Insensitivity or Ignorance?

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Ju...
photograph of the justices, cropped to show Justice Scalia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

People sometimes ask, irritably, why black people can’t stop being mad. They point to the progress that has been made in this country, where black people have been “granted” the civil rights they were due by virtue of being American citizens…and only slowly. When someone expresses anger, there is a definite sigh of exacerbation from those who think black people ought to just “get over themselves” and move on.

 

That is, actually, what black people have been doing since having been brought to America – gotten over themselves and this nation which actually passed laws to keep them in their place. They “got over themselves” even as they fought for dignity and a real chance to partake in the American Dream. There was no time to navel gaze.

 

But the reason the anger still sits within the souls and spirits of many African-Americans is because every now and then, someone from the “majority” population will say something that shows either insensitivity or ignorance, or both, letting those who have been held back and held up by this government cringe with a familiar pain.

 

Such was the cringe many felt when Justice Antonin Scalia said this week, in deliberations about whether or not to overturn Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, that the Court had to “rescue Congress from the trap of being afraid to vote against a “racial entitlement.”

 

Cringe. Sigh. This, from the highest court in the land.

 

Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, for those who do not know, requires preclearance from the Justice Department in certain states and jurisdictions make changes in voting procedures, things like changing the hours people can vote, or redrawing district lines, or changing the requirements for registering to vote. It happens that these preclearances have been required in Southern states because of their long history of denying the vote to African-Americans, by any means necessary. Some politicians are now complaining  the preclearances are not fair, that there is no racism like there used to be in the South, and that states ought to be free to make their own rules vis-a-vis voting with no federal interference. States rights is what they seem to be calling upon.

 

The Court’s Conservative judges have been particularly hard on those wanting to keep Section Five. They have said that politicians are afraid to change this portion of the law because they don’t want to be seen as racists; therefore, it is the Court’s responsibility to “rescue” Congress from the task.

 

It’s about racism in this country, this tiff going on in the United States Supreme Court, that subject about which nobody wants to talk, and everybody wants to believe is long gone. It is far from gone; black and brown people can tell anyone who asks that it is not gone. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court justices, at least the Conservative ones, are being coy as they ask questions like Chief Justice John Roberts asked, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?” No, replied U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, but Roberts undoubtedly knew that when he asked the question. We by now know that the racism in the North was and is as virulent as it was and is in the South. The issue, however, is that states in the South practiced blatant racism , actively working to prevent African-Americans from voting, and had done it virtually without comment since the end of Reconstruction. It was only the intervention of the federal government, under the leadership of President Johnson, combined with persistent protests by Civil Rights workers, that forced a change in Southern states.

 

R0berts and Scalia and no doubt, all of the Conservative justices know that, and they also know the shenanigans that go on even now when it comes to voting. With the demography of this nation changing, Republicans are worried about the white vote being diluted and some have charged that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is reverse discrimination!

 

The passing of this act did not give African-Americans an “entitlement,” a word loaded with innuendo and suggestion of something someone does not earn. No, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave African-Americans the RIGHT to vote, as described in the United States Constitution.

 

For Scalia to say that the issue before the Court is “…attributable to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement…Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes,” smacks of insensitivity at best, and ignorance at worst. Statements like that are a slap in the face of African-Americans and indeed all Americans who have had to fight for their basic rights.  How is it possible that in the 21st century, so-called intelligent barristers are making such ignorant and insensitive statements? This society should be way past even discussing how to best give all of its citizens the rights they are entitled to as citizens, and yet, we have Scalia’s statement staring us all in the face.

 

Racial discrimination is embedded in the fabric of American society. Remove certain protections and it is highly likely that, under the authority granted, “states’ rights” advocates will do what they want to wrangle and manipulate elections to go the way they want. That the justices cannot see that, or will not acknowledge that, is disingenuous and dishonest. We can all see how hot the embers of racial hatred are; we have seen it during the presidency of Barack Obama. There are plenty of people, white people, who still want to “take their country back,” and one of the best ways to do it is to control the vote.

 

The ignorance and insensitivity shown by the justices thus far has been disheartening. Some political activists have spoken out, but it seems that in this year that we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation that more than the activists would register a complaint about what the justices, the Conservative justices, are saying vis-a-vis this important protection for minority voters. We cannot go backwards. Change is hard, and our country is changing by leaps and bounds, but that is no excuse to allow protections for minorities as they seek to exercise their rights as Americans to be overturned or ignored.

 

There are a lot of people cringing after hearing Justice Scalia’s remarks. Those remarks showed just how deep are feelings of resentment toward groups of people who are still fighting for the RIGHTS of being American citizens.

 

A candid observation …

 

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