The Historical Circle Of Racism In Three Recent Events
The Historical Circle of Racism in 3 Recent Events
The national news had a series of three cases in late June that struck me as eerily but beneficially timed. All of these cases had elements of racism in them. The three cases were the Paula Deen scandal, the George Zimmerman murder trial, and the United States Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act decision. I have been asking "ad nauseum" for serious national and local discussions on racism and related issues. It struck me that these three almost simultaneous events could be the vehicle for these discussions.
But what theme could thread these events together besides their racist elements? Then it hit me. The three cases encapsulate the recent history of racism in America. They encapsulate more specifically the past, present, and future of racism in the United States.
The Paula Deen flap depicts how White citizens of the old South and other areas looked down on African Americans and how they acted towards them. It also reflects the nostalgia for that bygone era.
The Zimmerman trial highlighted many of the racial profiling attitudes of White Americans as well as the dichotomy of the views that Black and White Americans have towards each other. These views and the resulting actions have proven to have a very adverse effect on African Americans and especially young Black males.
The Supreme Court's neutering of the Voting Rights Act created a strong fear that fifty years of civil rights advancements and improvements in race relations could be rolled back.
I will examine all three of these events showing how they are representative of the past, present or future of racism in the United States. Finally I will give an analysis of this critical subject and how it is synthesizing at the present time. I will also try to portray a better path for our country and how we can get there.
The Paula Deen scandal originated with a 2012 harassment lawsuit brought by a former General Manager of a restaurant that Paula co-owned with her brother. Lisa Jackson is the plaintiff and is ironically a white woman. She is suing Deen and her brother both for his sexual harassment of her but also for the harassment of the African American restaurant workers of the Deens' restaurant. An example of this harassment is the forcing of the Black workers to only use the back entrance to enter the restaurant. Racial epithets were also regularly used.
Paula Deen was required to answer questions in a deposition for this case in May of 2013. She admitted using the racial epithet "nigger' several times in her earlier life but not for several years. This revelation in and of itself did not surprise me. Her next revelation revealed her continuing deep identification with the "Jim Crow South" of her younger years.
Paula was asked by Ms. Jackson in 2007 what type of food she wanted prepared for her brother's upcoming wedding. She stated that she wanted a wedding along the lines that she saw at a restaurant with all Black waiters. It gave her the idea to have an old South antebellum style wedding with, "a bunch of little niggers wearing long sleeve white shirts, black shorts, and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days". Paula quickly stated that she nixed the idea because the media would be all over her about it.
This idea perfectly portrays the racism of the past and the nostalgia for it by many older people from that region. Her prior use of racial epithets early in life while bad are simply a reflection of those times. This much newer nostalgic mindset for that highly bigoted and poisonous era is the true evidence of her racism. Many others of her generation hold this same mindset.
The George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin depicts a very accurate example of the fear that many African Americans feel today regarding the racism they face. George Zimmerman was indicted and acquitted recently of this murder on the grounds of self defense. The controversy over this case centers primarily around racial profiling and the "stand your ground" law.
Racial profiling is a policing tool used to identify and stop criminal offenders along the lines of race before they commit crimes. African Americans and other ethnic minorities are always at the top of lists targeted for this profiling. It is clearly a form of prejudice. This profiling also takes place often times in employment hiring and promotion. No one ever admits to this and most may not even realize it.
African Americans and especially young Black males have a much tougher time getting hired and retaining employment outside of menial lower paying jobs due to this profiling. Many argue that this is due to their lower educational achievements. I feel it is a result of a strong distrust of the abilities and dedication of African Americans. This leads directly to entrenched poverty, poor academic achievement, and higher crime rates. It becomes a perpetual vicious circle that feeds upon itself.
The Trayvon Martin shooting combined the "stand your ground" law with racial profiling which proved to be a lethal combination. Self defense has always been a valid and legal reaction if a person is attacked and their life is in imminent danger. These new stand your ground laws place the concept of self defense on steroids. Stand your ground was legislation championed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to help boost sales for the gun industry who are their major benefactors. The first state to enact this law was Florida in 2005.
George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader, racially profiled Trayvon Martin the night he shot him. There had been a number of prior robberies allegedly made by an African American male perpetrator. This heightened Zimmerman's distrust of Trayvon. He got out of his vehicle and followed him ignoring prior directions to not do so. Trayvon confronted him and an altercation ensued. Zimmerman was carrying a gun and the stand your ground law gave him license to shoot and kill Trayvon even with his life not seriously being threatened.
This tragic event perfectly portrays the latent racism that exists today. It not only threatens the mortality of African American citizens but also their economic viability and their pursuit of happiness.
Now we turn to the future of racism embodied in the recent United States Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act. The Court effectively rendered the Voting Rights Act powerless by declaring Section 4 of the Act unconstitutional. This section sets forth the group of states and districts that were subject to the pre-clearance provisions of this Act. The choice of these states and districts was based on their discriminatory voting practices prior to 1965. This group is very similar now to what it was in 1965 though these states and districts have ways to opt out of this provision. The Court argued that the makeup of this group is outdated and must be changed.
The bottom line is that if the United States Congress does not act to create a new updated Section 4, the states will have the opportunity to change their voting laws without restrictions regardless if they are discriminatory or not. The United States Justice department will only be able to react to discriminatory voting changes instead of preemptively.
Several states have already taken these actions. United States Attorney General Eric Holder has brought a lawsuit against Texas for new voter ID laws that he feels are discriminatory. These laws are the same ones that federal judges ruled against in 2012 during the run-up to that national election.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 enfranchised millions of African American citizens to vote. This gave them the power to influence their government and it gave them considerably more leverage to prevent further discrimination against them.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 eliminated the segregation of schools, restaurants, and all public facilities. This Act in conjunction with the Voting Rights Act have been instrumental in both tearing down the discriminatory legacy of the Jim Crow South and ensuring that none of it would return in any significant form. This not only included the South but the entirety of the United States. States and districts can be opted in as well as opting out of Voting Rights Act restrictions ensuring that the entire country is precluded from discriminatory voting practices. Civil rights laws also cover the entire United States.
The gutting of the Voting Rights Act is sure to precipitate the continued passing of voter restriction laws especially in Republican controlled states. All of the voter ID laws that were passed and struck down in 2012 were designed to restrict Democratic leaning groups. Most of these fell under racial and ethnic grounds. College students were also targeted.
The future of racism in the United States lies largely in how we react to this greatly weakened Voting Rights Act. Lower levels of minority voting will lead to lower levels of their influence on governmental policies and legislation. This could easily lead to a subtle but steady ratcheting up of discriminatory laws that could re-introduce Jim Crow style conditions all over the U.S. It will also lead to an entrenched conservative government leadership that votes against their interests due to their power to gerrymander the districts.
In analyzing these three distinct episodes, we can see that they are linked in both their historical significance and what they reveal. The nearsighted and backwards looking U.S. Supreme Court Voting Rights Act ruling truly depicts a popular historical saying. Past is prologue. The nostalgic antebellum past that Paula Deen wistfully wanted to re-create in a wedding could eventually be realized in large part due to this Court ruling.
The unfettered "leaving them to their own devices" policy was the path that the North's war weary and supposedly progressive Republican party undertook towards the South after the Reconstruction period following the Civil War. The Jim Crow South quickly formed. It is unlikely to unfold as quickly or as thoroughly but discrimination creep will occur. Lack of electoral influence by certain groups leads to a lack of governmental and legislative influence for the same groups. This is political reality.
More laws and practices like "stand your ground" and "stop and frisk" will proliferate affecting African Americans and other minority groups disproportionately. This is vividly depicted in the George Zimmerman case. Minority voting will decrease while educational and employment opportunities will in turn decrease for these same groups. These conditions will be the result of the toothless Voting Rights Act and they will drive African Americans and other minorities into a new and deeper spiral of poverty.
Conservative forces, led by the Koch Brothers, fear the demographics of the growing minority population in the United States. Their growing influence poses a direct threat to their leadership in both the business world and in government. These current strategies are concentrated on lowering regulations and taxes upon themselves. The only way to achieve this without bankrupting the nation is to sharply cut social programs which benefit these minority groups as well as most Americans. The growing minority voting bloc directly threatens this hegemony.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided the impetus for much of the positive social change in this country. The threat of the electoral wrath upon our political leaders was and is the fuel that allows this change. The culture of Paula Deen's youth has changed dramatically but not irrevocably. Much still needs to be done to eliminate racism from the American psyche as well as our practical lives. This has been proven within the issues raised by the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin.
A powerless Voting Rights Act will open the door for a slow return to our openly racist past. It is imperative for Congress to take up the cause of updating this critical legislation and put the teeth back into it. The national and local discussions that have been raised by these three episodes over racism have been helpful but must continue. A failure to do so will mean a disastrous stepping back for our country.
We all must urge our legislators to move quickly on renewing the Voting Rights Act. We can no longer be quiet on this issue while sweeping it under the rug. There will be a serious tear in our social fabric if nothing is done. The resulting effects will make the turbulent 1960's seem like nirvana. I urge all of my fellow citizens that care about advancing America forward on the subject of fighting racism and intolerance to keep up the pressure on our political leaders as well as our neighbors.
The convergence of these three national news stories highlights where we have come from and presages where we could be headed to. Continued national and local discussions regarding racism will help to cut the oxygen off from it and help it to shrink and hopefully die in time. Let us make sure we continue on the road towards a more tolerant and open United States.