One Group Forward, Another Group Back

The United States Supreme Court did the right thing, I believe, in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), clearing the way for members of the LGBT community to get the rights they deserve as American citizens. As more and more states lose their resistance to allowing same-sex marriage, the rights of these couples will finally be treated with dignity and will be entitled to federal benefits  that heterosexual married couples now enjoy. Some religious folks are decrying the decision, insisting that the Bible says marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman but the decision of the Supreme Court really did make justice possible for one group of people who have been too long discriminated against.

But while the LGBT community enjoyed a victory, African-Americans suffered a serious setback. In effectively striking down the guts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court invalidated the work over the years by activists to make sure the right of African-Americans to vote was protected. The high court left the door and the way open for dishonesty and hate-based-on-race to have its way …again. The blood, sweat and tears – literally – of activists, black, white, Christian, Jewish – was dishonored by a court whose chief justice, John Roberts, said, “our country has changed.”

It brought me to tears.

Voting is about power, and from the outset, some people in some states, historically, knew that all too well. To allow the growing population of African-Americans in the South to vote would upset and challenge the balance of the white power structure. To guard against that,  ridiculous, immoral, unethical and disingenuous “tests” were set up to weed African-Americans out. People were asked to tell how many jelly beans were in a jar; they were given literacy tests by many who were themselves illiterate. They were given tests on the United States Constitution. Some blacks would stand in line to register to vote for hours only to get to the registration point and either be turned away because they “failed” one of these tests or to find that voting registration was closed for the day.

The court specifically struck down Section 4 of the Act, which required specifically named states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before they made changes to requirements and procedures for voting, to change polling places, or redrawing electoral districts. Congress in 2006 renewed the act, extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years. Now, however, the states that were named have been released from the requirement that they be monitored and get preclearance (Section 5). Federal attorneys can go to individual states and see what they are doing, but clearly, states will have more freedom to do as they wish, hoping that they are not “caught.”

Politics is about power, not about people. In spite of our founding documents saying that government is “by the people, of the people and for the people,” the reality is that those words, that stated belief, is not really true. Far too many American people suffer from a democracy and democratic principles that do not extend to them. While the Congress gets up in arms about democracy needing to work and/or be established in foreign countries, democracy in America is in intensive care.

The Supreme Court this week pushed one group, the LGBT community, move forward while simultaneously pushing another group, African-Americans, back. The court showed notable sensitivity to the group, and familiar and painful insensitivity to another.

The struggle continues. It just never ends. Racism, and the inequality it metes out, is America’s cancer. It resists all efforts to get it out of the life-blood of American society.

A candid observation…

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 …