African-Americans still struggle for Full Citizenship Rights, Voting Rights

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

50 years after the Selma march to Montgomery, African-Americans still face substantial impediments to their full citizenship in the United States. We all saw the scene in the film “Selma” where the Oprah Winfrey character has to pass an arbitrary test to vote (and is always failed by the white sheriff). As soon as the John Roberts court (which has a problem with race) lifted Federal oversight of state voting practices, red states predictably passed a rash of voter suppression laws under the guise of demands for government-issued i.d. to vote. African=Americans and the poor are least likely to have such i.d. or to have the time or money to acquire it. Republican officials have openly admitted that the voter i.d. laws were intended to suppress the Democratic Party vote.

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Via Wikipedia

There are other forms of voter suppression. In Ferguson, Mo., the black vote was reduced by the ruse of holding elections in April rather than November; minorities tend not to come out for out of season elections, in part for economic reasons. Likewise, in Ferguson party affiliation is not shown on the ballot. Given that 95% of African-Americans vote Democratic and that there are almost no African-Americans in the Republican Party, showing party affiliation has racial implications in a place like Ferguson, where the white elite managed to retain its hegemony over government and policing even as the town of 20,000 moved to having a 67% Afriacn-American majority. These kinds of de facto minority voter suppression are hardly unique to Ferguson.

The massive expansion of the prison population in the US, which today stands at over 2 million, began after the passage of the Voting Rights act. In many ways, the prison system and forms of legal harassment of African-Americans have just replaced Jim Crow abuses (in many states ex-felons cannot vote).


And the biggest single group of people in prison by ethnicity are African-Americans, who are 12.6% of the population and about 40% of the inmates.

It should not be assumed that African-Americans are jailed so much more frequently than whites because they are guiltier.

Dorothy Brown observes of the DOJ report on Ferguson: “While 29% of the population is white, 12.9% of vehicle stops involve a white driver. Blacks were almost twice as likely to be searched as whites, even though searches of blacks were less likely than whites to result in contraband being found (21% vs. 34%).”

The unreasonably high arrest rates for African-Americans in Ferguson turned into a massive extra municipal tax on them. They were often fined, and when they could not pay the fines went up and they could go to jail. There were arrest warrants out of much of the population. The city was getting 20% of its revenue from this tax-by-tickets, almost all of it from African-Americans. The system was not only discriminatory, it was positively predatory. Ferguson is, again, hardly unique.

Despite all these attempts to keep African-Americans second-class citizens, they have mostly failed. African-American participation in the 2012 presidential election was 61.5%, higher that year than the turnout of non-Hispanic whites (this is the first time).

It is at the local and state level that the African-American vote has meant less in recent years. The struggle continues.

Related video:

VOA: “50 Years Later African Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead”

6 Responses

  1. No surprise that African-Americans are still struggling. No surprise, either, that others are more or less in similar predicaments. This nation has always had authoritarians in dominant positions where they have regarded the masses of people in the lower economic and social strata with either contempt or indifference. Then there are the authoritarian followers, as Bob Altemeyer describes them, who aid and abet the powerful with the hope they will be first in line to get whatever crumbs are dispensed or allowed to trickle down.

  2. Okay. So we have seen the AG report. It confirms a ton of stuff written across the landscape for the past year. Pernicious policing is totally monetized. So, what do we do now?? I want someone to suggest something that might make a difference.

    • Pernicious policing is also totally politicized. Who votes for district attorneys? The people who have been trained by the media to see themselves as righteous, productive property owners under assault from the “criminal” race, who must be collectively punished into submission.

      That being said, even if the rest of us show up to vote out these fascist D.A.s and their police henchmen, we have to come up with a replacement.

      I think that first and foremost, police must live in the neighborhoods they work in. This is onerous, and it will be bitterly resisted. But we went to war with the Redcoats over treatment similar to what cops visit upon blacks today. Suburban cops act as foreign occupiers, even Hessians, because they are taught that cities are un-American.

      Second, the acts of cops must be reviewed by those neighbors. If a neighborhood wants a racist police state they must dip their hands in the blood.

      The problem is that this means honestly embracing the balkanization of our country into no-go zones for the Other. The neighborhoods of the white and rich will become even more restricted than they are now. But by hiding from this division by blaming it on higher levels of government, we’re creating a plausibly deniable apartheid that we will grow comfortable with. Better to heighten the confrontation now, if it will produce a proletariat that at least has a version of law and government that is solely on its side, instead of only crime as a form of retaliation.

      • There is no magic potion or silver bullet to solving the problems of racism and slavery by other names. We are in a contest to persuade people to act for good or ill. Those who would make progress towards an enlightened, humane and civilized society have an uphill fight. If they quit it’s back to the Dark Ages.

  3. Orwell comes to mind when we consider how so many politicians will regard the Pledge of Allegiance as the equivalent of a loyalty oath, but after reciting the words they will, sometimes within just minutes, prove the words and spirit of the pledge are meaningless to them.

    “… one nation, … , indivisible, …” then they will go into them-and-us mode.

    This should come as little surprise when we consider politicians’ oaths of office to uphold the Constitution are also meaningless in many instances.

    Perhaps, in black communities thoughts of Kafka vie with Orwell.

    “… with liberty and justice for all.” Yeah, that’ll be the day.

  4. Karen Hertz

    This is when I wish there was a “do not like” or a “newsworthy” button option instead of “like”.

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