It’s understandable that conservatives, from Chief Justice John Roberts to chief pundit George Will, today think of racism as a thing of the past — a “post-racial” society, this is.
After all, Jim Crow molders in the grave — he of the dirty dungarees, the night rides, the venal proxies in elected office.
It’s too bad that those who presume to have the nation’s pulse on these matters don’t notice how Jim Crow’s great-grandson J.R. — J.R. Crow — sustains his great- granddaddy’s influence. Dungarees? He is now dressed for success.
Wholly respectable and harmless, ensconced away from harm in a lovely gated community, that’s where J.R. resides these days.
Racism? What? Gone are segregated lunch counters, literacy tests, and calculated intimidation of black voters in the South.
Pose this question, however, to Congressman John Lewis, bloodied while marching for civil rights in 1965.
“Voting rights are under attack in America,” Lewis said on the House floor — and not just the other day after the Supreme Court tossed out Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act: He said it in 2011 amid a flurry of vote-suppression efforts by Republicans.
Which is how Jim Crow’s heir runs the enterprise today — that, and redistricting efforts that zealously would marginalize voters of color if not for the Voting Rights Act.
Quite a sight — the near-frantic urgency with which Voter I.D. bills were pushed in advance of the 2012 election. Proponents have yet to produce evidence of voter fraud to counter Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe’s depiction: “an expensive solution in search of a problem.”
Why have so many judges found problems with these laws? Because they impede the votes of minorities and the poor — as intended. Right, J.R.?
In “Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy,” University of Delaware historian Gary May points out that long before Jim Crow, oppressive majorities employed ways to curb voting by select groups — immigrants and Jews, and of course women. “But the African American experience is unique,” May writes. For though blacks were expressly granted the vote via the 15th Amendment, in the South, forces conspired at every turn to undermine their voting rights.
And now? Barack Obama’s ascendance, among other political achievements by blacks, serves to endanger the gains made, writes May. After all, if a black can be president, why is the Voting Rights Act necessary anymore?
One of the gains May attributes in part to the Voting Rights Act is the rise of the Republican Party in the South, prophesied by Lyndon Johnson. When in the glow of civil rights victories, he told an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation.”
Demographics alone testify to the fact that we need the Voting Rights Act as never before.
Watch how redistricting is done. Both parties know where the votes are. They are color-coded. And not in red and blue — try white, black and brown.
Observe efforts to deprive some Americans of the vote by prohibiting bilingual ballots. Multiculturalism is a pet peeve of J.R. Crow, who won’t acknowledge that unilingual ballots would be direct descendants of Great Granddad’s literacy tests. Meanwhile, the individual costs attached to some Voter I.D. measures share the lineage of poll taxes.
The Supreme Court majority says Congress could reauthorize the Voting Rights Act to be nearly as potent as authorized in 1965, if more so.
However, with today’s increasingly reactionary House, where redistricting has parceled out votes to provide invincible Republican districts, that prospect is as likely as J.R. Crow’s demanding that his children be bused to inner-city schools.
Some things respectable people just don’t do.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.