Each year has defining moments and 2023 is no exception. As this year comes to a close, Race Forward highlights six key moments while acknowledging there have been many others. All of the defining moments in 2023, as in years past, indicate that the work of liberation is continuous and, more urgent than ever. We encourage you to remain vigilant and rigorous with us to end racism, oppression and white supremacy in all its forms. Read on to see what topped our list.
Biden White House Executive Order on Racial Equity.
In February, President Biden issued his second executive order designed to institutionalize racial equity across the federal government. This order built upon his first executive order on the matter issued in 2021 by strengthening equity requirements for governmental agencies and departments. It directed federal government employees to continue to pursue goals to build a strong and inclusive workforce, invest in communities long harmed by racism due to government policies and practices, address discrimination in the housing market, and take steps to advance equity in health. Race Forward applauded this bold step by the administration because for decades the federal government had been complicit in developing policies that harmed people of color and marginalized groups, restricting their progress.
U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Affirmative Action.
On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court unraveled decades of case law on affirmative action when it ruled that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s use of race as a factor in a holistic admissions process was an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Race Forward was a vocal opponent of the decision and penned an opinion piece that was published by Stanford Social Innovation Review. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted in dissent, “the Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.” As our opinion piece notes, “Advocates for justice must demand reform of the court as a matter of the greatest urgency and reclaim a vision of a Supreme Court embodied by Justice Jackson’s and Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinions.”
Fearless Fund Lawsuit
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, Race Forward warned that the decision would set the nation on a dangerous path. That prediction has proven true with multiple lawsuits challenging efforts that seek to address health, wealth, and educational disparities. The same lawyer responsible for challenging affirmative action on college campuses (Edward Blum), also sued a Black female venture capitalist fund, The Fearless Fund, citing its $20,000 grant program, Fearless Strivers Grant Contest, violates the Civil Rights Act of 1866, by discriminating against non-Black women. In September, the fund was temporarily barred from issuing grants. NewsOne published our opinion piece, which was picked up by several other media outlets. They also reported what many of us know, “Black women have been the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the US. A 2021 study by JPMorgan Chase found that Black women-owned businesses grew 50% from 2014 to 2019.” But Black women are less likely to receive the funding they need to catapult their businesses. That an entity aiming to meet a legitimate need has been barred from fulfilling its mission it is an indication of the organizing work that we must continue.
Dollar General Attack
On August 27, Ryan Christopher Palmeter, a 21-year-old white gunman, entered a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida and killed three Black patrons. The shooting occurred on the weekend of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, and ironically, occurred 60 years after a similar attack on Black residents in Jacksonville. On August 27, 1960, over 200 white rioters with baseball bats and ax handles chased, beat, and threatened Black people in the Jacksonville community. What is more, the August 2023 racially motivated mass shooting followed a similar attack in May 2022 in Buffalo, New York. In that instance, Payton S. Gendron an 18-year-old white man similarly went to a Black neighborhood and murdered ten Black shoppers. These intentional attacks on Black people have left Black communities traumatized, fearing they’ll similarly be targeted. To be clear, these are hate crimes and they are occurring amidst a rise in white supremacy, book bans, and policies limiting the honest teaching of America’s racist past and an understanding of the humanity of all people and our shared fate. These attacks serve as a reminder that dialogue and education on racial equity and racism are as critical today as it has ever been.
Attacks on Education: From Book Bans to Black History and LGBTQI+ Studies
Over the past several years, we have witnessed an extreme attack on education. This attack has included the banning of books; censoring of educators; attacks on LGBTQ+ students; and the villainization of equity and inclusion advocates. These attacks are a new chapter in a long history of efforts to undermine a multi-racial democracy. Race Forward has actively supported the organizing work of grassroots groups, parents, students and educators who have rightly pushed back on attacks on education. Research shows that the majority of Americans want honest and accurate public education, a fact that has been borne out during 2023 as our HEAL Together network grew to over 30 partners this year.
United States Supreme Court Ruling on Challenges to the Voting Rights Act of 1965
On Nov. 20, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that only the federal government—not private citizens or civil rights groups—can bring challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate based on race, color, or membership in any of the minority groups identified in Section 4(f)(2) of the Act. Civil rights groups and independent voters have long challenged voting irregularities and injustices using Section 2 of the VRA. This latest decision will block these individuals and groups from protecting voting franchises and is the latest in a string of attacks that will have the cumulative impact of undermining voting rights for communities of color.
As we prepare for 2024 and the most crucial election in our lifetimes, Race Forward is clear that we will rise or fall together. We must continue to organize, resist, and build together. If you’re ready to help continue the fight for racial justice please sign up for our email list, make a donation, or sign up to attend one of our racial equity trainings to learn more about how you can effectively talk about and organize for racial justice. Learn more here at www.raceforward.org.
Cheryl Blakemore is Vice President, Strategic Communications and Public Engagement at Race Forward.