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We don’t like to talk about racism anymore. It seems taboo to play the race card in the educated circles. The Obama administration has stayed away from using harsh language when dealing with blatantly racist legislation, weather targeting immigrants or African American communities, on local, state and federal levels across the country.
But from where I sit in North Carolina, racism is alive and kicking – and has more power that I have ever known in my lifetime. We are regressing from 50+ years of progress, and let’s face it … this power surge started when our country elected a black president.
My mom is 70 years old next month. She marched with Dr. King. She drove into rural southern communities to register African American women to vote who had never had a white women come to their door before. She ducked bullets in Washington, DC while there were regular drive-bys attacking the Poor People’s Campaign office. I’m sure many of your parents also fought the war for equality in our country at different levels. We cannot forget this fight.
Many of our senior elected officials and major political donors were on the front lines of this revolution … on one side or another. They were our age and in the thick the real revolution for equal rights. It is critical that the youth vote remember that this war was fought in the lifetime of our senior legislators. They should know better – we should ALL know better - than to turn a blind eye to what is happening today.
I believe that by not talking about racism anymore we are giving power to those who do not value equality in our country. That is why I believe it is critical for us to pay attention. I’d like to tell you about what is going on in North Carolina today to illustrate my point:
Every 10 years state legislators use the opportunity to redistrict based on census data in their favor. The basic purpose of redistricting is usually at the forefront of the effort – to have the districts represent the demographics of the state. The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) isn’t even pretending to uphold that true purpose of redistricting. They have drawn lines that will put over half of the black population into 3 districts. The lines literally go in circles around poor neighborhoods, grouping them across counties instead of with their neighbors and towns. By limiting the races folks in these neighborhoods are able to influence, it is simply voter suppression based on race and class.
Voters and advocacy groups in NC filed two suits against the NCGA’s districts in the fall. Both suits claim that “ …Republican-written maps illegally cluster black voters to decrease their electoral power, cross too many county boundaries and split too many precincts.” The plaintiffs hope to push the NC primaries from May to September in order for the suit to be resolved. The timing of the suit could have a great effect on state and national politics as NC is an important swing state. The court is supposed to determine if the case will continue prior to the February filing date for candidates.
Reform of the Racial Justice Act of 2009
In 2009 legislation was enacted to protect NC inmates on death row from a sentence to death when race was a significant factor in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty. These inmates would not be released, but rather serve life sentences. This legislation was enacted simply because it was clear that racial prejudice played a role in the imposition of the death penalty in NC.
In 2011 the NCGA majority twisted the public understanding of this bill. They ran an aggressive PR campaign leading the public to believe that the bill allowed cases of convicted murders to be reopened and their guilt to be reexamined. A reform bill was written by the conservative majority on the premise that there was no discrimination in the death penalty. Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the reform bill. However, just after the 2012 New Year, the NCGA took advantage of the illness of three members and held a last minute midnight session to override the veto. Luckily the House votes were able to block the Senate override… for now.
The action of the Senate clearly indicates that they do not care about protecting citizens against racism. They do not care if the state kills people on a bias because of their race, despite clear research that NC prosecutors are twice as likely to strike black potential jury members and that NC juries are more than 2 ½ times more likely to sentence a defendant to death if the defendant is black.
Photo ID Bill
This summer many celebrated Gov. Perdue’s veto of the Photo ID Bill, a piece of voter suppression legislation that would have immediately disenfranchised half a million voters, most of which are poor minority voters. What people haven’t talked about is the fact that her veto was sustained in the NCGA with the support of conservative legislators – who through careful calculation passed the vote with just enough margin that it could come back to the floor at any moment. As we have seen the NCGA take advantage of illness and hold midnight sessions to pass racist legislation already this year, I'm terrified that their dirty governance will lead to the veto being overruled.
US Congressman David Price, who represents NC’s 4th District, along with 10 co-sponsors, introduced legislation in December to protect North Carolina and other states from voter suppression through state Voter ID legislation. While it is heartening to see federal attention to the crises we are facing in NC and around the country, it isn’t enough. We let our concern about Voter ID dissipate over the summer and stopped paying attention. We stopped being outraged. What better time for the NCGA to slide this legislation through at a midnight session?
North Carolina isn’t alone in these clearly racially motivated politics. They’re in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Arizona and many more states. Let us not forget that equality for women and African Americans in democracy was forged at state levels … and it can also be taken away by state legislators. We HAVE to pay attention, be outraged and have this conversation.
I recently heard a county official in Raleigh speak about the legacy our actions leave for future generations. We’ve lived in a world where equality was important – sure, we grew up with debates about affirmative action. But generally we’ve taken for granted that our country believes in equality despite the color of your skin. We let the dust settle on the fight for equality and now we are losing ground.
Redistricting across states will last for 10 years. That is 2 presidential elections and 3 midterm elections. Can North Carolina, or any other state, constitutionally deprive the minority population its voice for 10 years? The answer is simple, they WILL if we don’t stop them. Let’s work on the legacy we are leaving behind.
Racism in politics is alive and well. Don’t you think we should stop it?