Racism, justice, and the Voting Rights Act

This will be a fairly long post, and will address the recent Supreme Court hearings of Shelby County v. Holder, a legal challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It will also discuss racial privilege and the usage of the term ‘racism’- as well as judicial activism.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1870. It was the last of the “Reconstruction Amendments” that fundamentally changed how race was viewed in the eyes of the law. The Thirteenth Amendment, recently given spotlight as the focus of Spielberg’s blockbuster film Lincoln, abolished slavery. The Fourteenth is complex but contained the Due Process Clause, which led to protections of individual rights by applying the Bill of Rights to states in addition to the federal government.

The Fifteenth is about voting, as racial equality must also mean political equality. It reads:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

While this amendment was not truly realized until the civil right movement and federal intervention in the 1960s, it is key to understanding the debate about the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that exists, and the potentially drastic changes that could result from a Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.

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An alien across the overpass

I can safely predict that this will not be the last post about the five hours a week I volunteer for the Boys & Girls Clubs. The vault is already filled with captivating personalities, unusual conversations, and frequent meditations on chaos. Chaos is the best one-word description of what each day brings.

What strikes me about after-school program I work at is how alien the students and even the Boys & Girls Clubs can be. The focus is on high school graduation, as less than half of the students in the communities served are able to finish. Coming from independent private schools, it would have been utter madness to aim so low. Expectations started high and then were jacked even higher- advanced classes, SAT prep, college visits to the Ivy League and their kin. The question was about what high-power profession you desired after your posh education. It would not be an exaggeration to say that my first girlfriend was, and still is, an aristocrat- not only focused on wealth and influence, but to the point that lower rungs of society don’t exist.

Back in high school I considered myself socially conscious. My leftist politics emphasized egalitarianism, ending imperialism, and improving the lives of the poor and ostracized. However “minorities” was a demographic accompanied by a depressing statistic. I wasn’t referring to people I knew or had seen- I used the same tone to talk about nuclear weapons stockpiles.

I drive a couple miles, across a highway overpass into a small residential neighborhood. It’s the same city, with the same police, same recycling pickup, same city council. But there is one key difference.

I am a minority.

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