By Michael Pelle.
We hate being reminded that racism continues to influence our major societal and governmental systems. Although we are quick to denounce overt racism, we often overlook more subtle acts despite their disparate impacts on minorities, influenced by our longing desire to move past our nation’s history of racial discrimination and violence.
This summer, the media castigated celebrity television chef Paula Dean and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper for their use of the n-word. How dare they shatter the dream of a post-racial nation, one free from prejudice, with such concrete examples of ongoing discrimination? The collective rebuke was so strong that Dean lost her show and the NFL fined Riley Cooper. The media and those condemning Dean and Cooper sought to preserve the ideal of a post-racial America by casting blatantly racist actions as anomalies and ostracizing those who perpetrate them.
This summer also saw the enactment of voter ID laws in more Republican-controlled states. North Carolina’s new voting law cuts early voting by a week, eliminates same-day registration, and requires government-issued photo IDs at the polls. The law disparately impacts blacks, who, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, participate more actively in early voting and same-day registration than whites. Democracy North Carolina reports that whites and blacks respectively constitute 71% and 23% of all registered voters in the state, but 34% of those without a valid photo ID are black. This evidence has led notable political leaders, such as Republican Colin Powel, to publically condemn the new regulations.
The law’s supporters allege it prevents voter fraud, but such defenses simply veil Republican legislator’s true intentions of manipulating voter participation to favor themselves. The North Carolina State Board of Elections found only one case of voter fraud in the 2012 elections, weakening the purported justification for the new photo ID requirement, while the connection between the other restrictions and fraud prevention remains undefined. The law represents Jim Crow’s perpetuation in modern society through colorblind jurisprudence, legislation that is inherently racist but does not mention race.
Although the legislators who promote these voter suppression laws face criticism from liberals and some neocons, the scope of the negative response pales in comparison to that Dean and Cooper received. Theses lawmakers aren’t voted out of office, and they don’t lose sponsors. In fact, their policies probably encourage greater donations from right-wing backers. But voter suppression affects the black community far more than saying the n-word does, so why the lopsided response?
The distinction lies in our desire to believe that mainstream society has been purged of racism. Saying the n-word clearly threatens the ideal of post-racial America, but it’s easy to believe that a law isn’t racist if it’s race-neutral, or doesn’t mention race. Many succumb to confirmation bias, forgoing the more complex analysis that reveals continuing racial discrimination in our political institutions for a convenient equating of race neutrality with racial equality. The media caters to the American public’s tastes, running endless cycles of soft news on Dean and Cooper’s easily understandable acts of racial malfeasance while failing to facilitate comprehensive analysis regarding voter suppression’s racial implications.
And not all politicians promoting voter suppression laws think that whites are superior to blacks. Disenfranchising blacks is most likely just a means to subverting Democratic candidates. Using the black community as fodder in political warfare, however, is at least as racist as saying the n-word, and has far greater impact. Legislators who support these laws should be viewed as racists and voted out of office, and journalists should give them more attention than they did Dean and Cooper. These laws do far more to maintain this nation’s persistent racial divide.