless Fund, as their mission is to lead, advocate, and empower women of African descent, their families and communities. In adhering to their mission, they have never left the front lines. NCNW has been in the fight for women since it was founded in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune.

 

“NCNW condemns the Supreme Court’s decision to upend affirmative action and the attack on our community’s well-celebrated organizations that uplift the advancement of Black women. Our founder, a legendary Black woman, started a school with $1.50 and selling sweet potato pies. She fought for education, and we will continue to advocate for college admissions processes to reflect the diversity required for true educational excellence.”

In addition, Dr. Johnson also shared the continued work they are doing to combat the seemingly unified national efforts to regress Black America politically, economically, and otherwise.

“We want every community to start a children’s book club and introduce every book that is being removed by the system. We know from history that there is power in numbers, so we continue to work with grassroots populations, and we ask all Black women to join together, to encourage sisterhood, lend their voices, and demonstrate their commitment to truth, equality, both racial and social justice.”

The emergence of corrective measures like affirmative action was born from necessity. Landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were triumphant moments in a long battle against racial prejudice. They weren’t just legal frameworks; they represented the dreams and aspirations of countless souls yearning for justice.

In recent years, DEI initiatives, critical race theory, and affirmative action have been celebrated cornerstones of an ever-progressing America. Yet, there are growing concerns about the reversal of these hard-fought achievements.

“What we’re learning from the current Supreme Court is that the rule of law is in free-fall and precedent doesn’t mean anything so, rather this is successful or not, it really is not a legal question that you’d refer to past cases,” said Hammer.

“It is a question of how far the Supreme Court wants to push its anti-civil rights agenda. The whole claim that the Constitution is colorblind and that these race-based standards of private contracts are illegal is a historic fiction.” Hammer goes on to note that the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 doubled down on his point. “It doesn’t take a genius to know that this was at the end of the Civil War in a real effort of trying to undo the injustices that were embedded during slavery.”

Today’s challenges suggest a grim pattern: every monumental progress faces potential rollback. Although the contours of resistance might have changed, the underlying sentiment remains eerily familiar. The Black community, fortified by centuries of struggle, resilience, and unity, finds itself once again defending instruments of equality.

It’s essential to differentiate between equity and equality. While equality offers everyone the same resources, equity provides individuals with the necessary tools to succeed in recognizing and rectifying historical imbalances. Branding such equity-driven programs as discriminatory not only undermines their intent but also misinterprets the spirit of restitution deeply embedded in them.

This confrontation is emblematic of a larger ideological argument that America seemingly continues to grapple with. At its core lies a question: Are we, as a nation, ready to let the arduous work of trailblazers like Malcolm X, Douglass, and Fanny Lou Hamer be undone? Are we willing to stand by and watch their sacrifices be relegated to footnotes?

“There are two possible bad outcomes. One bad outcome is that they (AAER) actually win, and they are now able to invalidate private contracts,” said Hammer. “And the more likely bad outcome is that this court declares that the federal government has no authority over private contracts and that would be a road that could lead to the invalidation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which is geared toward private accommodations. So, we’re looking at a brave new world and this is scary stuff.”

Today’s uncertainties might be daunting, but they also present an opportunity for collective introspection. Amidst this complexity, the resilience and fortitude of the Black community can emerge as a beacon. It’s the same resilience that spurred movements, inspired songs, and fueled revolutions. Harriet Tubman once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”

As we navigate this crucial juncture, our commitment to justice, equality, and shared prosperity must not waver. The dreams of our predecessors weren’t just for their time but for all future generations.

“This is an effort to use equality with vengeance. To use equality as a sword to further inequality and there’s no doubt about that,” expressed Hammer. “This is a long campaign to try to reverse the progress that we’ve made in the last fifty years. People need to be ready to fight for their rights as their parents and grandparents did because this is a time of crisis.”

The trials facing us today might seem overwhelming, but they are merely chapters in a larger narrative. A narrative that has witnessed struggles, celebrated victories, and learned from defeats. And as Frederick Douglass wisely remarked, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

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