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 the 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
and Ohio, 17,000 and 35,000 challenges were filed, respectively,
disproportionately in urban areas. (Over 17,000 of the
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
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
"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
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
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 Dimes Worth of
Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can
be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit his Peacefile weblog at:
Other Articles by Greg Moses
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