|Attorney General Jim Hood is the|
only Democrat in Mississippi to
hold statewide elected office.
The high court, led by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, seems prepared to strike down Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prevents states with god-awful racial pasts like Mississippi from making changes to election procedures without federal approval. That's why Mississippi's voter ID law, which amounted to a modern day poll tax, was blocked from taking effect before last year's election.
Conservatives argue that, while Section 5 may have been necessary in the past at a time when overt racism was commonly put into law, Mississippi has since moved on and left its dark past behind; now we're colorblind just like everyone else! From USA Today:
"In his 2008 speech on race, Obama quoted the writer William Faulkner, a Mississippi native: 'The past is never dead. It's not even past.'
Hogwash, says former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a Republican who spoke in 2004 at an event in Philadelphia to mark the 40th anniversary of the 'Freedom Summer' murders.
'Over 50 years, we've gotten that behind us,' Barbour says, insisting that the South deserves equal treatment. 'The same rules ought to apply to Massachusetts, Minnesota and Montana that apply to Mississippi.'"So now we're moving on from State's Rights to state personhood; that is, since Mississippi has now officially ratified the 13th Amendment and officially outlawed slavery (yes, that happened last month), racism is dead and the question is no longer whether we treat racial minorities equally; the question is whether the United States treats Mississippi equally.
But how can it? Were it not for the Voting Rights Act, there likely wouldn't be a single black or Democratic U.S. Congressperson from the State of Mississippi – the state with the largest African American population in the country. Instead, Mississippi – like Alabama, South Carolina, and Louisiana – has one black Congressman representing one majority black district. And that's because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires minorities to be given even so much as a fair shot at representation. Were it not for the Voting Rights Act, it's quite easy to see a scenario where black Mississippians would be redistricted out of any sort of national representation; just look at recent state redistricting for a teaser.
Opponents to the Voting Rights Act argue that, because Mississippi actually has the most black elected officials in the country (29% of legislators are black), our state is in a better shape when it comes to our racial stigma than progressives are willing to let on. Yet the 29% figure only serves to indicate that the Voting Rights Act is working as intended. After all, while 29% may seem like a big number, 37% of the Mississippi population is black, which means there remains a significant disparity.
Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood joined California, New York and North Carolina in filing briefs to the Supreme Court in support of Section 5. "Pre-clearance has historically been a vital safeguard, and it remains today an essential tool for preventing voting discrimination," the brief argued. McComb's weekly newspaper, The Enterprise-Journal, couldn't believe Hood's audacity, whining:
"Jim Hood doesn't think his fellow Mississippians can be trusted to run elections fairly. Even with more black elected officials than any state in the country, even with courthouses and city halls around the state under majority-black control, the Democratic attorney general still believes that Mississippi could revert back to its segregationist past if left to its own devices."First of all, if black people really controlled so much of Mississippi's state government, Jim Hood wouldn't be the only statewide elected Democrat in Mississippi. But secondly, to be honest, why should Jim Hood trust us? And why should anyone believe that Mississippi wouldn't revert to segregation era policies (albeit under the guise of shiny new motives)?
Mississippi's past isn't just in the past. Even when black people are elected in Mississippi, it's almost always by other black Mississippians. White Mississippians simply don't vote for black candidates, no matter what:
Elections are still driven by racially polarized voting, and most white voters do not vote for black candidates in black-white elections no matter their qualifications. [In statewide elections in 2003], the state's forty-six-year old Director of the Department of Finance and Administration, a black man named Gary Anderson, was defeated in the State Treasurer's race by a twenty-nine-year-old white bank employee who had no experience in governmental finance.There are many reasons to believe Mississippi hasn't moved beyond its racial past.
You could consider the fact, that although we just ratified the 13th Amendment to officially join the rest of the Union in outlawing slavery, the Mississippi flag still retains the symbol of the Confederacy in its upper left hand corner.
Or you could consider the fact that, in 2011, Public Policy Polling found that 46% of Mississippi Republicans want interracial marriage banned.
Or how, also in 2011, a black man named James C. Anderson was murdered by a mob of angry white teenagers in Jackson who had said they were looking for a "nigger" they could "mess with." They shouted "white power" as they beat him.
Or you could consider the fact that, in response to Obama's re-election, hundreds of students at Ole Miss rioted and shouted racial slurs, fifty years after anti-black riots on the campus that occurred as segregationist Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett personally sought to stop James Meredith from becoming the university's first black student.
Or you could consider the fact that, in Mississippi, black people earn only 69% as much as whites earn (nationally it's 80%).
|The pecan tree where 17-year-old Raynard |
Johnson was found hanging from outside
his parents' house in Kokomo, Miss.
Or you could consider something that it's a little more personal: You could grow up here with an awareness of the world around you. In 2000, I was still in elementary school when a neighbor in Kokomo, Mississippi walked outside one morning to find his son, 17-year-old Raynard Johnson, hanging in a tree by a belt in the front yard of his house. Despite all evidence to the contrary, police were quick to rule the death a suicide and sweep it under the rug. To this day, there has been no justice for Raynard and likely never will be. That's a lynching, folks, a lynching that happened right down the street from me at the dawn of the new millennium.
Mississippi, no, you're not ready. You've got a lot more to prove. But don't worry. There's a growing progressive movement here that is working – quite hard – to help you grow up so that, one day, you'll be worthy of the big boy bike.