Thursday, 6-August-2015 we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Voters Rights Act. One of the cornerstones of Civil Rights in this nation, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and reauthorized by President Richard Nixon in 1970, President Ronald Reagan, President Gerald Ford in 1975, President Ronald Reagan 1982, President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and last but not least President George W. Bush in 2006. It is important to note, all re-authorizations were with full support of both houses of Congress. Another important note, all US Presidents to extend the Voters Rights Act were Republicans.
The first of the GOP debates has taken place, sponsored by the infamous Roger Ailes and his propaganda machine Fox. It is important to note, not a single one of the candidates whether at the kiddie table or the Big Show supports the extension of the Voters Rights Act. Not one single one of them supports the right of all members of society to vote. In fact, those who are in a position to do so, or have been in the past have actively sought to restrict voter access through any means possible including; Voter ID laws, voter roll purges, early closing of polling places and other actions that would restrict voter access. Interesting isn’t it, though the laws have been coming into play for years, they didn’t reach the stridency or full on war against the ‘other’ until the election of this President, who represented everything they feared and hated, specifically the ceding of power to ‘other’.
The loss of White Male Power, had finally come to pass in a big damned way with the election of Barack Obama. It couldn’t be avoided any longer, it was in their face and up their nose; White Men no longer could rely on the ignorance of the citizen to keep them in power, there was a change in the air and something had to be done and by any means necessary. The first thing was Congressional action, without the consent of Congress this President was going to have a hard Presidency and the GOP had met and agreed, they would oppose this President at every turn.
To understand where we are as a nation, why it feels worse than ever before in our lifetime it is important to look at historical context. This is not the first time the backlash of the White Male Power Structure has risen up to retrieve authority and supremacy in this nation. In fact, it is fairly easy to trace the roots of racism, defined by institutional structures including Economic, Educational, Opportunity and even movement. Look at the historical intersections and how those in power created the great divide between people who should be banded together rather than fighting each other.
- Until 1676, there were both African and European ‘slaves’ in the New World. Though the European ‘slaves’ were indentured for a set period they were treated no better than African slaves and frequently never lived to see their freedom. The Bacon Rebellion of 1676 saw the burning of Jamestown, Virginia and with it a new thinking by the ‘ruling’ class regarding their servants / slaves. New laws were created to separate the poor whites, whether indentured servants or free whites from the African whether Freeman or slave to prevent them from forming alliance in the future. These laws created the three (3) tier class system with the African at the bottom, the landowner at the top and all other White Men in the middle. This is considered, by many scholars, the beginning of institutional racism, along with the rule of law called Partus Sequitur Ventrem which means status followed the mother rather than the father, a distinct change to previous British common law.
- For one hundred and eighty nine years (189) things went along swimmingly for slaveholders, the ‘Masters’ of all they surveyed and those who benefited from the status quo without recognizing their benefits. With the end of the Civil War the South entered into the period of Reconstruction, it wasn’t long from 1865 to 1877. This period saw the passage of the 13th, 14thand 15th Amendments which Abolished Slavery, Granted Black Men the Right to Vote and Prohibited the Federal and State governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on their Color, Race or previous condition of servitude.
- The period of Reconstruction was short-lived; the loss of power by those who previously held all the power was not to be tolerated. Reconstruction led to backlash including the first KKK, the White League and Red Shirts, the first true home-grown terrorists, intent on preserving White Supremacy at all costs including violence against any they considered race traitors or those they considered uppity, their previous slaves. The true backlash though was the institution of the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws throughout the South, including laws to disenfranchise the new Black voter from exercising their right to vote; Poll Taxes, Literacy Tests, Comprehension Tests, Residency and Record Keeping requirements (sound familiar?). While these laws disenfranchised poor whites as well, grandfather clauses allowed them to remain on the rolls, keeping those who should have found common cause apart once again.
- The Jim Crow period ushered in a new age of poverty and peonage. The Black Codes created a free labor force, empowering the police to arrest Black Men and Women for the slightest infraction, imprisoning them for long periods to forced labor for ‘loitering’ or ‘vagrancy’. For one hundred years, until 1964 and the passing of the Civil Rights Act, the Black family in America was segregated from active participation in American Life.
- It was in 1954 though, with the SCOTUS decision of Brown vs. Board of Education the US saw the next rise of official terrorism and White Supremacy with the institution of the Citizens Councils aka The White Citizens Councils, across the southern states. Many state legislators, mayors and other influential White citizens were members of the Citizen Council, which met openly and whose entire agenda was the ongoing disenfranchisement and segregation of the American Black. Though usually their tactics were economic intimidation, they were not above violence when it suited them. During the last half of the 1950’s the Council produced children’s school books claiming heaven was segregated. They also opened and supported private segregated schools, some of which are still in operation today.
These things have run in waves, fear and fear mongering is the red meat thrown out into the yard by those who know exactly how to keep the populace in line, keep them filled with hate of ‘other’. Now we have a more sophisticated model, the 24 hour news cycle but the message remains the same, hate those who are ‘not like you’, fear those who are ‘not like you’.
Do you see the pattern emerging? The prison industrial complex, the militarized police force, the systematic killing of Black men and women on the streets of every city in this nation without repercussion. Do you see a pattern emerge, when there is even a slight power shift and the election of Barack Obama was certainly that, those who define their supremacy based on race have risen up again through organized terrorism, the Tea Party is one example, another is the rise in membership of White Power / Segregationist groups such as Council of Conservative Citizens.
“I want my country back!”
The cry of those who feel the loss of power. We must ask where do they want to take us back too, from whom do they want it back from? The structures of institutional racism have been well established for centuries, each time we begin to break them those with the most power and the most to lose tighten their hold, we let it happen by not rising up and fighting back hard enough. By not understanding our own history and seeing the emerging patterns.
I don’t want my country back; I want my country to progress, to move forward. That is what I want.
Next, inter-sectional and women in the public domain.
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