by Arlington County Democratic Committee Kip Malinosky
The dreadful murder of Heather Heyer and injuries of many more at the hands of white supremacists in Charlottesville is another brutal wakeup call about racism in America. There is a widespread myth in America that after the civil rights movement racism only lurks in the shadows of American life. In a particularly sinister form of this idea, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically” in a Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act. From classrooms to boardrooms, the idea that we can be color blind is expressed both as a principle and practice. It shouldn’t be. A willful ignorance toward race in America allows systemic racism to go unchecked and white supremacist groups to spread. Racism must be actively resisted in all its forms. How can this be done?
First, we need to honestly confront the past. There’s a reason white supremacists were rallying around Robert E Lee’s statue in Charlottesville: it’s a symbol of white supremacy. Statues of confederate generals dot Color blind no more the land not to commemorate those who served, but primarily to demonstrate the power of white supremacists during Jim Crow and “massive resistance” to the civil rights movement. As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, “These statues were a part of … terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.” It’s long past time for them all to come down.
Second, we must take on systemic racism. This is not as easy to spot as flag waving neo-confederates or torch bearing Nazis, but it’s arguably a larger problem. In President Obama’s “Amazing Grace” speech, after the murder of nine black church members by a white supremacist, he said, “Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.” A Harvard Business Review article makes the case that implicit bias can often be worse than explicit bias and people must implement policies to help create more diverse work forces and universities if implicit bias is to be overcome.
Third, we must strive to eliminate stealth racist policies, like felony disenfranchisement, voter suppression and racial gerrymandering in our politics. Governor McAuliffe has been a champion for the restoration of voting rights having given 156,221 former felons their voting rights back, but millions more across the country still can’t vote, according to the Brennan Center. Even more sinister is the myth of widespread voter fraud now peddled by Trump to push enactment of new voting
restrictions. Ari Berman has reported on one black man who brought three forms of ID with him to the polls and still wasn’t allowed to vote in Wisconsin after a strict photo ID law was passed. Nearly 11 percent of the population lacks a photo ID. Laws requiring photo IDs should be revoked.
And finally there is widespread racial/partisan gerrymandering done with laser-like precision in 2010, in which Ed Gillespie was a major architect. These efforts have greatly diluted the impact of black voters and cost Democrats a US House majority in 2012, depriving President Obama of a Congress that would work with him. There’s a major case before the Supreme Court that could bring about the end of partisan gerrymandering; let’s hope the court bends toward justice again. At the state level, we should push directly for nonpartisan redistricting.
Exorcising racism from American society is the work of generations, but it must be confronted honestly and with our eyes wide open.