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Posts Tagged ‘voter suppression’

Y’all need to quit picking on Shelby County.

It’ll be hard, I know. Any part of the South that challenges any part of the Voting Rights Act would seem to be asking for it.

That’s just it, though: it’s low-hanging fruit. It’s a comedy goldmine. It’s too easy, since it fits so neatly into so many preconceptions. The jokes practically write themselves:

Weekend Update’s “Really?” on the Voting Rights Act

The Daily Show’s “Ballots of the Southern Wild”

I’m not saying the South’s not the “Michael Jordan of racism,” and I’m the last person who’d say we should look away, Dixieland, from what white Southerners did not all that long ago.

If we’re going to talk about – or even just joke about – the Shelby County case, though, can we acknowledge that they’re not challenging the Voting Rights Act, but only Sections 4(b) and 5, which require all or parts of 16 states to get federal permission to make any changes to how they conduct their elections? Can we give more than passing mention to the fact that New York, California, and New Hampshire are bound by the same Section 5 provisions as Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana? Can we admit, after the voter suppression efforts in those Dixie-fried backwaters Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan, that maybe Shelby County’s case shouldn’t be that they don’t need those Voting Rights Act safeguards anymore, but that the rest of the nation does, too?

(While we’re at it, could someone at NPR learn the correct way to pronounce Calera?)

Could Jon Stewart and Seth Myers look a few dozen blocks uptown, to the Manhattan deli where Forest freakin’ Whitaker was stopped and frisked and suspected of shoplifting, and then do more than shrug it off with the suggestion – if not the assertion – that while, sure, our part of the country has its racism, the South’s racism used to be a whole lot worse, and that make ours’ OK?  Can we recognize that the South has always been shot through with dissenters, or even that nowadays many in the South are only recently Southern, and are that only in terms of geography?

Or are we going to keep on making lazy assumptions about an entire group of people, counting on the unreflective acceptance of condescending stereotypes, many of which were derived from the effects of disparity in economics and opportunity, and doing so in large part because the handy demonization of the ‘other’ helps distract from inequalities and injustices within the larger cultural group?

‘Cause, you know, if there’s anything the South has proved it can do, it’s that.

Whatever the outcome of the Shelby County case, whatever the legalities affirmed or denied by the decision, it brings up a question of conscience and myth, the question this blog, in one way or another, is always asking: What claims does the past have on the present?

Almost all of legal segregation’s last defenders are dead and buried, but their children and heirs – literal and metaphorical – are still very much among us. Is it fair, then, to worry that the Shelby County challenge is Jim Crow’s first step out of the grave? Would we find it as worrisome (or as funny) if the challenge came from somewhere other than the heart of the Heart of Dixie, the suburbs of what once was “Bombingham”?  (Someplace like, say, Charlotte, the New South’s gleaming “Banktown” and host to the party of Barack Obama – even though it, too, did not make it through the Civil Rights Era unbombed?)

If you’re going to lay claim to any pride in the place you’re from, or in the happenstance of being from that place, you have to accept some shame for its faults and crimes, as well.

I feel shame for the South’s racial past, but not guilt. What practical obligations do I then have? What should I do, other than know the history, face the history, and tell the history, square and true, and do whatever little bit I can to keep the worst of it from happening again?

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