There has been much discussion since the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama concerning what American racism and classism might look like in the 21st century.
Here was a clear historic anomaly — a black man holding the most sacred office in the land — that so brazenly defied the plain logic of the political whitewashing that even the most cynical of his supporters and his advertisers felt, momentarily, that overt racism was becoming passé. The awakening to the fact, instead of previously the mere hope, that a plurality of American voters actually do not harbor an inhibition either explicitly or subconsciously towards voting for a black man was felt by so many like a breath of fresh air, a promising signpost on the path towards progress.
And though today the Secret Service will contend with a number of death threats on the President more excessive than that of any other president in history, this feeling of progress is reflected in overall declining hate crimes and racially motivated violence throughout the land.
Overt acts of racism, though still as present and as repugnant as ever to our democracy and the uncountable assets of our cultural diversity, are perhaps being shed in the manner of an overly drawn-out fad, like mullets or Furbies. How can we be so sure? Simply because it intuitively feels as though we’ve moved onward as a culture, and that the problems we presently face are too serious to justify the expense of effort on preserving our prejudices.
However, to those concerned with how systemic, rather than overt, racism operates within the United States in 2011, look no further than the slew of voter suppression legislation which has silently crept into the law of the land in 17 states this year. These laws mostly concern themselves with state-issued photo identification, a measure that the right-wing propagandists will say is a necessary evil to combat the spectre of voting fraud, an epidemic of which there have been all of nine total confirmed instances since 2005.
In reality, these laws are designed to make it substantially more difficult for more than 5 million voters to cast a ballot in the 2012 election. This figure is derived from those affected by proof-of-citizenship requirements, identification requirements, further restrictions on voter registration drives, eliminations of early voting and further disenfranchisement of rehabilitated felons who have had their voting rights restored.
Namely, these laws are a transparent attempt on the part of state GOP’s to erode traditionally Democratic voting blocks by literally scaring minorities, especially college students, away from the polls.
We must pause to analyze the disgust we now feel. Does some of it stem from seeing the Republicans, supposed moral paragons in these strange postmodern times, behave ruthlessly and amorally for political advantage? Sure. Or from their denying Americans of their fundamental and inalienable rights to vote? Absolutely. But what I find most depraved and infuriating about the situation is that it reminds us of how alive racism remains in the corridors of power.
It may not show its face out in the open, but its malice operates for the most part unopposed. We are reminded of the ascent of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives after last year’s midterms, whose first act it was to give an abbreviated reading of the Constitution on the floor of the Capital. They were in apparent disagreement with those sections that purport to curtain states’ rights, though these sections are notably more famous for their language regarding slavery.
And though their stunt faced a similar outcry to what we presently witness surrounding these voter suppression laws, we can be mutually assured that Republican arrogance — that they can knowingly coordinate and erect such blatantly racist laws with relative ease — will persist.