Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More About the Voting Rights Act and the N Word

Since my blog post, Paula Deen and the Supreme Court, I have been scanning news sources for other comments about the issues I highlighted. One item I was shocked to read in social media on the very day of the Supreme Court ruling was boasting that the Republicans won and that now Blacks are free to vote however they choose, "You jes have to get a voter ID, it will only cost $10.00 and you have three and a half years to get it" was one of the things the Facebook post said.

That brought to mind phrases I heard as a child during the Civil Rights Movement. I heard the grown-ups say, "Those people don't need to be marching and causing trouble just to vote -- all they have to do is pay their poll tax." Of course, that was an easy thing for white folks to say because for them it was just a simple poll tax. They should have also understood that for blacks the poll tax was just one hurdle in a process designed to exclude minorities from voting. In my state it was a process that was put into place by Alabama's Constitution which was written in 1901 to ensure white supremacy.  

I am posting here some of the articles I found particulalry helpful or enlightening.

Some comments about the Supreme Court Decision on Shelby County, Alabama V. Holder concerning the Voting Rights Act

~ From “Gutting the Voting Rights Act” by Bill Blum:

The Shelby County majority opinion is breathtaking, not only for the scope of its judicial activism—Congress had reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years in 2006, with the Senate expressing its endorsement by a vote of 98 to 0—but for its distortion both of the country’s racist past and its racist present.

~ From  “A Radical Act of Judicial Activism” by Gerry Hebert:

In its Shelby County ruling, the Court not only cast aside decades of legal precedents, but it also usurped Congress’s role of enforcing those Amendments “by appropriate legislation.” The Court’s decision in the Shelby County case overrode Congress’ decision that the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act were still needed in the covered jurisdictions, substituting its decision for the considered views of Congress that voting discrimination remains particularly acute in the covered areas. Decisions like Shelby County do great harm to the Court as an institution and the traditional respect for the Bench.

~ From “The Return of Jim Crow,” By Ari Berman

The states of the Old Confederacy will return to the pre-1965 playbook, passing new voting restrictions that can only be challenged, after years of lengthy litigation, in often-hostile Southern courts, with the burden of proof on those subject to discrimination rather than those doing the discriminating. Conservatives will be emboldened to challenge the other parts of the Voting Rights Act, like Section 2, that apply nationwide. Our democracy will become more unequal, with the most powerful interests manipulating the electoral rules to preserve their own power.

Robert Reich has an excellent blog post in which he shows how the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder is the latest of many court decisions that have favored the Republican Party at the expense of the people. In “The Republicans of the Supreme Court” he states:

The modern GOP is based on an unlikely coalition of wealthy business executives, small business owners, and struggling whites. Its durability depends on the latter two categories believing that the economic stresses they've experienced for decades have a lot to do with the government taking their money and giving it to the poor, who are disproportionately black and Latino.

The real reason small business owners and struggling whites haven't done better is the same most of the rest of America hasn't done better: Although the output of Americans has continued to rise, almost all the gains have gone to the very top.

In The Atlantic Monthly, political writer Molly Ball has a more optimistic view in her article, “No, the Voting Rights Act Is Not Dead” She reflects upon the most recent re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and says that we don’t have to assume that our gridlocked congress  cannot do the same thing today:

These guys worked together in a bipartisan way only seven years ago. We need to remind people that there are legislators from both parties who care deeply about protecting the right to vote." For civil-rights advocates, the worst outcome would be to give up the fight for a new Voting Rights Act before it's even begun.

And about Paula Deen…

In my blog post, I was writing as a Southerner reflecting upon the “N” word uproar. I read two other responses from Southerners, both African American.

In “Confession of a black journalist: Like Paula Deen, I've used the n-word” by Anthony Cook in The Huntsville Times. Mr. Cook states:

As a black man, this writing is my attempt to point out the fake outrage and the hypocrisy of those of us who claim we are somehow damaged by this particular person, Paula Deen, admitting that she used the n-word years ago. If the word is offensive and harmful, why are we not offended and harmed when African-American rappers and comedians use it? Why are we not offended and harmed when neighbors and relatives use it? Why do we not consider that we offend and harm others when we use it?

… I also began to see the hypocrisy of expecting white people to adhere to a standard that I was not upholding myself. Using it culturally is no excuse. That's the same reason Paula Deen used it – because it was culturally accepted at the time among her family and colleagues.

Probably the most eloquent response I have read comes from culinary historian and chef, Michael W. Twitty. In his blog post, An Open Letter to Paula Deen he writes,

To be part of the national surprise towards you saying the word “nigger” in the past (I am a cultural and culinary historian and so therefore I am using the word within context…) is at best naïve and at worst, an attempt to hide the pervasiveness of racism, specifically anti-Black racism in certain currents of American culture—not just Southern.  Take for example the completely un-Christian and inhuman rage at Cheerios for their simple and very American ad showing a beautiful biracial girl talking to her white mother and pouring cereal on the chest of her Black father.  That Cheerio’s had to shut down the comments section says that the idea of inter-human relationships outside of one’s color bracket is for many hiding behind a computer screen—a sign of the apocalypse.  So just like those old spaghetti sauce ads, yes, America, racism—“it’s in there” even when we were prefer it not be.

When you said, “of course,” I wasn’t flabbergasted, I was rather, relieved…In fact we Black Southerners have an underground saying, “better the Southern white man than the Northern one, because at least you know where he stands…” but Paula I knew what you meant, and I knew where you were coming from.  I’m not defending that or saying its right—because it’s that word—and the same racist venom that drove my grandparents into the Great Migration almost 70 years ago. I am not in agreement with esteemed journalist Bob Herbert who said “brothers shouldn’t use it either..” I think women have a right to the word “b….” gay men have a right to the word “queer” or “f…” and it’s up to people with oppressive histories to decide when and where the use of certain pejorative terms is appropriate.  Power in language is not a one way street.  Obviously I am not encouraging you to use the word further, but I am not going to hide behind ideals when the realities of our struggles with identity as a nation are clear.  No sound bite can begin to peel back the layers of this issue.

I highly recommend that you read Mr. Twitty’s entire essay which is posted on his blog, Africulinaria. Since I like both food and eloquent writing, I began following his blog when I read it. You can see the entire post here.


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