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The Fearless Fund Appeal: How A Court’s Interpretation of the Civil Rights Act Dishonors the Law’s Objective and Inhibits Black Women’s Entrepreneurism

Credit: Brian Lyman, Alabama Reflector

Author: Marvelous Maeze

Research Associate, RepresentWomen

In today's multifaceted social and political landscape, the Fearless Fund appeal stands out as a defining moment in the continuous fight for civil rights and economic empowerment for Black women. Established by Black women, the Fearless Fund is challenging a court ruling that contested its grant program designed solely for Black female entrepreneurs. This appeal not only symbolizes a legal dispute but also underscores the significance of safeguarding and advancing the rights and opportunities of historically marginalized communities.

Civil Rights Protections: An Ongoing Necessity

The foundation of civil rights protections in the United States was laid during the Civil Rights Movement, with landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which aimed to dismantle systemic racism and discrimination. Although the Civil Rights Movement was spurred by calls to end Jim Crow-era racial segregation and other forms of race-based discrimination faced by Black people in the United States, other marginalized groups and individuals have benefited from laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex or national origin" in employment practices and public accommodations. 

Therefore, the evolution of these safeguards must persist in confronting the distinct and intricate obstacles encountered by different groups, notably Black women. The recent legal hurdles against the Fearless Fund's noble endeavor emphasize the urgency of comprehensive protections that acknowledge and tackle the interconnected issues of race, gender, and the weaponization of social biases.

Black Women's Rights: Beyond Inclusion

Black women have long been at the forefront of the fights for equity and equality. Activists, artists, and political leaders like Angela Davis, Shirley Chisom, and Audra Lorde used their gifts to advance the social currency of Black women by championing civil rights. Yet, Black women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of socio-economic injustices. Initiatives like those of the Fearless Fund transcend mere inclusivity; they represent a critical step in redressing long-standing grievances to rectify historical inequities. 

In RepresentWomen’s 2024 brief, Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates, our research found that Black women frequently face insurmountable fundraising barriers when running for political office. Black businesswomen also face unique barriers to accessing capital. These obstacles often stem from false and reductive stereotypes about their capacity and potential for success, hindering their entrepreneurial potential. 

Despite being the most educated group in America, this country’s legacy of racism often threatens Black women’s chances of experiencing significant upward mobility or creating generational wealth. According to the Fearless Fund’s website, only 1% of the $120 billion venture capital raised in 2018 was allocated to businesses founded by women of color, with no specific data listed for Black women-owned businesses. 

The Fearless Fund's initiative stands as a necessary corrective measure to ensure equitable opportunities for Black women in the business realm. This appeal extends beyond a singular grant program; it underscores the vital importance of targeted measures in realizing authentic equity.  The Fearless Fund is a necessary incubator for change that can result in more Black women CEOs and founders like Ursula M. Burns, Cathay Hughes, and Madam C.J. Walker. 

“Investing in women of color is the right 

move for business, not the right move for social 

impact—it just happens to be a social impact.” 

– Arian Simone, CEO of the Fearless Fund

Entreprenista Podcast, June 2022

Funding Black Women in Politics: A Worthwhile Investment

Despite being effective leaders and influential pillars of their communities, Black women in politics are often underfunded and struggle to run financially competitive election campaigns. A critical component of achieving gender parity includes increasing Black women’s representation in elected office. Early investments in Black women serve as the catalyst to their success. The easiest way for political parties, donors, and PACs to support Black women candidates is to provide them with the essential connections and financial resources they’ll need to run, win, serve, and lead. 

There is a trickle-down, domino effect to fundraising. Our elected leaders’ experiences set the standard for everyday, hardworking American citizens. Chief among them are Black women entrepreneurs embarking on their own business ventures. The intentional decision to invest in the political success of Black women is a strategic step toward creating a more equitable society.

An Appeal To Support Black Women

The appeal of the Fearless Fund is a rallying cry to all who believe in the promise of the pursuit of happiness. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the fund's grant program likely violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 due to its exclusive focus on funding Black women. Yet, the judges failed to understand that this exclusivity was born from exclusion from the white majority. If Black women did not fund ourselves, who would fund us? 

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were created because white lawmakers and college boards blocked Black students from receiving an education at the same institutions of higher learning as white students, perhaps fearing it would level the playing field too much for their comfort. Similarly, the Fearless Fund was created to fill an opportunity vacuum. However, this court’s ruling may have marginalized members of the populace questioning whether its rationale was based on the fear of equality and Black success, i.e., Black excellence.

Our legal frameworks should not be purposely misinterpreted to strip away rights from targeted groups or individuals. Rather, they should protect the inalienable rights of historically disenfranchised and marginalized Americans. Initiatives like the Fearless Fund were created to address challenges faced by Black women in a society that has deliberately and systematically made it more difficult for us to succeed. 

Let the necessity of this appeal also be a somber reminder that we, as a collective, must support Black women in both entrepreneurial and political spheres now more than ever before. There are forces determined to roll back our civil rights. Lest we forget, we are all only free so long as we are willing to do what is necessary to protect our freedoms. By supporting initiatives like the Fearless Fund and investing in Black women in politics, we are not just upholding civil rights—we are actively working towards a more fair and progress-minded future.



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