How White America’s Legacy of Voter Suppression Harms People of Color
Instead of blaming people of color who don’t vote, white liberals need to take a closer look at their own communities.
by Sherronda J. Brown and Lara Witt
When Trump first launched an unsubstantiated attack against voter fraud after his own election to the U.S. presidency, it wasn’t just mindless ranting. Far from it. He was laying the groundwork for the Republican Party’s ultimate dream of fascist control, and voter suppression is their most viable avenue there. Like everything else to come out of his mouth and his tweets since before he even announced his presidential bid, his comments on voting have been strategic propaganda crafted for a white conservative base that fears not only white genocide and the “browning” of America, but also the impending loss of white supremacist institutional and political control.
All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2018
The Trump Administration and its supporters have been targeting people of color since the very beginning. Now they’re just being more honest about it. Trump’s above “voter fraud” tweet is an intimidation tactic, to scare the people his administration has already wrongfully targeted, people who already have immense anxiety about being detained or arrested or even killed by law enforcement. And we know they don’t need any proof to charge or kill us. They already get away with it every day.
The Republican Party’s policies are oppressive and designed to keep cis straight Christian white men wealthy and in power. They don’t align with the needs of QT/BIPOC, or the poor millennials who inch closer to what should be our retirement as we drown in the debt from predatory student loans, or current college students who tend to have more liberal politics. They know this. They know that their policies only work for themselves, but they don’t care about anyone else. They know that they can’t appeal to us with their policies, so their strategy is to instead be honest with their supporters about their intentions while manipulating their power to keep poor people of color and young leftists from voting.
There was never a question about what “Make America Great Again” means and who it is meant for. It’s to make sure that this country is a safe Haven for white men like Trump and his ilk to freely take from and terrorize everyone else, because they feel we are all beneath them. What put Trump and people like him in office is not “apathetic” or “socially irresponsible” poor people of color. It’s racist white voters and policy-makers. And yet, the gaslighting narratives shaming non-voters continue, without doing a single bit of work to contextualize voter suppression, how bad it really is in this country, and how it impacts already marginalized people the most.
Liberal discourse emphasizes the importance of voting and voting for democratic party candidates as being the adequate, reformist solution to the oppressive forces which define the United States. In fact, for generations, grassroots, civil rights movements and actions aimed at securing the liberation of Black, Indigenous, people of color’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, working class people’s rights and basic needs, have been met with much resistance and violence from liberals who consistently warn that a push too far left is too divisive or not what is quite needed. The liberal goal of upholding capitalism and prioritizing wealth growth of the very few over the rights of the oppressed has put a spotlight on the many ways in which democratic candidates and liberals have failed to understand (or care) about how crucial it is to dismantle oppression rather than simply restructuring it. A neoliberal, capitalist society isn’t worth voting for when it is just the other side of the fascist coin.
Rather than tackling the many ways in which candidates for office fail to embody the interests of the marginalized in the U.S., rather than tackling rampant voter suppression and it’s long and lasting legacy-by-design, liberals are ignoring their own failures and pointing the blame at disenfranchised communities who have never been adequately represented in our government. It’s easier to shame BIPOC for not voting than it is to question the ways in which the U.S. government was built to disenfranchise us, and it is certainly easier for liberals to view non-voters as unpatriotic as opposed to questioning patriotism and nationalism, as well as loyalty to a corrupt and imperialist nation. Voter suppression tactics have always been employed either insidiously or blatantly here in the U.S., and it hasn’t decreased or dissipated — we saw it with the 2000 Presidential election in Florida, and studies prove that voter suppression helped Trump win in 2016.
Southern states like Georgia and North Carolina have been especially egregious and transparent in their attempts to suppress voters of color. In Louisville, a bus packed with Black senior citizens was prevented from going to the polls last week. According to county officials, going to the polls in such a way constituted a form of “political activity” that is apparently prohibited by laws. The organization recognized this as an “intimidation tactic”, and they are not wrong because white Republican Georgians are invested in keeping Stacey Abrams from winning. She aims to be the first ever Black woman governor in the American South, and had accused Brian Kemp and the state of Georgia of unlawfully purging millions of voters while also intentionally closing polling places in Black communities over the last six years. This is a fair and believable accusation, as it has recently been reported that Georgia has essentially thrown the absentee ballots of Black and Asian voters in the trash. According to a Palast Investigative Fund analysis, Georgia Sec. of State Brian Kemp’s office improperly purged 340,134 people from voter rolls by claiming that they moved, even though they still live at their registered addresses.
As for North Carolina, it has long been a battleground for voting rights. In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act and since then, North Carolina has consistently been assaulted by attempts to suppress Black peoples’ votes. In 2016, state Republicans passed a law with five provisions which limited early voting hours and excluded forms of identification which would heavily affect Black voters. Later, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the measure in 2016 because it “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Since then, republicans have renewed their efforts to limit the forms of acceptable I.D. under the guise of voter fraud and limited early voting, shutting down voting the weekend before the mid-terms, which disproportionately affects Black voters. In the 2012 election, 29% of early voters and 34% same-day registrants were Black — North Carolina’s new law would eliminate same-day voting and early voting which also puts an end to Sunday voting, blocking the “Souls to the Polls” voter tradition of Black church attendees voting together after church.
North Carolina's stated reason for shutting down Sunday voting was that counties with heavy Sunday voting were disproportionately African-American, and that African-Americans tended to be Democrats. https://t.co/sbvHZUqWKO pic.twitter.com/jwU3E5cJlx
— Harold Pollack (@haroldpollack) October 15, 2018
But, of course, it is not limited to these states, or to this voting cycle. In 2016, white supremacist organizations throughout the country—the Oath Keepers, the National Socialist Movement, the Ku Klux Klan, and the American Freedom Party—openly announced their plans to monitor polling places as supporters of the Trump campaign. They said “monitor”, but what they really did was serve as a threatening presence for voters of color, Black voters especially. Their actions and intentions call back to the violent policing of polls in the 19th and 20th centuries, when many Black people were assaulted or even lynched for trying to vote. It’s only been 54 years since Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney were murdered by the KKK for registering Black people to vote.
White supremacists intentionally making it more difficult and inconvenient for people of color to vote, and there are many ways Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are currently being disenfranchised, suppressed, and intimidated by white people and institutionalized white supremacy.
Currently in Texas, an example is being made out of Crystal Mason, a Black woman who now faces more than five years in prison for a casting vote that was never even counted, because she was unaware that her felony charge prohibited her from voting. Felony disenfranchisement keeps 1 in 13 Black adults from voting—that’s millions of people. With the aid of the deeply anti-Black prison industrial complex, Black people in the U.S. are more than 4x more likely to be disenfranchised than other people of voting age. As for Black Americans who can vote, white Republicans often direct propaganda towards them to garner support for their own candidates, hiring Black conservatives, like the Breitbart-recruited Bruce Carter, to deliver their carefully curated messages, even using racially-charged threats to deter Black voters from Democratic candidates.
This is a real radio ad currently running in Arkansas in support of Republican Congressman French Hill on radio stations targeted to the African American community. I don't even have words to describe it. pic.twitter.com/vpzt1nGPlc
— Ben Tribbett (@notlarrysabato) October 18, 2018
Republicans use anything and everything to their advantage, to ultimately make access to voting easier, more convenient, and less time-consuming for their own supporters and harder for their opponents, including exploiting the Americans With Disabilities Act. Polling places in predominantly Black and Native American counties are being closed ahead of November’s election, with the county officials citing their non-compliance with the Disabilities Act because they lack requirements such as evenly-paved parking lots, designated parking for disabled citizens, entrance ramps, wider-than-standard doorways, and more. What they won’t acknowledge is the fact that polling places in areas that cater to BIPOC are never given the funding or resources needed in order to meet these costly requirements in the first place. The county officials, very likely intentionally, failed to provide these services and are now aiding in the disenfranchisement of BIPOC because they are lacking.
In early October, a Supreme Court decision purposely disenfranchised North Dakota’s Native American population by instituting a strict voter I.D. law requiring a full street address when 35% of Native Americans in the state don’t have one, relying primarily on PO boxes. This isn’t coincidental. Home to five reservations, Native Americans in North Dakota vote primarily for Democrats and Senator Heidi Heitkamp won the last election in 2012 by less than 3000 votes, thanks in part to Native American voters. According to FiveThirtyEight, North Dakota’s voters are the most powerful in the country and a vote in North Dakota has more influence on which party will control the Senate majority than a vote in any other state.
Voter suppression has been part of the American political fabric for a very long time, and we cannot even hope to enumerate all of the ways in which its corruption has manifested and touched our lives in this single essay. In their effort to Make America Great Again, Republicans are ramping up their mission to disenfranchise the people who oppose them and their oppressive politics.
And if they lose, they will find a way to call into question the integrity of the votes. Trump will continue to beat his “voter fraud” drum. His followers will echo his lies. They will disregard the law and deny citizen rights to get what they want. Because this is how fascists operate. Trump is a white supremacist, and white supremacy is a narcissistic fantasy. He will do everything in his power to play out that fantasy, including stripping power from the people he hates.
The next time you have questions about “how we got here”, make sure you’re asking the white Americans who not only voted for Trump but who also support the people and systems aiding in his mission. Ask white people about their vote and hold them accountable instead of accosting the marginalized people who suffer the most under this administration and Republican policies. In other words: Don’t you dare blame disenfranchised people for what white supremacy is responsible for.
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