Racism and “Post-Racial America” part 3: A Short History On Voting Rights Up Until June 25, 2013

voting “I was disappointed, because I think what the court did today is stamp the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart. It is a major set back. We may not have people being beaten today, maybe they are not being denied the right to participate or to register to vote, they are not being chased by police dogs or trampled by horses, but in the 11 states of the old confederacy and even in some of the states outside of the south, there has been a systematic, deliberate attempt to take us back to another period. These men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of its power, they never stood in unmovable lines, they never had to pass a so-called “Literacy Test”. It took us almost 100 years to get where we are today, so will it take another 100 years to fix it, to change it?” -John Lewis

As we celebrate the equal marriage victory, let us not forget that The Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the hallmark milestones in the modern Civil Right Movement, was voted invalid in some of its most crucial points by the Supreme Court 5-4, now giving power to Southern states–states with a history of voting violations and intimidation–to freely change their laws on voter eligibility. Through this new ruling, states can  make their own voter ID requirements, exploiting people who could not afford government issued IDs;  eliminate early voting periods, a means by which many people who work long hours can still vote; and also more drastic redistricting, ensuring at least a Republican majority in the House. The laws target people who are poor and underprivileged–many of which are of color, and many who would vote for a black president. Connect the dots, it really ain’t hard.

Last summer, I spent some time working with the ACLU and spreading awareness over these attacks on others’ civil liberties. It was troublesome with some of the responses I received. People couldn’t understand how these new laws were a violation of others’ civil liberties, or how they negatively affected people of color and poor. Most importantly, they didn’t understand how these laws exploited vulnerable citizens and were an obvious response towards the election of the first African-American President, Barack Obama.

15th amendment These events–the new laws following the election of a black president–are not coincidences, they have been apart of  an ongoing battle that spans 150 years. Every step towards equality was a hard fight. First with the 14th amendment, granting citizenship to all regardless of race, thus giving black men the ballot. To combat this, new Barriers were created by white southerners. With so many blacks still not able to vote, the 15th Amendment gave more freedom, and with that freedom came a flow of black political gains through black politicians being elected.

The current law could not help white southerners at this point, so they decided to take more control over their political destiny.They created poll taxes, charging people to vote; gerrymandered, rezoning districts to ensure white conservative victories; they had literacy tests, and whites would always pass while blacks would fail, despite if either of them could or could not read and write. The system was rigged in whites’ favor, and blacks would continue to endure a life of second-class citizenry.

By the 20th century, these methods, too, would be ruled out, and new methods naturally would take shape to replace the old: systematic intimidation. Blacks could be let go from jobs, perhaps beaten, and even killed when attempting to register to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made violent means of suffrage-denial unconstitutional and established federal supervision over the zoning of districts, ensuring fair elections. From this point onward, Black Politics as people had known it made drastic changes. The elections of black Mayors, Governors, House Representatives, Senators, and even Barack Obama can be traced to this milestone legislation. voting

So when we look at this history and the battle of voting rights–how at every step of the way, a gain for equality was met with resistance from white supremacy–these events that occurred should make us upset, but not surprise us.

Even with the gains for marriage equality, this week was not a victory, rather only a compromise. History could never prepare us for where we are today, when on June 25, 2013, changes were made to the law again in response to the conflict, just not on the side of justice and equality. The Supreme Court abandoned its commitment towards equality for all.

Now, a lot more people are going to be denied the ballot, equal educational opportunities are on the brink of extinction, and that’s just in the last few days. Even if they defended marriage, the law has made it clear it does not stand on the side of  universal justice.

Yes, remember this as the week people were free to love who they choose, but also remember it as the week millions of people would become prisoners once again, because they had lost their right to choose.

Racism and “Post-Racial America” part 2: The Racist Legacy That Inspired Affirmative Action

Just yesterday the Supreme Court sent the case Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345 back to the lower courts to be decided once again. In a way, this can be seen as a half-victory for everyone in favor of affirmative action, because it means we haven’t lost. But on the flip side, it can also be seen as an inevitable failure, because the court seemed to be somewhat ambivalent towards racial matters in education. affirmative action

Justice Kennedy stated that institutions of higher learning need to show that “available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice” if race conscious ones are to be used.  He continues to say that schools must create “a careful judicial inquiry into whether a university could achieve sufficient diversity without using racial classifications.”

In a post I wrote last month on Obama’s speech to Morehouse, I wrote:

“It’s the walking contradiction we’ve too often acknowledged and ignored all at the same time. Too often do people realize that the conditions of much of black America are unequal. We realize the schools are inferior, the neighborhoods are crime infested, and that the odds are disproportionately against black youth to succeed. Yet, despite all of these blatant facts, we expect it to be blacks’ responsibility to move around these barriers, the same barriers that were installed to keep them in a hole of oppression–because they were black. When government-funded institutions have functioned with a racial agenda that perpetuated inequality, the solution shouldn’t be individual responsibility by the victims, the solution should be the State making a new racial agenda. An agenda that works on behalf of African-Americans in order to compensate for working against them for so long.” 

Events that marked out 1962 as watershed year This is what were up against: ignorance towards what is around us. If we want to talk about equal opportunities, if we want to talk about race not being a factor in the decision-making processes for schools, if we want to talk about bettering the lives of African-Americans, then lets first talk about reality. Lets talk about the wealth this country was built off through racially defining slavery. Lets talk about the convict lease system which replaced slavery, kept blacks in chains, and corporations profitable. Lets talk about Jim Crow and the unequal institutions it perpetuated. Lets talk about the housing discrimination and the conscious effort by the state to racially segregate major cities  that would place blacks in the poorest, most crime infested areas–aka Ghettos (look up “redlining” and “racially restrictive covenants”).

Lets talk about a country that has a history filled with benefiting from creating new ways of keeping people of color in a hole of oppression.

We want to talk about equal policies and opportunities, well then lets also talk about where most blacks are coming from: a life of inequality, of marginalization, discrimination, and neglect. The schools are blatantly inferior, just ask Chicago, they’ve made it clear black lives are not valued.

We want to talk about race-neutral policies, but only when it’s convenient. This country was founded on a racial agenda where blacks were made third-class citizens. You don’t right past wrongs by just forgetting about it–anyone with functional family dynamics knows that putting problems under the rug and ignoring them never ends well–we right past wrongs by being proactive against them. That means creating a new racial agenda that openly acknowledges this country’s past in its entirety while actively attempting to eliminate all the negative outcomes it produced. little rock nine

If we want to really talk about equality, then lets talk about equality across the board. That means fixing inner city schools so black youth actually have an equal opportunity to begin with.

If we want to have a meaningful discourse over race-neutral policies, well we can’t do that just yet because that would mean eliminating the racial disparities that have been on the stove cooking for nearly 400 years. Problems don’t get fixed by ignoring them, they are fixed through acknowledgement.

So the debate will continue, but when the future of affirmative action is even being questioned while it’s still so obvious inequalities exist and persist, it makes me feel the case has already been lost, because it’s in the hands of people who choose to ignore what’s right in front of them.

Racism and “Post-Racial America” part 1: When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong With Paula Deen

A lot of buzz is going around  about Paula Deen’s racial remarks  when she suggested a slavery themed wedding for her brother, in which everyone who is serving food be black to give the ambiance of an Antebellum plantation. Now, her show has been dropped, and she’s floating in the racist pool alone without a lifeguard in sight. paula deen

This ain’t her week.

And this is just weeks after Sergio Garcia’s comment to Tiger Woods about serving fried chicken. The parallels are way too uncanny to not link both events. Both were unrelentingly racist, unquestionably ignorant, and both people–Garcia and Deen–were scolded, their sponsors dropped, show cancelled, and were forced to make public statements against their behavior.

But that’s the problem with this sort of stuff: we scold the individual, and then just let it go (because everyone knows that the most effective way to fight racism is to make an individual repent for their behavior through an emotionless public apology!) I’m pretty sure Paula Deen has yet to verbally confirm she even said the N-word. It’s more like she’s apologizing for this coming to light and offending people, not on actually tossing around a hateful word like it’s a piece of candy.

It’s moments like these where we see how race is chosen to be brought up–only when its convenient. There’s an inconsistency with what is and is not tolerated in the realm of racism. If we call Deen and Garcia out, then lets acknowledge and start standing up against racism in all it’s manifestations. But before we do this, lets realize what exactly those manifestations are, and how they surface in ways we aren’t usually used to.

The press is able to acknowledge racism in its most obvious ways: when its overt, when its loud, and when it’s in our faces. With Deen and Sergio’s remarks, you cannot deny the racial undertone. When you make a direct link to slavery and blacks serving food, you are being a racist. When you make a joke about one of the only African-American golfers eating fried chicken,  you are being a racist. These are things we can all agree upon.

But when we only acknowledge racism when it is so open that we are left with no other choice but to confront it, then we aren’t really acknowledging the root causes for such behaviors, because we aren’t actually acknowledging the real forces at play that perpetuate racism. Yes, when racism is brought up, it should be acknowledged and addressed. But what about when race isn’t brought up? What about when race isn’t directly spoken of, but is still just as loud and obvious? What about racism in its silence?

We can tell Paula Deen and Sergio Garcia to apologize and then shut their mouths, but that doesn’t change what they think or feel, or how those other people in the same privileged circumstances as them view the world. It doesn’t change almost 50 schools being shut down in Chicago–impacting mostly black students–because they are seen as a burden. It doesn’t change the staggering statistics of blacks and mass incarceration. Paula Deen’s apology doesn’t change the fact that the NYPD intentionally stops people who look like me–people of color. It doesn’t change the fact that the future of equal educational opportunities have been presented to the Supreme Court and are under attack. Her statement doesn’t change the fact that whether or not race is or is not brought up, or if we choose to acknowledge racism or not, racism still exists. Racism still permeates so many different spaces in society. Racism still terrorizes people’s’ lives and makes people question their self-worth because it tells them the color of their skin makes them inferior to others. If you ask me does a tree really fall if no one is around to see it, I’m that guy that will tell you, “Yes, now clean up the mess, because we have a dead tree lying around somewhere.” That’s the type of mindset we need with racism.

Yes, we can confirm Paula Deen is a racist, but it seems like this dialogue is going to end right where it begins: nowhere.