Racism as a persistent cancer of the American system, infecting the blood that runs through its democratic veins, is an idea that is not readily accepted by the White status quo. The dominant culture sees racism as some inconsequential strange and unique appendage of the Republic that can be severed, ignored, or accommodated with special considerations for the handicapped. So when Derrick Bell, a cerebral, Harvard legal scholar admired by President Obama, identified racism as a terminal disease that is permanent, many Whites went all Farrakhan on him. The media tied Obama to Bell in his Harvard years and pilloried the President with slurs that he is a racist.
Derrick Bell, deceased author and civil rights hero, is co-founder of a 1970s Critical Race Theory Movement that states:
l. “Racism is ordinary, not aberrational;"
2. "Our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material.”
Although the suggestion that racism persists as a permanent condition of American life is an anathema to most Whites, it resonates for many Black people who feel history’s long lash of slavery’s sting more than Dr. King’s moral arc of justice.
The injustice of racism is ironically swept behind bars. Its victims are the criminalized poor with the noose of the criminal justice system around their necks. Draconian drug laws, racist Supreme Court decisions, and predatory police have put over two million American prisoners behind bars. Seventy percent of those inmates are People of Color. Every 36 hours a Black person dies by the hand of the law’s loaded legal gun. Racism in the 21st century is not only persistent, if not permanent, it’s lethal.
Relief from Jim Crow injustice with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other civil rights victories did not preclude the thought that for the ex-slaves of the Republic, racism was not a permanent fixture. It did not mean that the front doors of the Massa’s house were fully opened. An end to institutional racism, a criminal economic and legal enterprise, is not about opening doors. It is about chipping away at the columns of White superiority and privilege, to bring down the entire mansion. If that house had been dismantled in the 20th century, in the 21st century we would not be revisiting the validity of the Voting Rights Act in a mixed-race Supreme Court which invites the fantasy of post-racial justice.
On the heels of the presidential election of 2012, where the attempt at voter suppression, particularly disenfranchisement of the Black vote, was sizzling headlines, we are actually considering that we no longer need Section Five of The Voting Rights Act. Section Five allows for fast-track justice to remove procedural voting impediments that could not otherwise be challenged in a timely fashion to overturn election tampering.
Voter suppression in 2012 was such an issue that Alternet.org reported:
For all of the efforts that Republicans put into suppressing Democratic votes in the presidential election of 2012, the result may prove to be the greatest turnout of African American voters ever. Exit polls show that the Black vote in this election appears to have exceeded the record high turnout of 2008, despite the fact that this year even more people had to wait on lines for hours, endured confusion at polling places, were told to produce IDs that the law does not require, and made to cast provisional ballots because of snafus at election sites.
And when Republicans’ policies made them the poster party for regressive rights and Confederate-style tantrums, rather than bring 19th century politics into the 21st century, they just decided to revert to that tried and true American way. Lies, trickery and theft. Since they couldn’t earn the votes of the multi-racial rainbow dominating the political landscape, they decided to tamper with the Electoral College to just rip them off.
In the year of the State of the Union where the president’s biggest applause line was for a 102-year-old Dessaline Victor who single-handedly faced down Republican attempts to disenfranchise her vote by standing in line for three hours, the Supreme Court justices are actually debating whether she needs the court to protect her fragile voting rights. This is a country that is reminding Dessaline that she doesn’t necessarily have to go around to the back-door of Massa’s house anymore, but if she goes to the front-door it opens to a carnival of fun-house mirrors.
How can Dessaline take heart in the re-election of an African American president who invited her to the State of the Union in a time when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke out against a racist comment made in a Texas court by a prosecutor. He said: “You've got African-Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you–a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, ‘This is a drug deal?’”
Seriously, are we really having to go to the land’s highest court to make sure that states with a racist history dating back to…well, this past election, have had a come to Jesus moment about immigrants and ex-slaves (not to mention ill-bred progeny). Ask Dessaline Victor standing tall like a beautiful sentinel of justice, if states don’t still need legal oversight to help pave her way to the voting booth.
After Obama’s reelection attended by secessionist/nullification/impeachment rhetoric, I was having Gone with the Wind flashbacks and picnic lynching with postcards palpitations. That is so 2013. And now I have to go back over 50 years to reconsider the Voting Rights Act to see if we still need to babysit racial animus trying to turn back the hands of time. As an African American living in the era of technological wizadry and Tarantino’s Django, I have to deal with being reduced to welfare “entitlement” cheat, drug-guzzling lazy ne’er do well, and affirmative-action-intellectually-inferior-baby-mama stealing educational slots for “well-deserving,” “hard-working Americans” (means White people, even if unemployed). I have to listen to Supreme Court Justice Scalia weigh in on the Voting Rights Act as a “racial entitlement” and Mitt Romney tell me that my Black president is giving me stuff.
So I reflect on Derrick Bell. I reflect on the permanence of racism. White people drunk on The Lone Ranger (Johnny Depp notwithstanding), manifest destiny, the enlightened rhetoric of the Bill of Rights, Obama’s “hope” mantra, and hey, the Ravens won the Super Bowl, get all nervous that Black people will finally give up on them. That we will just stop trying to be “equal” and just start being ourselves (really Chris Dorner pissed). That we won’t want to break the glass ceilings and rather want to break down the prison walls. That we’ll stop waiting for that invitation into White suburbia and take a day off working for Bank of America to hang out on Greenmount Avenue. I’m just saying…if racism is not permanent then it sure lasts a really long time.
Auset Marian Lewis has been writing and doing art most of her life. She was the first black female columnist for a Gannet newspaper in Wilmington Delaware, has won writing awards, has given political/social commentary on radio and t.v., has performed her poetry in venues from Yale University to homeless shelters in Baltimore, has been guest speaker at many events, and has given workshops on race relations and male/female relationships. Her written work reflects her political, social, and spiritual views. Adolph Hitler said, "What a great advantage for leaders that the people do not think." Auset tries to make them do just that. Her personal blog is "Words for Life."