I can’t get the black and white pictures out of my head. Void of color, void of humanity, void of equality. Those pictures of my elders looking hate in the face, unknowingly turning from average citizens to martyrs.
Beaten. Spit on. Dark blood on gray concrete. I can hear the inaudible wails. Faces ashen with grief, but full of purpose. Determination to be afforded the same rights as others.
This wasn’t a movie. This was their reality.
But for us, privileged enough to live in a world that’s faux post-racial, those prejudices are masked. We’ve had the Voting Rights Act since 1965. We live in a bubble removed from Jim Crow. We are diverse and accepting and we use the changing demographic and little progression we’ve made since those days as a salve to heal the open wounds.
After all, we’ve got a black president. Right?
But the truth is, our work was never done. We are still 1965.
Only now our pictures are in color. The faces are smiling and welcoming. The blood wasted on the sidewalk is metaphorically transformed into our fight.
Memories slip. We don’t even realize we’re still in that black and white battle.
Sarcasm overflow aside, we haven’t grasped that those same rights our elders so passionately fought for are being thrown to the wind like old tattered sheets. Voting legislation put in place to protect them are relics. Archaic. Outdated.
Let me put it in perspective for you; like a cell phone on your hip…it’s played out. That’s the argument that’s being used, right here in 2013, to deem a part of the Voter Rights Act unconstitutional. A ploy, just like the rose-colored race glasses we wear today, to continue mass voter suppression.
It didn’t hit me until today when conservative justices on the Supreme Court expressed their dissent for Section 5 of the Voters Right Act, which requires parts of the country that have historically engaged in voter suppression to “pre-clear” new voting laws with a federal court to ensure that they do not impost racial burdens.
Not scared yet?
Stripped to the core, the Voting Rights Act outlaws discriminatory voting practices. Section 5 enforces the law. Without Section 5 to stop states like Alabama or Mississippi, or even Florida, from implementing laws such as the voter ID attempt (which ultimately leads to the disenfranchisement of thousands of would-be voters), or any other underhanded legislation to discourage voting, the law is virtually unviable.
In other words, if conservative justices have it their way, Section 5 would be thrown in the trash and the gatekeepers of our right to vote would be obsolete.
Today during the hearings, conservatives argued that the continuation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act represents “racial entitlement.”
I’ll let our very own Justice Antonin Scalia explain that to you:
“Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes,” Scalia said during oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder.
“Even the name of it is wonderful, the Voting Rights Act. Who’s going to vote against that?” Scalia wondered.
Racial entitlement? The Voting Rights Act doesn’t even specify any one race. The point of the legislation was to protect those who might be disenfranchised from discriminatory acts. And historically, yes, that’s been African Americans, but please understand that the law doesn’t add any privileges to minority voters. It merely gives them the rights of everyone else in this country. A fair vote.
The truth is, we still need Section 5. In the past two years alone, six of nine states covered by Section 5 have attempted to implement restrictions that would make it hard for minorities to vote.
The facts are there. According to a report titled “African-American Voter Access and Reduced Opportunity for Political Involvement 2012,” Angela Rye from Impact Strategies reports:
In Florida, African-American voter growth rates rose at almost twice the rate of their white counterparts between the 2000 and the 2004 presidential election, i.e., 34 percent to 19 percent, compared to 2004 to 2008, which was twenty times that of their white counterparts, i.e. 21 percent to 1 percent, respectively.
Approximately 367,000 African American voting age citizens will have their opportunity to vote reduced based on Florida’s requirement that voters show photo identification or some other form of ID that displays a signature.
If Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is enacted for future elections, at least 115,000 African-American voting-age citizens will have their opportunity to vote reduced based on the state’s voter ID law.
Overall, in Pennsylvania and Florida, there are at least 482,000 African-American voting-age citizens who will have their opportunity to vote reduced.
Still convinced we don’t need protection?
In 2013, this country is still holding back potential voters. Access to polls is difficult. Voter readiness is still immature. Equal representation in state, federal and local offices is polarizing. But remember, we still have a voice. By standing aside and letting the court diminish what our elders fought for because of its age and ignorantly deemed “outdated” preclearance, we’re not exercising our rights. We are, essentially, giving our ballots back.
Section 5 and the Voting Rights Act are supposed to represent the integrity of this democracy. It is the duty of the Supreme Court to protect and uphold that democracy. If we allow them to rid us of that legislation, they are allowing the progress they rely on to support the “archaic” legislation.
Christina Coleman is the News and Politics Editor at GlobalGrind. Prior to this she was a science writer. That explains her NASA obsession. She crushes on Anthony Bourdain. Nothing explains that.
Follow her on Twitter @ChrissyCole