Racism is best known among white folks for the overt ways that bigotry chooses to abuse. This is what allows white liberals to excuse themselves from charges that they are racist, because (God bless ’em) they don’t set out to hurt anybody. But Ralph Ellison titled his classic novel Invisible Man, because racism is a grim problem also of what white folks do not see. And this problem persists insufferably, right down to this morning’s news.
On this day after the election-fraud hearings led by John Conyers and his Democratic colleagues at the Judiciary Committee, I am beginning to feel the effects of racism’s one-two punch. On the overt side, we have the written testimony of Judith A. Browne, acting co-director of the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C.
For Browne, whose testimony to the Conyers committee is posted online, “voters of color” have been targets of Republican-led disenfranchisement in the elections of 2000 and 2004.
“In 2004,” writes Brown, “it became clear that there were efforts underway to dust off Reconstruction Era statutes in order to disenfranchise voters, particularly minority voters.”
“There were clear warnings that challenges would be used to disenfranchise voters,” says Browne. “Prior to Election Day in Nevada and Ohio, 17,000 and 35,000 challenges were filed, respectively, disproportionately in urban areas. (Over 17,000 of the Ohio challenges were filed in Cuyahoga County.) In addition, poll observers registered in unprecedented numbers in Florida and Ohio, with the intent to engage in massive challenges inside polling places.”
Browne is referring to laws that allow pollwatchers to act as self-deputized vigilantes at voting precincts, thrusting their bodies between ballot boxes and voters, demanding proofs of identification and registration.
If you have never seen this process at work, then you might not feel the nausea. But I have seen them, the close shaven, starched-pants Republicans who show up on election day to a black community center and lean over old women with their dirty questions. Makes you want to spank them on their freshly cut heads. Didn’t their mothers teach them no manners?
“The targets,” Browne reports, “were new voters in urban areas.” Or to put it more plainly, new Black voters, the “Vote or Die” crowd that P-Diddy was trying to mobilize.
Add to this the “felon purge” technique, in which Republican Party officials, knowing that they are working with “felon” lists “tainted by racial discrimination”, set out to challenge thousands of voters by the batch.
“This,” says Brown, “is voter suppression in 2004.” And this is what we may call racism of the overt bigotry kind. Racism type one. On this form of racism, Browne’s statement continues for several more pages at the Conyers hearing website.
Which brings us to racism type two, the invisibility maneuver. For this type of racism, it’s best to begin with liberal columnists. Scan their morning-after reports for words like “minority”, “black”, “civil rights.” Or try this Google test. First do a news search for Conyers hearings. Very good, lots of fresh hits. Now try a news search for Judith Browne Advancement Project under “News.” See there. Your search did not match any documents (at 9:25 am CST).
Overt racism by right-wing Republicans is the core dynamic at work here, but it is aided and abetted by invisibility racism found in left commentators and media reports, who fail to center the civil rights struggle. An issue that is clearly about racism and civil rights has been whitewashed into “voter fraud” generica. Type one racism answered with type two. Browne’s careful citation of race-based discrimination followed by Browne’s invisibility in the press. The one-two punch continues.
There may not be much that can happen to change the results of the presidential election, so the whitewashing of “election fraud” may not have an immediate consequence for those who are focused on the Bush machine today. But here in Texas, Republicans are taking three newly elected Democrats into a costly process of hearings before a Republican-controlled chamber. “Election fraud” is the allegation that Republicans are bringing against the Democrats.
In Texas, therefore, the generic cry of “election fraud” will very likely make invisible the crucial civil rights component that ties together the fates of three would-be state legislators with racist powers in Ohio and Florida.
In particular, take the case of Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant who beat a Republican powerhouse by about 30 votes. If the Vo election is overturned by a Republican-led Legislature on whitewashed charges of “election fraud”, then the losers will be a coalition of urban voters who worked hard on this grassroots coup. And the winners will be white suburban voters, again.
Yet, if the pattern of injustice in “voter fraud” is a pattern that seeks to favor white suburban voters over struggling urban voters, wherever they are, then making this pattern visible, for once, could tip this 30 vote scale in Vo’s favor, and reverse for the first time in more than 30 years a steady trend toward Republican domination of Texas politics.
The white left is meaningless without a civil rights coalition. The sooner the white left embraces this, in deed and word, the sooner we’ll be able to see a real future in front of us. The sooner, also, that a national movement of progressives can make a real difference in the South.
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org