With the Supreme Court expected to strike down a key piece of the Voting Rights Act later this year, now is a crucial moment for discussing Section 5's inarguable successes both in terms of civil rights and in improving the economic lives of Southern blacks.
Gavin Wright, a professor of American economic history at Stanford, has spent his career studying the economics of slavery, segregation, and the historical Southern economy. His recent book, Sharing the Prize, documents the economic impact that the civil rights acts of the mid-1960s had on Southerners, black and white.
At this point, it's almost a cliché to declare "There are more black men in jail than in college." I've heard it my entire life—from adults, friends, politicians, and assorted pundits. When he was just a presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama told the NAACP that "We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America."
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice.
I mentioned in my previous post that the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act this week. At issue is Section 5 of the law, which requires states and localities with histories of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that effect voting with the federal government. The provision effects nine states—mostly in the South—and most areas that submit for pre-clearance are approved—it takes serious problems for the Justice Department to put changes on hold.
That there's a gap between black and white wealth is nothing new. Researchers have studied it for decades, people have lived it for longer, and comedians—from Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle—have used it to craft biting humor. What's novel is the extent to which its has exploded over the last 25 years.
Last week, the storied New York LGBT Center refused award-winning queer writer and activist Sarah Schulman a chance to read from her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International. In doing so, the organization cited the Center’s “moratorium” on using the center to "organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” in place since early 2011 purportedly to maintain the Center as a "safe space" for both Jews and Arabs. On Monday, they relaxed the moratorium, though it remains unclear whether Schulman will be allowed to read.
AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford, Pool
When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016.
A few weeks ago, I noted the extent to which President Obama’s push for immigration reform created real tension with some African Americans, who see Latino immigrants as direct competitors for jobs and other resources. Writing for McClatchy, William Douglas and Franco Ordonez examine this tension, highlighting Al Sharpton (who supports immigration reform) and a radio host whose listenership oppose new immigration:
Apropos of this morning’s post on the Democratic Party’s overwhelming strength with Asian Americans, it’s worth looking at why Asians are so supportive of Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular.
Still overlooked in the immigration discussion are Asian Americans, who are the fastest growing demographic group in the country—and one of the most diverse. The bulk of Asian American immigrants (83 percent) come from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. At present, they’re 5.8 percent of the total population, nearly half of whom live in the West, with a large concentration on the Pacific coast. Seventy-four percent of Asian American adults were born outside of the United States, and in 2009—according to the Pew Research Center—Asian American immigration outpaced Hispanic immigration for the first time in recent history:
The rapid rise of Florida Senator Marco Rubio makes one thing clear about the Republican Party—they’ve convinced themselves that outreach (or the lack thereof) is their issue with Latinos. Solve the communications problem—with gentler language and high-status Hispanic politicians—and you’ll solve the electoral problem.
Barack Obama would have lost the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections had a new set of voters not joined the American electorate—voters who brought with them a range of values that differed sharply from those of more traditional voters. These changing values—on such issues as personal social responsibility, the role of government, sexual mores, gender roles, and America’s place in the world—underpin the decisions these voters made on Election Day and provide a basis for understanding Obama’s victory. They also signify profound changes to American politics and pose elemental challenges to both the Republican and Democratic parties in coming years.
Every community has its problems. It’s only among African Americans, however, that those problems are pathologized and turned into a symptom of “culture.” Crime against neighbors becomes “black-on-black” crime, the predictable patterns of poor communities becomes a “culture of dependency,” and the usual teasing of grade school—where nerdy kids become targets of ridicule—is used as evidence of an anti-education pathology among African Americans.
In 1994, University of Michigan rejected Jennifer Gratz, setting in motion the overturning of University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions policy. Now she's challenging a black student who's protesting her own rejection.