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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: Voting rights are no laughing matter

March 3, 2013

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One day, many years ago, I was working in my college bookstore when this guy walks in wearing a T-shirt. “White Power,” it said.

I was chatting with a friend, Cathy Duncan, and what happened next was as smooth as if we had rehearsed it. All at once, she’s sitting on my lap or I’m sitting on hers — I can’t remember which — and that white girl gives this black guy a peck on the lips. In a loud voice she asks, “So, what time should I expect you home for dinner, honey?”

Mr. White Power glares malice and retreats. Cathy and I fall over laughing.

Which tells you something about how those of us who came of age in the first post civil rights generation tended to view racism. We saw it as something we could dissipate with a laugh, a tired old thing that had bedeviled our parents, yes, but which we were beyond. We thought racism was over.

I’ve spent much of my life since then being disabused of that naivete. Watching media empires built upon appeals to racial resentment, seeing the injustice system wield mass incarceration as a weapon against black men, bearing witness as the first African-American president produced his long-form birth certificate, all helped me understand just how silly we were to believe bigotry was done.

So a chill crawled my spine last week as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could result in gutting the Voting Rights Act. That landmark 1965 legislation gave the ballot to black voters who had previously been denied it by discriminatory laws, economic threats, violence and by registrars who challenged them with nonsense questions like, “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap.”

One of the act’s key provisions covers nine mostly Southern states and scores of municipalities with histories of such behavior. They must get federal approval before changing their voting procedures. The requirement may be stigmatizing; but it is hardly onerous.

Yet Shelby County, Ala., seeks the provision’s repeal, pronouncing itself cured of the attitudes that made it necessary. “The children of today’s Alabama are not racist and neither is their government,” wrote Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange last week.

It was rather like hearing a wife beater say he has seen the error of his ways and will no longer smack the missus around. Though you’re glad and all, you still hope the wife’s testimony will carry a little more weight in deciding whether the restraining order should be lifted.

But the court’s conservatives seemed eager to believe, peppering the law’s defenders with skeptical questions. Indeed, Justice Antonin Scalia branded the law a “racial entitlement.”

Sit with that a moment. A law protecting the voting rights of a historically disenfranchised minority is a “racial entitlement”? Equality is a government program?

Lord, have mercy.

There is historical resonance here. In the 1870s, the South assured the federal government it could behave itself without oversight. The feds agreed to leave the region alone where race was concerned. The result: nearly a century of Jim Crow. Now here comes Shelby County, saying in effect: We’ve changed. Trust us.

It is an appeal that might have seemed persuasive back when I was young and naive, sitting on Cathy’s lap (or she on mine) and thinking race was over. But that was a long time ago.

Yes, the South has changed — largely because of the law Shelby County seeks to gut. Even so, attempts to dilute the black vote have hardly abated. We’ve just traded poll taxes and literacy tests for gerrymandering and voter ID laws.

So we can ill afford to be as naive as a top court conservative at the prospect of softening federal protection of African-American voting rights. “Trust us,” says the South. And the whole weight of history demands a simple question in response.

Why?

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

jafs 1 year, 1 month ago

Racism is defined as the belief that those of a certain race are superior to those of another race simply by virtue of their race.

Many things that are commonly called racist don't fit that definition.

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rockchalk1977 1 year, 1 month ago

Yes 96% of the black vote going to the Six Trillion Dollar Man is clearly racism at it's core. More importantly, it's extremely naive and short-sided based on Obama's inability to govern or address the national debt.

http://www.gop.com/news/research/the-six-trillion-dollar-man/

Under Obama, the national debt has increased from $10.6 trillion to $16.7 trillion, an increase of 57% in just 4 years. More than any other President in history!

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Agnostick 1 year, 1 month ago

Did somebody get obnubilated? Is obnubilation covered under Medicare, Part O...?

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Mike Ford 1 year, 1 month ago

cait48 I'll reference Orville Faubus, Ross Barnett, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Jesse Helms for you to make it right. I'm the former grandson of a almost 90 year old White/Choctaw Dixiecrat who went GOP with Reagan. He is the patriarch from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" wrecking his family with Southern Patriarchy in style. His culture didn't value my late mother's college education and it upended their narrow mindedness which is why southerners pretty much always assail intellectuals as the people who upset their apple carts of keeping things the same much as the 1960's and Civil Rights did. Look at how they treated Willaim Faulkner and William Fulbright not to forget Jimmy Carter. They like locked in step standard bearers who fight to keep their way of life alive at the expense of all of us. This is the fight occurring as we speak in DC and Cyberspace. They are trying to rewrite history that they've lost and we should not let them.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 1 month ago

if you're not racist and you don't like being associated with historic racist attitudes do something about the people responsible for giving good conservatives a bad name. Don't blame the target of said bad behavior for speaking openly about these bad people. Fifty years ago Good Democrats passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act and pushed the bad Democrats or Dixiecrats out. Between 1967 and 1982 or between George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan these racist Dixiecrats became Republicans. This was crazy to witness as I grew up in Louisiana and Mississippi from the early 1970's to the early 1980's. The GOP was a carpetbagger party during Civil War Reconstruction and for these southerners to go GOP was like watching a vampire go willingly into the sunlight. They did so because good Democrats told them to leave and they became right wing Republicans. I'm 42 years old and I witnessed this firsthand in Moss Bluff, Louisiana between the 1976 and 1980 presidential elections. Witnessed history trumps gop mythology and claims of reverse racism.

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voevoda 1 year, 1 month ago

I am stunned to see how so many posters on this forum disclaim any racism, but then make derogatory generalizations about persons who aren't white.

See these examples of racist thinking posted above: "a stupid and increasingly 'brown' America" "who gives a flying fig for your stupid 150 year old indian gripes" "96% of black vote going to Obama is not rasism, is it? Nooooooo!" "Until they step it up, as a whole, the problem will persist".  "When we can watch a sporting event and learn of the young man's parents instead of just his mom a majority of the time"  Also, the readiness to condemn black leaders as "racist" and blacks who don't make vituperative condemnation of them their first priority as equally guilty, as though every black is responsible for what every other black says.

 The prevalence of such attitudes even in "liberal" Lawrence, Kansas, indicates to me that they are likely to be even more prevalent elsewhere.  And also that such attitudes are likely to affect access to voting.  Consequently, Leonard Pitts is right to be worried about the termination of the Voting Rights Act.  We all should be.
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Armstrong 1 year, 1 month ago

Is it racist to mention someone is Black, Hispanic, Latino.... No

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Obama_The_Obnubilator 1 year, 1 month ago

I don't know how many times I have to say it's not his color, it's his ideology. However, being as he's black, he's out to strip white, working, successful suburbanites of any and all cash possible. He sees them as the white devil, just like Wright drummed into his and Moochelles ear every Sunday for 20 years. He has a score to settle in other words. His color is of no consequence to me, just his manner of governing and I use governing loosely. Summary: He Sucks as a president. But a stupid and increasingly "brown" America has to have him. They are the racists, not me.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 1 month ago

pork ribs making a repeated arguement in denial of reality and the acceptance of the horrors of the past makes one a racist or a bigot. I love watching said people do the sidestep around the issue knowing full well that the bluff of reality they to accomplish fools no one. you don't fool me. maybe you are what you are. the other equasion here is the counties in South Dakota where there's a historical Lakota Indian majority being gerrymandered out of power and profiled into submission by a wascichu (White) minority to the point where the US Justice Department intervened there or the denial of voting rights for Dine, Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni, Apache, and other Indians of New Mexico until 1951 when Native Americans received the right to vote with the Snyder Act of 1924 and yet White people fearful of the consequences of exclusion were forced to let these Indians vote 27 years after a federal law passed. Call uninformed people out and set the record straight. Don't tolerate willful and billegerent ignorance which I don't. If someone acts a certain way the perception doesn't lie.

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Pork_Ribs 1 year, 1 month ago

Racist/Bigot = A conservative who has just won an argument with a liberal.

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 1 month ago

Many of the folks who opposed the civil rights act in the Jim Crow south are still alive and still in positions of power. It was not so long ago.

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George Lippencott 1 year, 1 month ago

Cain killed Abel (or so the story goes) so should all first born males be suspect and placed on special monitoring programs forever. Surely there must be an end to punishment for crimes committed generations ago??!!

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Armstrong 1 year, 1 month ago

Standard Pitts formula. Standard Pitts article. Nothing new here

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Obama_The_Obnubilator 1 year, 1 month ago

Americans have been soaked for $15 trillion since the Civil Rights Act and maybe Leonard is just teed off that it has not only not helped the plight of the black man, but the black community is more dismal than ever. But also, that's why Leonard has a paycheck---he's here to tell us all it's ALL the white man's fault and always will be end of story. And his dreamy prez has increased welfare at an unprecedented rate, whether intentional or by clumsy leadership---of which we've seen a heapin' helpin'.

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Obama_The_Obnubilator 1 year, 1 month ago

I have only one thing to say to Race Baiter Extraordinaire, Leonard Pitts:

CRY ME A RIVER!

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WristTwister 1 year, 1 month ago

When will Pitts write an article about Louis Farrakhan, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, the New Black Panthers, Jeremiah Wright and others of this ilk. You know...the Black KKK of contemporary America.

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Obama_The_Obnubilator 1 year, 1 month ago

96% of black vote going to Obama is not rasism, is it? Nooooooo!

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grammaddy 1 year, 1 month ago

They don't want to stop them from voting because they are BLACK. They want to stop them from voting Democrat. I thought everybody knew this is "post-racial" America. Has been since Obama got elected.Racism died November of 2008. I thought you knew.

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UneasyRider 1 year, 1 month ago

pork ribs, another all white meat.

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 1 month ago

Voting is not an "entitlement", it is a right. Scalia, at the very least, needs to recuse himself and probably should be impeached for that kind of remark. I personally believe it's his incipient Alzheimers. He needs to retire and stop holding on to the office in a desperate attempt to keep Obama from appointing his successor. Clarence Thomas can go with him.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 1 month ago

porkribs sounds the sign of desparation....get the federal government that stopped Little Rock in 1957 out of the way.....the forces that went to Ole Miss and Philadelphia, Mississippi out of the way.....convince conservatives who've benefitted from white priviledge for a century and a half that they want to go back in time.... to what? more racism? not playing the race card......I'm playing the history card.....which conservatives fail at.....including scotus judges.

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Jackie Jackasserson 1 year, 1 month ago

Pork ribs from which dictionary did you get those two (non) definitions? Here is what the world English dictionary says

racism or racialism (ˈreɪsɪzəm, ˈreɪʃəˌlɪzəm)

— n 1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others 2. abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief

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Pork_Ribs 1 year, 1 month ago

If you want or expect something from others or the government because of your race...you are the racist.

If in every situation you are confronted with you play the race card...you are the racist.

You want to end racism? Help out a black man. Until they step it up, as a whole, the problem will persist. When we can watch a sporting event and learn of the young man's parents instead of just his mom a majority of the time...that's when we'll know we're on the right track. Keep following race baiters like Leonard Pitts and things will only get worse.

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