Voter Suppression and Bigotry

30 Oct

For the first time, we actually have international election fraud watchers coming to monitor our elections this year.  Let that sink in for a minute.  We have the Romney campaign training poll watchers in Wisconsin to intimidate potential voters, dispersing false information about whether they can vote or not. *

It’s ironic: our former president, Jimmy Carter, goes to countries far away to make sure that their elections are fairly counted and free of intimidation. Looks like we actually need him here now. It’s sad and depressing that this is happening in the US in 2012. Too bad that almost 50 years after it was passed, we’re learning that the Voting Rights Act is woefully inadequate.

Voter suppression shouldn’t be a liberal or conservative issue. We should all encourage that Americans do their most fundamental patriotic duty. Instead, we intimidate people at their polling stations. We pass “voter ID” laws to disenfranchise the poor and people of color, even though voter fraud is practically nonexistent. We put up billboards in both English and Spanish in areas with large numbers of Latino voters that say voter fraud is a crime that gets you jail time. We make sure that the punishment of incarceration continues past a man’s prison time; we want ex-convicts to readjust (without little to no help) to life on the outside, but in most states, we won’t give them access to America’s quintessential symbol of freedom. We have lower voter turnout rates than every single country that is even remotely like ours.

We have failed our citizens. We have failed our country. It is 2012, and we’re still enacting poll taxes and literacy tests, disguised by a “color-blind” veneer of worrying about a problem that doesn’t exist. This does not mean these policies are any less racist or xenophobic.

Let me state this bluntly: it is 2012, and there are many influential people in one of our two major parties who are trying their hardest to ensure that our electorate is as white and middle/upper class as possible. These politicians have the support of a large number of Americans.

People refer to America as “post-racial.” Well, congratulations to us. Why risk wearing wearing a white hood when you can talk in code through “color-blind” rhetoric? Why risk organizing a lynching when you can simply wait for so many of our men of color to go to prison, thanks to a criminal justice system that is, at best, unintentionally insanely racist, and at worst, deliberately designed to be that way?** Why use racial slurs when you can say whatever you want as long as you preface it with “I’m not racist, BUT…?”

In an America where openly admitting racism is finally considered a bad thing, people won’t take these risks, and they don’t have to do so. They can be just as hateful, but always have a place to hide if called out on their bigotry. They know that their peers will wonder if their accuser is “playing the race card.”

What does “post-racial” really mean? It means that even though we’ve improved in terms of race, our definition of “racism” hasn’t changed: people still think it reflects intentional individual acts of hatred, such as burning a cross in someone’s yard. Because of this gap in comprehension, institutional racism often goes unrecognized by the privileged group (white people), because it isn’t easily understood as person X doing or saying Y to person Z. This phenomenon combined with the fact that racism is almost universally considered bad by everyone the Southern Poverty Law Center isn’t tracking, means that it is considered worse to be called racist than for (most) racism to actually exist.

So once again, congratulations, America.  We are “post-racial,” and we care deeply about “voter fraud,” and golly, if that means that even fewer people vote, then I guess that’s what has to happen.  Right.

We have failed our country.  We have failed ourselves.

* Shout out to Rich for sharing this link.  I hadn’t yet checked TP today.

** Please read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.

*** If you think this sentence is hyperbolic, think about how so many white individuals respond to an accusation of racism.  Think about how many of their white friends respond when they see their friend accused of it, too.  Think about all the excuses you’ve heard.  Think about all the exclamations of “but I didn’t MEAN it that way,” as if intention is a magical thing that can automatically undo the harm of an act (if I step on your toe, it’ll hurt even if I did it accidentally).  Think about all the times you’ve heard someone say something racist, and you’ve either let the comment slide, or agonized over the most delicate way to phrase that your acquaintance/friend/significant other has said something that “you know, could be, by some people, considered kind of racist, I guess.”  Think about all the excuses you’ve heard for institutional racism: why people of color are more likely to be turned down for loans than whites, even with the same financial situation; why people of color are dramatically more likely to be arrested for drug possession, even though every study has determined that drug use is constant across racial bounds (in fact, one study even showed that a slightly larger percentage of whites use drugs than any other race).  Do you really think my statement was so unreasonable now?


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