Truth in American politics today is often stranger than fiction. A vivid example: a rally organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP last weekend in Raleigh to protest a voter-identification requirement passed by the Republican-majority legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor. The protesters contended that being compelled to produce a photo ID would disenfranchise poor, elderly, and minority voters, rolling back the clock to the Jim Crow days of the racist South.
Yet here were the “Important Dos and Don’ts for Marchers.” After noting “This march and rally will be conducted in a peaceful and nonviolent manner in accordance with the historic custom of the civil-rights movement,” participants were told “DO bring photo identification (driver’s license, passport, or other valid photo ID) with you and keep on your person at all times.” So the Republicans in North Carolina were trying to disenfranchise blacks via voter-ID laws, but the state NAACP’s requirement of the same for marching in a protest rally is not offensive? Oh, the irony.
I wish those who proclaim to stand up for the rule of law would actually read the law of the land, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. In 2008, the High Court weighed in on whether states could legally require citizens to produce photo identification as a prerequisite to vote. In a 6-3 decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (553 U.S. 181), Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority that not only did states have a legitimate interest to prevent voter fraud through the use of voter identification, but that a state was able to do so even if one party supported such efforts during the legislative process while another party did not. Justice Stevens was also explicit in stating voter-ID laws didn’t amount to a poll tax.
So why would the North Carolina’s NAACP proclaim discrimination in requiring ID to vote when the group told its own marchers to do the same to join a protest? The answer? Politics—pure and simple.
Perhaps the origin of voter ID equals poll tax/racism theme may be placed at the doorstep of Eric Holder. America’s first black attorney general did a disservice to the country during the president’s reelection campaign in 2012 when he likened voter-ID laws to a poll tax. In a speech before the Texas NAACP, Holder said that in regard to voter-ID laws, “We call those poll taxes… I can assure you that the Justice Department’s efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive.” (Didn’t anyone in the AG’s office remind him about the Supreme Court ruling just four years prior?)
But once that door was opened, race instigators such as North Carolina NAACP Chapter President Rev. William Barber were all too happy to adopt the Republicans Are Trying to Roll Back the Clock theme. Rev. Barber encouraged participation in “civil disobedience” rallies during which hundreds of people were arrested. Prior to his paradoxical march against voter-ID laws last weekend, Rev. Barber had most recently been busy polarizing the races by offering the following commentary regarding South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican:
A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy…The extreme right wing down here [in South Carolina] finds a black guy to be senator and claims he’s the first black senator since Reconstruction and then he goes to Washington, D.C., and articulates the agenda of the Tea Party.”
For one who leads a chapter of an institution created to promote equality and eliminate racism in our society, it is sad to see Rev. Barber seeking to tear down the achievement of a black man from a differing political party with a different ideology. While Rev. Barber often invokes Dr. Martin Luther King in his remarks, perhaps he neglected to read King’s admonition: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
As America celebrates the important milestone of having elected and reelected its first black president, we can do better to have honest conversations on matters of race without accusing political opponents of being racist or seeking to usher in our darker days. Let’s instead be honest about America at this point in the 21st century: The civil-rights movement is over.
From the sweeping Brown v. Board of Education decision to integrate schools in 1954 to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, de jure discrimination is illegal in our 50 states. Does racism still exist in America? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. But to infer that America is as racist today or seeks to roll back the clock to the overt racism of the Jim Crow era through the use of voter-identification laws by individual states is both divisive and wrong.