In a country whose history has been built on racial segregation, disenfranchisement of minorities and immoral treatment of individual human rights, we are still questioning whether legislation is needed to prevent another outbreak of discouraging African Americans from using their voting privileges.
The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments from both sides about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was primarily intended to secure the voting rights of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. An Alabama lawyer, Justice Antonin Scalia, claimed that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a “racial entitlement.” There have been so many complaints about African Americans being “entitled” to certain things such as Black History Month and historically black colleges, but can you really blame them, though?
A black person’s American experience has included a long history of going through over 200 years of enslavement as well as discrimination against them through brutal restrictions on their rights and privileges as citizens. After going through such times, is it really wrong to have an act of legislation to prevent history from repeating itself?
By even discussing whether to challenge the Voting Act of 1965, our government is declaring that racism does not exist anymore in America. Challenging the idea that this voting act is necessary is the government’s way of ignoring the reality. Racism still exists to this day. It may not be to the extent that it was 200 years ago, but it is still alive and kicking. Just because many leaders fought against racial injustice doesn’t mean that the fight is over. Just because America has a black president does not mean racism has finally been extinguished.
Racism is still an issue that has not been fully resolved. The KKK is still functional. Just recently at Oberlin College, racial slurs were posted around the campus and there were sightings of people dressed in white robes similar to the KKK. Racism has been ignored for too long, and the consequences are starting to show. This is especially evident in the South — the same South that Justice Antonin Scalia claims is not in need of any legislative guidance to resolve such an issue. This is the same South where civil rights workers were murdered for trying to register voters before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. This is the same South where one of its states, Mississippi, just recently ratified its amendment that abolishes slavery.
The government refuses to acknowledge that legislature plays a huge role in placing the idea of racism into the minds of our society. America’s own laws encourage racism to occur through its own law enforcement. Let’s not forget Arizona’s immigration law, which allowed police officers to stop anyone if there was “reasonable suspicion” that a person may have illegal status, making Latinos a huge target. Would you be surprised to know that Justice Antonin Scalia voted to pass the Arizona immigration law in its entirety as well? (The majority of the Supreme Court voted against some stricter provisions.) How can we say that such a legislative act is not needed when there are government officials who support such laws that encourage racism? These government officials have the power to make history repeat itself with the continuation of removing and placing laws that do not provide enough protection against racial injustice.
Wake up, America.
The longer we ignore the issue, the worse it will get. The Supreme Court needs to be aware that such laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 do more than just empower African American citizens to exercise their political privileges — these laws provide security and freedom to participate in decisions that affect all American citizens. In the end, isn’t that what America is all about? After all, you can’t go wrong with a little bit of extra protection. It’s like going out into the rain wearing a hoodie and still carrying an umbrella just in case.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is that umbrella that has the potential to back up the ambiguity of the Constitution and encourage African American citizens that they will not be hit by the rain called discrimination.
Tracey Onyenacho is a second- year film and media studies and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at email@example.com.