First Lady Michelle Obama recently delivered a speech in Chicago urging action to combat youth gun violence and comparing herself to Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year old Chicago high school student who was shot and killed in January 2013, saying that Pendleton reminded her of herself at that age. The first man of hateful rhetoric, Rush Limbaugh, accused the First Lady of having a “chip on her shoulder” about the United States and of doing “a disservice to the country” by drawing a comparison between herself and Pendleton. Limbaugh’s “chip on her shoulder” comment is code for accusing the First Lady of being an “angry black woman.”
Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly said that the folks who voted for an Obama second term wanted “free stuff” and that’s what Obama would give them. Thanks to the continued racist rhetoric by this right-wing radical fringe, an Associated Press poll released on October 27, 2012, found that a slim majority of Americans now hold a negative view of African Americans. 51% of people polled indicated an explicitly negative view of black people, compared to 48% in 2008. When tested implicitly and controlling for the possibility that people are unaware or unwilling to express racially prejudiced attitudes, that proportion is 56%, compared to 49% in 2008. Thus, instead of moving forward, America is regressing in its commitment to foster equal opportunity. Not only is racism affecting African Americans, other minorities including the Latino population are also experiencing its rage. The profiling situation involving Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio previously noted is one example.
Looking through the 2012 election cycle, it is not difficult to see why America has emerged from its first term under a nonwhite president more prejudiced. While many touted President Obama’s election as the end of racism, the stark political divide, already colored along racial lines, has only grown deeper.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Shelby County v. Holder that will further hamper efforts for racial parity. That decision dealt with provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) meant to prevent racially discriminatory voting laws from being enacted in states with a history of such practices. The specific provision under challenge was Section 5, which required certain jurisdictions to seek “preclearance” of new or revised voting rules and procedures with either the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal District court. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that the formula in Section 4 of the VRA which determined the jurisdictions subject to federal preclearance of voting laws under Section 5 of the Act, to be unconstitutional. The formula that was struck down identified jurisdictions subject to preclearance as those with a history of a voting test or device and less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout as of 1964, 1968 or 1972. When originally passed, the preclearance provisions were intended to expire after five years, but were reauthorized by Congress four times, most recently in 2006 for twenty-five years.
The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas (concurring), views the preclearance formula as anchored in a past that no longer exists and oblivious to the huge progress made since 1965 in the levels of voting participation and election to public office of African Americans and other covered minorities. The majority invited the Congress to write a new formula based on current practices that justifies the extraordinary preclearance procedure. The fact that Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin all attempted to pass voter suppression laws during the 2012 election apparently didn’t matter to the Roberts’ majority. If it wasn’t for Section 5, most of these states would have succeeded and thousands of minorities and the elderly would have been disenfranchised from voting. Remember, these states account for 203 electoral votes, or 75 percent of the total needed to win the presidency. Shortly after the high court issued its sweeping 5-4 decision striking down a centerpiece of the historic 1965 law, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott vowed to immediately implement a controversial voter ID law that was blocked last year by the now-gutted preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor, found compelling the evidence compiled by Congress that, in spite of the dated formula, the covered jurisdictions continue to engage disproportionately in actions that discriminate against minorities. Consequently, the preclearance provision is essential to prevent the backsliding that was so frequent in the hundred years following the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Justice Department has filed suit in Federal Court under another provision of the VRA challenging Texas recently enacted voter law.
When a majority of the Supreme Court recently issued its decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, the Republican right-wing went berserk in criticizing the Justices. Yet there were no Republican or right-wing criticisms of the Court’s Voting Rights decision.
A major problem compounding racial inequity is this country’s broken judicial system as well as certain of its laws. For example, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, 1 in every 106 White Men is incarcerated but 1 in every 15 African American men is incarcerated. Today, there are more African Americans on probation, parole and in prison than there were slaves in 1850. Despite Fox News pundit, Bill O’Reilly’s comments that the problem exists because of high-crime rates in certain cities, it’s really because of a broken system. For instance, Whites and Blacks use Marijuana at the same rate yet Blacks are four times as likely to be arrested for drug use. According to the Sentencing Project, Black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crime. The facts tell us that blatant racism is a significant factor that contributes to racial disparity.
CONTINUED IN PART III