2016 Presidential Election

Black Votes Don’t Matter

The GOP is doubling down, half-heartedly courting votes of people of color while making sure most of us can't get to the polls. Will it work?

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If you can count on the GOP for one thing, it’s that they’re consistent. And consistently terrifying. It’s almost amusing to watch the desperate way they’re “doubling down on whiteness”—in what looks like their last hurrah before darkness falls.

So focused on the rhetorical race to the bottom are Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and the rest of their bigoted kin—along with the spectacle of the House Speaker race—that many folks haven’t noticed that the GOP ain’t just talking like its the 1950s. 

Jim Crow is alive and well, y’all.

The GOP is engaging in their usual shenanigans in their pathetic grab for voters of color. Did y’all see how Trump staged that creepy gropefest with an overly excited Latina supporter at a campaign rally in Vegas the other day? And then, over the weekend, Trump met with Black real-estate mogul Herman Cain and a group of Black pastors in Norcross, Georgia, to pray, discuss his 9-9-9 tax plan, and find out how to gain more support from Black voters.

The optics allow the GOP to say: “Look, we’re not racist. We’ve got Ben Carson, Herman Cain, and Black pastors on our side, and by the way, Latinos love us!”

Smoke and mirrors. ¡Es una mierda pura!

Of course, Trump is tokenizing these supporters of color. But all that tokenizing isn’t going to help him when the GOP is suppressing the Black vote.

Yes, we’re here again, and we have SCOTUS to thank for making it possible two years ago when they took out one of the key elements of the Voting Rights Act. And true to their racist heritage, the GOP is using it to the hilt, working overtime to deny people of color from exercising their right to vote, producing its own real-life sequel to Ava Duvernay’s Selma before our eyes.

Last week, state officials in Alabama announced its plans to close 31 part-time driver’s license offices due to “budget cuts.” Not surprisingly, the decision will leave mostly poor and Black Democratic-leaning residents unable to secure the necessary ID required to vote.

Fear of the Black vote. Fear of the power of Black citizenry. In America, it is clear that Black votes, rights, and lives don’t matter. And so what we’re witnessing in Alabama is the new millennium equivalent of grandfather clauses and literacy tests.            

These in-your-face racist moves are meant to keep power in hands of the few. The DMV closures are taken right from the pages from the Jim Crow–era White segregationists, who closed schools, pools, and other services to prevent integration. These latest proposed closures are indicative of a wholesale divestment in services for those the GOP consider to be working against their agenda.

These racists are not subtle—they are not even trying to be covert. Their arrogance makes them believe that they are above the law and entitled to do whatever their rotten hearts desire. 

The GOP has maintained that voter ID laws are necessary to prevent fraud. You know, to keep dead people and so-called “illegal aliens” from voting, to keep people from voting in more than one place, or voting where they don’t live, or voting multiple times in the same election, or providing false information to election officials. Never mind that these fears tend to be over-exaggerated. In 2014, Justin Levitt, a professor with Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, produced a comprehensive study on voter fraud and only found 31 credible instances of voter fraud out of 1 billion ballots cast.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has denied the racial implications of the DMV closures. But history has shown us how ubiquitous these practices are, from poll taxes to literacy tests.  If it walks like a racist, talks like a racist, and disenfranchises like a racist, well then race matters. 

Republicans don’t want full voter participation. And specifically, they don’t want African Americans, who are historically Democratic voters, to vote. Never have; never well. The impact of these DMV office closures mean that poor folks are less likely to have their own car or other documents necessary to obtain a state-issued ID. The Washington Post reported that every county in which Black voters comprise more than 75 percent of the voter rolls and the bulk of communities that overwhelmingly voted for President Obama in 2012, will see their driver’s-license offices close.

Fearing the dire consequences of voter-ID law and the closure of DMV offices across the state, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., wrote a letter to Alabama State Governor Robert Bentley. That letter explained that the 31 closures are predominantly in rural counties with large Black populations, high poverty rates, and little to no public transportation.

“By issuing driver’s licenses, these offices provide the most accessible way for Alabama’s Black residents to secure the most common form of photo identification (“photo ID”) required by state law, Alabama Code Section 17-9-30. By closing these offices, the State will drastically reduce the number of sites where potential voters can obtain photo ID, creating a substantial and disproportionate burden on Black people’s ability to participate in the political process in Alabama,” the letter said. The letter also noted that in 2014, Alabama began enforcing a photo ID law, which severely limits the forms of ID acceptable for voting. Alabama did so despite the state’s own analysis, which found that approximately 20 percent of registered voters, or 500,000 people, lack state driver’s licenses or non-driver photo voters.

As the Legal Defense Fund awaits a response from state officials, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) has formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s shuttering of driver’s license offices in several heavily Black counties, warning that the closures represents yet another obstacle to voting.

“These closures will potentially disenfranchise Alabama’s poor, elderly, disabled, and black communities,” wrote Rep. Terri Sewell in a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “To restrict the ability of any citizen to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process,” she wrote.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also sees the racist writing on the wall. She issued a statement Friday warning the driver’s license office closings are “only going to make it harder for people to vote,” and calling them “a blast from the Jim Crow past.”                 

That’s because it’s time for the overt. The GOP can feel their country slipping away and rapidly browning. With elections around the corner, these DMV office closures are part of a scheme to keep America—or at least its power—white. As with Loretta Lynch’s recent announcement that government will not be collecting statistics on police killings, the continued suppression of Black votes highlights the ways that “the state” continues to resist accountability to Black communities, even when they supposedly represent us.

It’s easy—too easy, really—to demonize Alabama. Their state motto is “We dare defend our rights.” Alabama is executing the national game plan, albeit with a face of arrogance that would make Bull Connor proud.

Black voters will not be alone in feeling the consequences of these attacks. The irony for the GOP and White supremacists is that you can’t disenfranchise Black folks without also screwing low-income Whites. History has taught us this truth.

At the height of disenfranchisement efforts throughout the early part of twentieth century, southern Whites were trapped in poverty for two generations. Compared to Whites across the nation, southern Whites had lower wages; their standards of living and literacy rates were significantly lower and their schools were more poorly funded. Voter suppression resulted in a silenced White majority, though not at level experienced by Blacks.

Even though the consequences of the GOP’s racist policies will invariably hurt people beyond their intended target (not only will Becky-Sue and Bobby-Joe have a difficult time voting but they too will have a hard time getting their driver’s licenses), the GOP-FOX propaganda machine is so tight that they have the poor Whites they’re screwing voting for them anyway, under the illusion that their whiteness is the ultimate redeemer. Cue Donald Trump.

None of this is surprising. The GOP, and the nation overall, is consistent in their failure to prosecute police killings, to gut the NRA, or curb voter disenfranchisement. But what about the federal government? Can’t it do something? Thanks to John Roberts and those other reactionary robes, the federal government has very limited power to protect voters of color in the South from the chicanery of their elected officials and institutions. 

This all leaves me feeling cynical and thinking about the words of the late brilliant legal mind Derrick Bell who wrote: “Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary ‘peaks of progress,’ short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance.”

White America and its GOP bidders have declared yet another war on Black America. Alabama, goddamn. America, goddamn.

We now know that the GOP no longer needs to pretend it won’t carry out its racist heritage without apology.

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