Monday, February 25, 2013

structural prejudices

it would be wonderful to be able to declare that racial tensions finally see a decline in this country.  but i would be lying if i wrote that.  as a young man having grown up in alabama, with the awful weight of a history of slavery, oppression, and violence, it seems to me that i should at this time, this many decades away from the marches in selma, that i should be able to say at least that things have changes, that things are different, that racism does not exist to the extent that it did.  it has come loudly to my attention recently that this is not true, that not enough has changed.

adam liptak, legal correspondent for the new york times, reported on a provision of the voting rights act that to be considered by the supreme court later this month.  the voting rights act of 1965 requires that the governments of several states obtain permission to change voting law and regulation.  the provision applies to alabama, alaska, arizona, georgia, louisiana, mississippi, south carolina, texas, and virginia and as well as certain other local governments in other states. i have heard the argument for a few years now that this part of the law should be retired, that the nation has moved past requiring such a provision, and that the law discriminates against southern states.

i wish this provision were not necessary or warranted.  liptak reports that in evergreen, alabama jerome gray was inappropriately culled from the distict's voter roll when a clerk reviewed the registry in comparison to utility records.  the federal court in mobile ruled that the city could not use the new registry as it had not been approved according to section 5 of the civil rights act by the department of justice or a federal court in washington, d.c.

liptak writes, "The court in Mobile this month said the case before it, concerning Evergreen, was simple: because the city had not obtained preclearance from federal authorities, it could not revise its voting list using utility records. Nor could it use a municipal redistricting plan enacted by the City Council that had concentrated black voters, who are in the majority, into just two of the five districts, limiting black voting power."

it seems insane that anyone still thinks they can get away with promoting disenfranchisement like this, even in alabama, but honestly it must happen all the time.  even if the motivations of such gerrymandering are political and not overtly racial, we still must conclude that these efforts are racist as someone can believe it is okay to take advantage of a black population for political gain.  and manipulation like this affects not just black communities in america, but communities of various ethnic groups and low income communities as well.

i find it frightening that instances of racism like this could be covered over, that we would never even catch such systemic disenfranchisement.  this change in regulation which would have greatly affected the voice and power of a community could have been accepted if it were not for a provision of the voting rights act, which some argue the south no longer needs.  this sort of political manipulation should not even be possible.

if these large acts of disempowerment exist in american politics, potentially without being noticed by a larger public, then how many small acts of racism get passed over and unacknowledged?  i think i must be guilty for not saying anything, for not doing anything, for not being aware enough.  this must be the first step for me as a caucasian american: awareness.

in another article yesterday from the new york times' series of philosophical articles, adam etinson writes about ethnocentrism.  he argues against thinking of ethnocentric morality as relative.  however, he does believe that in acknowledging the danger of ethnocentrism, in awareness, one can begin to deconstruction the morals we accept as objective in our life and begin to dig for deeper truth.

"[John Stewart] Mill is quick to acknowledge the 'magical influence of custom' on our thought, and the way in which local beliefs and practices inevitably appear to us to be “self-evident and self-justifying,” but he does not see this as a reason to lapse into skepticism. Instead, and quite reasonably, he takes it to be evidence of both our intellectual laziness and our fallibility — the ever-present possibility that our beliefs might be wrong. The fact that our deepest-held beliefs would be different had we been born elsewhere on the planet (or even, sometimes, to different parents farther down the street), should disconcert us, make us more open to the likelihood of our own error, and spur us to rigorously evaluate our beliefs and practices against alternatives, but it need not disillusion."

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