By Dr. E. Faye Williams
(Trice Edney Wire) – There’s no doubt that events like the recent earthquake in Haiti and its associated devastation and loss of life, and the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban occupy center-stage in the minds of many. Both events are worthy of such consideration, but they must share a position of significance with the deliberate destruction of voting rights currently and potentially affecting millions of Americans. Although Republican politicians seem hell-bent on redesigning VOTER RIGHTS as being “For Whites Only,” this is not a battle that we are willing to lose.
Increasingly, fewer numbers of people still live who actually remember the ‘FOR WHITES ONLY’ signs posted in public spaces which “shielded whites from contact and interaction with people of color (POC), and which served to restrict POC from the courtesies and amenities of life. By honoring icons like Mother Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and Dr. King, we will not forget their bold resistance to Jim Crow Laws which imposed segregation throughout the greater society. Existing far beyond the immediate segregation was an entire way of life supported and maintained by abhorrent laws which assigned social and legal superiority to whites and relegated POC to a permanent status of social and legal inferiority.
These exclusions were designed to dehumanize POC in their physical activities and to strip away any self-esteem they may have had. Like Pavlov’s Dog who when stimulated by a bell would salivate, the accepted social order established a certain (ab)normalcy in interracial relationships which found the response of many POC in support of their own inferiority. My friend, Dick Gregory, would say, “In the South, it didn’t matter how close you got, just don’t get uppity. And in the North, it didn’t matter if you got uppity, just don’t get too close.” However different these two realities, they were accepted social contracts which supported a self-fulfilling superior-inferior relationship.
These exclusions also protected whites from having to share one of their most prized and cherished commodities–the vote.
As time and circumstance would have it, the rigid structure of that social order began to erode. The white guilt of having to watch television and see POC savagely brutalized for seeking equities fundamental to their citizenship led to a loosening of the restrictions to voting. This was objectionable to many, but their sense of numerical superiority gave them the assurance that, although threatened, their power would remain intact. That is, until the 2008 Presidential Election and subsequent elections, thereafter.
The basic premise of voting is that politicians express their beliefs and core values to the masses in hopes of convincing a majority of voters to support the beliefs and values they espouse. The power of the vote dictates the direction of the nation. The handwriting was on the wall. The Republican message was/is no longer appealing to most Americans and, already, white America is wielding less power. Demographers are predicting that the nation will become a majority minority country around the year 2030. In practical terms, this means that whites will no longer arbitrarily dictate how power is shared or controlled in this nation.
If not understandable, the expected white response to these revelations is a concentrated effort to make voting “For Whites Only” once again. The number of jellybeans in a jar or the number of bubbles in a bar of soap will no longer be the measure of a voter’s qualification. This time they’re just planning on highway robbery. They alone will decide on the validity of votes and use race or political designation as the measure of whether a vote is “good” or not.
Ultimately, passage of HR1 and HR4 are the only remedies to overcome this disrespect of our vote and humanity.
(E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women and host of “Wake Up and Stay Woke” on WPFW-89.3 FM)