There are now two Americas; one replete with consumers, while the other more affluent America is rife with multimillionaire and billionaire owners. Centuries of systemic racial discrimination against African-Americans has led to the construction of immovable barriers that rise to meet and defeat black entrepreneurial aspiration. A lawsuit brought by media mogul Byron Allen against Comcast and Time Warner Cable , however, could serve as a game-changer for black media owners.
The 1996 Telecom Act, backed by President Clinton, is just one example of a seminal policy erected as a barrier to black entrepreneurs.
“Black radio, ownership and voices have been spiraling backwards since the Telecom Act of 1996,” Paul Porter, the co-founder of media watchdog Industry Ears, told theGrio in 2012. “It’s time for the FCC to take a serious look and right the wrong of the muted mess we call Black radio today.”
This law destroyed smaller black radio stations. Black online media owners are also still struggling to create successful business models given the slim availability of ad revenue and lack of support from venture capitalists. As Allen said in his interview with Antonio Moore, President Obama has “control a 2 billion dollar ad budget, but none of that money is making its way to black owned media.”
In Allen’s lawsuit against Big Telecom, he’s not begging for a handout or even asking for special treatment. He already has television programs that he created and financed. He’s suing because Big Telecom had previously refused him access to distribution. If Allen can’t get his shows on the air, then he can’t compete. There are only a few companies in the telecom industry and they’d refused to allow Allen access to any of their hundreds of stations.
In his $20 billion dollar lawsuit against Comcast and Time Warner Cable, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. had initially dismissed Allen’s case, but later allowed Allen’s Entertainment Studios to file an amended complaint that is pending, according to Variety.
The law that Allen is using as the basis for his lawsuit could open the door of opportunity to African-American entrepreneurs in ways not previously imagined if the claim is upheld. Here’s a description of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 Section 1981:
So what’s Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866? Shortly after the Civil War ended, many Southern (and some Northern) states enacted the so-called “Black Codes” in protest of and to circumvent the recently enacted Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited slavery. The Black Codes imposed onerous legal limitations on newly freed former slaves. In response, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a law generally recognized as the United States’ first significant civil rights legislation. Section 1981 of that statute confers a series of legal rights equally to all citizens, including the right to contract and to hold and convey property..”
Here’s the pertinent section:
All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.
Given how African-Americans have been systematically shut out of opportunity, and a growing income inequality gap so wide that even poor whites are falling through the cracks, a successful claim based on this section of civil rights law could result in an economic boom for African-Americans; barring white corporate owners from engaging in discriminatory practices in business, which would mean access to real capital with contracts that pay real money.
Judge Hatter now has an opportunity to play a part in setting right what has been wrong for African-American since we arrived on this country’s shores as chattel slaves. If you care about black access to capital that is not predatory, then this is the case to watch.
Watch the video below where Byron Allen discusses the lawsuit and what it means for African-Americans: