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The politics of maintaining the political knee-on-the neck


Practical Politics

There is an old picture that still shows up in most Ethnic Studies and American History Books (at least those not yet banned in the culture wars for students) that shows a drawing of Black farmers going newly to register to vote, walking a line through whites with guns, standing, staring at them and trying to intimidate them. The white farmers look angry and evil; the Black folks look hopeful and calm.

The picture is described in the accompanying text as one that signals the difficulty of implementing the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Former slaves were now citizens and they had to be allowed to vote in democratic elections. The picture portended trouble, however, and that’s exactly what has happened.

The famous 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the signature achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other activists, and former POTUS Lyndon Johnson, was supposed to add even more government authority to help create an equitable Black American voting population. The current Supreme Court has whittled away much of the power and protections the VRA provided to help grow that population.

And many southern Whites, generation after generation, have continued their fight not to allow Black folks to vote in ways that could determine elections. There seems to be some primal fear of an operating Black electorate.

Well, recently, in their use of the legal principle of gerrymandering (which should have been outlawed long ago), the current Alabama state legislature drew up congressional maps that looked clearly like what they were: A bold, in-your-face attempt at reducing Black voting for state and federal officials to just one big Black district. This would ensure that the Black population, which currently is at least ? of the Alabama population, would only be allowed to elect one statewide representative and thereby remain an insignificant minority.

Even the current very, very conservative U.S. Supreme Court had to look askance at the boldness of Alabama’s attempted murder of Black citizen voting rights in the state. The USSC rejected Alabama’s gerrymandering and ordered the state to create a second voting district for the Black population.

The White Republican-dominated Alabama legislature just could not stomach doing the right thing even though the Supreme Court legally ordered them to do so. Faced with a Friday, July 21st deadline to comply, the state chamber’s Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment in the Alabama legislature approved a “new” proposal in a 14-6 party-line vote that feigned compliance with the Court order. This is sort of like a delinquent little boy who has been ordered to stop bullying the smaller children in the neighborhood, who then starts using a sling-shot from the shadows to keep popping the smaller children on the head unseen. The proposal was introduced as legislation this past Monday afternoon in a special session to adopt a new map by a Friday deadline set by the federal court. This week, rather than really trying to be fair and compliant, the legislature simply increased the Black population allowed to vote in the single Black district it had already created. The Supreme Court had ordered the creation of at least one new district for Black voters in the state so that there would be at least two of the six in the state based on their population. In a rare non-Civil War-era action, the Republican state legislators, however, said no.

For those still confused about the modern Republican Party, this should be a final nail in that coffin of recognition. Fairness in democracy is neither this party’s aim nor its behavior. For those who still think Black folk will surely receive the political respect and fairness they have earned in this country without a continued dog-fight for every inch, let this be a reminder. Politically, there are and will long remain mean, mangy, pitted political dogs ever willing to keep you from the equitable place Black folk have earned in this society.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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