Take your pick: Paula Deen or Voting Rights. I made my pick and it is the Voting Rights Act. Of course Paula Deen should not use derogatory language in talking about anyone. The environment for her staff should be one that is not fraught with negative behaviors. But she is one person with some employees who can choose to work for her or go elsewhere. People of color who are at risk because of the decision made last week by the Supreme Court cannot go elsewhere to exercise their democratic right to vote.
According to Chief Justice John Roberts, Our country has changed. There is no doubt these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.But four of the justices are not quite as convinced as Roberts that all is well.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke on behalf of Justices Sonia Sotomayer, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and herself. “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its failure to grasp why the Voting Rights Act has proven effective. The court seems to believe that the Voting Rights Act’s success in eliminating racist practices in 1965 means that those states who were previously mandated for preclearance at that time no longer need to do so. ...[We] are of the opinion that Congress’ decision to extend the act and keep the formula was a rational one.”In other words the Voting Rights Act provision which was struck down is still needed because there are folks who begin each day with thoughts about how to undermine the power base of African Americans and other people of color in this country.
Of course the most effective way to achieve that goal is to destabilize the electorate. Since the highest court in the land has sanctioned such behavior it should not take long for some states to roll out their destabilizing plans as they continue to seek ways to control the potential power that is present in the electorate of color.
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Of course as I said in the beginning of this piece, Paula Deen needs to clean up her act. But her bigoted acts are far less dangerous that the action taken by the Supreme Court. And all of the companies that have so quickly separated themselves from her lead me to wonder whether or not they were simply looking for a way to rid themselves of her. Their action in regard to Paula Deen is in many ways simply cosmetic.
It is easy for Wal-Mart to drop her line from their stores while continuing to practice behaviors that are indefensible in terms of their own employee relations. Though many of the companies that are so concerned about Deen, employ many folks who will be highly impacted by the potentially negative effects of the Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act, they are silent about it. But it could be costly for companies to speak up about this slap in the face to civil rights in America.
More than likely, speaking out about this would not be the most popular stance to hold. So it is easier to drop Deen than it is to take on an issue that will affect the political and social justice of millions of people. And it is not only these companies, there has been far too little said about the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the media and by others in this country who should be disturbed and outraged.
The Supreme Court could have done better, but since it didn’t it is up to us, the people, to let Congress know that we expect a remedy to come from it and that it needs to be sooner rather than later. It’s our watch and we can’t allow the gains of the past to be eroded inch by inch.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.