Tomorrow determines everything for Black businesses. On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Byron Allen case, in which he is suing Comcast, the second largest cable company in the world, for $20 billion for racial discrimination. At the heart of the dispute is Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which says that all people should have “the same right … to make and enforce contracts … as is enjoyed by white citizens.” Byron Allen believes Comcast is violating Section 1981, Comcast believes the exact opposite. What the Supreme Court believes will, ultimately, determine the fate of all Black businesses.
Byron Allen is the owner of Entertainment Studios, whose networks include The Weather Channel, which Allen acquired in 2018. Entertainment Studios is also home to several niche channels, like Pets.Tv and Cars.Tv, which Allen hoped to get on Comcast but was rejected. Allen believes Comcast won’t do business with him because, at least in part, he is Black. Allen sees the issue as a violation of civil rights and thus invoked Section 1981. He lost the case against Comcast twice but got a favorable ruling in a similar case against Charter Communications, another cable provider. Charter appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing Allen to bring Comcast back into the fray. On both matters, Comcast and Charter, the 9th Circuit ruled in Allen’s favor, twice. Comcast appealed to the Supreme Court to take up the case and it did. Now the stakes are beyond high.
If Comcast wins, it could make it much more difficult for anyone else in the future to bring civil rights cases to the courts. Ultimately, that would impact Black people in every facet of life — renting an apartment, employment discrimination and everything in between. In a nutshell, Allen is arguing (roughly) that race can play absolutely no part in a business decision, while Comcast’s position (roughly) is that even if race plays some role in a company’s decision process, if they make a valid decision for business purposes, it ultimately doesn’t matter. This case is the case and everyone wants in, including Donald Trump’s Department of Justice. In an unprecedented move, the DOJ will be participating in the oral arguments, in support of Comcast. Allen is up against corporate power and now the weight of the DOJ, with the fate of the first civil rights legislation on the line.
According to Allen, the cable industry spends $70 billion annually on licensing and Black owned media outlets aren’t eating at the table. Comcast, in fact, spends roughly $25 billion annually on channel licensing and less than $3 million on what Allen characterized as “100% African American-owned media.” How and if those conditions change may hinge on the actions of the Supreme Court. But there is a deeper narrative, one much closer to the hearts of Black people everywhere. Somewhere there is a sister in her cubicle who outworks her colleagues but is never promoted. It may be nearly impossible for her to file discrimination claims in the future. There is a brother who will seek to do business with his city and may suspect that his race plays a part in his inability to do so. That brother could, potentially, be unable to even find an attorney to take his case because of what the Supreme Court does with this case.
Perhaps you support Byron Allen’s stated case and perhaps you do not. In this moment of history it matters not because how the Court treats Section 1981 will impact every Black person, along with every other minority and protected class. In essence, we’re all in the same boat on this one. This case is much larger than Byron Allen, it’s now about you.