Race & Ethnicity

Sharia Scare in Tennessee

(Courtesy of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association)
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just outside Nashville, the Muslim community won a hard-fought victory Wednesday. After a two-year legal battle that inflamed anti-Islamic sentiment across the state, a federal judge ruled that a new Islamic community center could get the permits necessary to open. Elsewhere in the state, however, Muslim residents got a cold reminder this week of just how much prejudice exists around them. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a conservative Republican who's pro-life and anti-tax, is facing a chorus of angry voices from county Republican parties. It seems he's just not concerned enough about the threat of Sharia law. According to The Tennessean , Republicans in Stewart, Carroll, and Williamson counties passed resolutions criticizing Governor Haslam for hiring Samar Ali, a Tennessee native and Muslim American, as international director of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development. The Tennessean reports that six other counties have also adopted...

Don't Like Blacks? You'll Love Voter ID

Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress
Despite the rhetoric of GOP officials, it’s more than clear that voter ID laws are designed to depress turnout among traditionally Democratic groups. Attorney General Eric Holder has even gone so far as to attack the laws as glorified “ poll taxes ”—one of the mechanisms used during Jim Crow to keep African Americans from voting. Regardless of where you fall politically, it seems like this should be objectionable to everyone. The United States had a long and hard path to universal suffrage, and voter suppression is a direct challenge to the idea that everyone counts and everyone should have a say. Unfortunately, there is a real divide on the desirability of voter ID laws; according to the latest survey from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, support for voter identification is strongest among those who harbor negative opinions toward African Americans: To assess attitudes toward African Americans, all non-African Americans respondents in the poll were...

Fishing for Boos

(Flickr / jim.greenfield)
In early 1990, as the lackluster California governorship of the lackluster George Deukmejian was running down, the two Democratic front-runners to succeed him were Attorney General John Van de Kamp and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein—in that order. Then, at the state’s annual Democratic Party convention—a body with no nominating power (that was to be decided in a subsequent primary) but nonetheless a yearly gathering for liberal activists—Feinstein included in her speech a ringing, if otherwise gratuitous, endorsement of the death penalty. Predictably, the delegates booed her. Just as predictably, her standing in the polls quickly shot past Van de Kamp’s and she went on to win the Democratic primary (though she lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson). Make no mistake, though: She’d wanted those boos. She needed them to surge in the polls. It’s increasingly clear that Mitt Romney wanted the boos he got during his speech at yesterday’s NAACP convention, too. His...

Don't Blink

I've talked in the past about how unconscious bias works—and how it's an aspect of some very healthy parts of our brains and bodies. For very good reasons, we all navigate by intuition, habit, and practiced behaviors every single day. Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer have written about these neurological facts beautifully and well. Every parent knows how time-consuming it is to have to articulate and teach habits we don't even realize we navigate by. Walk on the right and pass on the left. The fork goes here and the knife and spoon go there. It's not polite to say that in public. You can't take that until you pay. Turn your head this way to breathe while you're swimming. That truck means that person delivers the mail. Don't talk back to the people in airport security. If our brains had to sort consciously through every action, behavior, and category (the way parents have to explain things all day) before we could act, we'd be paralyzed. If we didn't practice thinking in categories—...

Nine Percent of Pennsylvanians May Not Be Able to Vote for Lack of ID

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
The debate around voter ID laws is generally one about protection versus disenfranchisement. Advocates of the laws, which require photo identification to vote, often say the law won't have an impact anyone who's voting legally. In Pennsylvania, the Secretary of the Commonwealth assured lawmakers that 99 percent of voters in the state had the necessary identification, and promised that " No one entitled to vote will be denied that right by this bill. " Her views were echoed by Republican lawmakers throughout the state who pushed for the measure. You need a photo ID for everything these days, the logic seemed to go, so why not voting too? After all, who doesn't have a photo ID? Well, a lot of people. The Secretary of the Commonwealth put out a press release Tuesday announcing that 9 percent of registered voters didn't have photo IDs from the state Department of Transportation. Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which became law March of this year, allows voters to use a variety of types of...

If the Tibetan Can't Go to the Homeland...

As some of you know, there is far more to the Tibetan diaspora than the Dalai Lama. More than 200,000 refugees are living, sometimes stateless, in other countries. Tenzin Dorjee, whom I've mentioned here before, is the director of Students for a Free Tibet and one of the next generation of Tibetan leaders in exile. Last week, he wrote at The Huffington Post about an incredibly moving art project, conceived after activist and artist Tenzing Rigdol's father died in exile longing to see his homeland one more time: Rigdol was deeply affected by his father's untimely death, and devastated by his own helplessness in fulfilling his father's final wish. He could not stop agonizing over the idea that hundreds of other Tibetan exiles were going through the same denial of dignity, passing their final years in foreign lands.... Rigdol ... smuggled 20,000 kilograms of native Tibetan soil into India and laid it on a platform six feet high, creating an installation unprecedented in art history. For...

How Should Voter Purges Work?

(Flickr / dailyfortnight)
The mess that is Florida's voter-purge effort keeps growing by the day. Both the ACLU and the Department of Justice are suing the state, which in turn is suing the federal government. After the state's Division of Elections declared it had found around 182,000 noncitizens on voter rolls, the state sent letters to 2,600 people of them asking if they were citizens. Those who failed to respond risk being removed from the lists. The trouble, of course, is that 500 of them proved to be citizens . Less than 100 have so far been proved ineligible to vote. Because the list examines citizenship, Hatians and Latinos are disproportionately targeted. In the meantime, the 182,000-list looms in the background, though it has not been publicly released. As legal tensions boil over, the effort has been put on hold in just about every county . But with less than 90 days until the state's primaries, many worry there will be complications when people go to vote. The debacle, however, brings to mind a...

Wisconsin Recall: A Conservative Case for Election Day Registration

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
As the nation waited for the Wisconsin recall results to come in, Twitter began to light up with conservative claims of voter fraud. "Please @ me with any stories of #WI #WIrecall voter fraud," tweeted conservative radio host and pundit Dana Loesch around 11 a.m . She noted stories on busing voters in across state lines and on supposedly suspicious high turn-out rates. "It's not 'fraud' if you didn't cheat enough to rob voters of the lawmakers they choose," she wrote. Others joined in. "@GovWalker needs to make sure he wins by an amount greater than the margin of fraud," tweeted @RickMoore. "Early results show #TomBarrett leading #ScottWalker amongst dead voters, illegal aliens and cartoon characters," tweeted @rovibe71. "Dems really need to embrace honesty for 'change' and rename themselves 'The Vote Fraud Party". [sic] Disgusting" wrote @Furrystoat. These tweets all arrived as news was breaking of huge turnouts around the state and pundits were speculating about a close finish. When...

Texas GOP Holds Hispanics in Check

(Flickr/jmtimages)
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate. The recent spate of voter suppression laws tell another story and are often trotted out by liberals as the best evidence to highlight the continued need for Section Five. However today's primaries in Texas also offer a good test case for why the Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened rather than...

Obama Brings Conservatives Out of the Closet

(Flickr/dfarber)
Call it the Obama effect. Since Obama's pitch- perfect announcement about same-sex marriage, supporting marriage equality is becoming practically chic. A cascade of voices has come out of the closet in favor of it, and hardly anyone has noticed. Obama gave cover—and a little push—to anyone who'd been on the fence. Really, once the president of the United States has gone there, why should the news media pay attention to the thoughts of minor political figures like, oh, Senator Harry Reid , the highest-ranking Mormon in the U.S. government and someone who has just a teensy bit of power to decide whether the Respect for Marriage Act (which would repeal DOMA) moves through the Senate? Or to the fact that the NAACP, an organization with a little bit of history on civil rights, has declared that equal marriage is a just and urgent civil-rights cause, required under the Fourteenth Amendment? (By the way, I loved the fact that the NAACP got out in front of any black church leaders who might...

George Clooney Cares About It

Yesterday I wrote about the new global campaign to end rape in conflict, and why it's a winnable goal . Today, it's time to bring home the reasons why we need to put in the required effort. We’ve all got our lives to live and our own pet issues to look after, and it’s easy for those of us in the U.S. to think of “rape in conflict” as a conceptual "Terrible Thing" that happens to those Other (Poor, Brown) People Far Away. But when we tie it in a tidy little “Over There Issue” bow, we totally erase the ways it’s a "Right Here Issue," both in that we’re complicit in it, and, relatedly, that there are things we in the US can uniquely do about it. Herewith, then, are "Four Ways Rape in Conflict is a Right Here Issue." It’s by no means a complete list—if you’ve got others, please share them in the comments. It’s a crisis in our own military. One in three women in the military are survivors of sexual violations that happened while on active service, according the Department of Veterans...

In Voter ID Case, Court Tells Texas to Quit Stalling

(Flickr/whiteafrican)
In what read like a pretty clear smack-down, the federal court hearing the Texas voter ID case yesterday ordered the state to get its act together and quit stalling—or lose all hope of implementing a voter ID law by the November elections. The situation is somewhat ironic. Texas is suing the the Department of Justice since it did not approve the latest effort the state's voter ID law, among the most stringent in the nation. The DOJ argues the law will disproportionately impact minority voters. The state is racing against the clock, hoping to implement the law in time for the November elections—with the rather obvious subtext that this law will benefit Republican candidates by suppressing turnout among poor and minority voters who are likely to vote Democratic. The DOJ tried to delay the court date, set for July 9, but the court refused. Since then, however, the order said, "Defendants have worked tirelessly in discovery so that this case may be tried the week of July 9, 2012." The...

Fear of a Black Polity

(Wikipedia)
Once the general election kicked into gear, and it was clear that Barack Obama would have the overwhelming support of African American voters, a meme picked up among some white voters. “They’re only voting for him because he’s black.” This, of course, was at odds with the facts. Black voters were initially ambivalent toward the then-Senator, and only embraced him after the Iowa and South Carolina primaries. Moreover, by that point, African Americans had been loyal Democratic voters for four decades; their positive feelings may have stemmed from racial pride, but their material support everything to do with his political affiliation. Now that we’re in an election year, voters are beginning to reevaluate the president. And for some in crucial swing states like Ohio, his race has reemerged as a sticking point : “I’ll just come right out and say it: he was elected because of his race,” said Sara Reese, a bank employee who said she voted for Ralph Nader in 2008, even though she usually...

Voter ID's $7 Million Ohio Price Tag

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
The fight over voter identification laws generally gets debated over two major questions. 1) How important is it to stop in-person fraudulent voting (despite virtually no evidence that this is a problem)? And 2) How important is it to protect access to the ballot, particularly for those who have faced discrimination in the past? Poor and minority citizens are less likely to have photo IDs, meaning the laws may suppress voting among vulnerable communities. Though there are obvious partisan implications, voter ID debates are generally moral debates about the nature of voting and citizenship. But in Ohio, where lawmakers are considering a strict photo-ID requirement, one think-tank took a different approach: Just how much will this whole thing cost? Turns out quite a bit. According to a report from Policy Matters Ohio, the measure would likely cost the state up to $7 million. From the report: Assuming the lower $8.50 per-ID cost (the current cost of a state ID in Ohio), the total cost...

Arizona Asks the Court Not to Trust the Feds

(Krista Kennell/Sipa Press)
This term’s last oral argument ends next week with yet another blockbuster case— Arizona v. United States , the challenge to Arizona’s harshly anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 . This case poses vitally important questions about individual rights, racial profiling, and the future of individual equality in the United States. But don’t expect to hear them argued openly next week. Instead, arguments will be couched almost entirely in the language of “federal preemption,” a subject so abstruse and technical that it induces coma in even the hardiest law-review editors. But lurking underneath the talk of “conflict preemption” and cigarette-labeling statutes are issues of human equality and the emerging constitutional question of our time: When, if ever, are Congress and the executive branch owed deference by the states and by their special protector, the Roberts Court? The issue is whether four sections of S.B. 1070 usurp the federal government’s role in regulating immigration matters—a power the...

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