There has already been so much said about this in progressive circles that this will be brief. Nevertheless, it feels important to add another voice to the overall commentary about the two Supreme Court decisions of last week. Heartbreaking is the word that comes to mind as I ponder the inevitable racist consequences for people of color in this country as a result of the ruling on the Voting Rights Act. Infuriating, inconceivable, and outrageous are a few other words that come to mind. Justice Ginsberg, in her dissent, aptly noted that just because someone is not getting wet, does not mean you take away the umbrella that has for 48 years attempted to keep them dry. If the Supreme Court believes that “things have changed in this country” they only need to look at the immediate and substantial legislative and executive branch responses from the states previously covered under the Voting Rights Act. The pernicious nature of the disenfranchisement of people of color in this country is obvious to anyone thoughtful enough to read history and then watch the six major news networks…the comparison between the “then” and now is shocking – not much (if anything) has changed. For example, the Texas redistricting measures that were clearly identified as intentionally biased in favor of whites prior to the Court’s ruling, are now able to proceed and the further gerrymandering of votes away from communities of color and toward white state and federal legislators will continue. How the Court does not see this might well reflect the depth and breadth of the impact of whiteness on their minds and how it has limited their ability to see past the pseudo-post-racial US propaganda and instead recognize that racism and white privilege are alive and well in these United States. There is no question that this was a blow to communities of color in this country and as such it is critical that we not let it go unchallenged: a) step up the dialogue with those in our lives about the realities for people of color in the US and the extent of disenfranchisement still in place, b) redouble our efforts to get fair and equal access to the vote in all 50 states (pressure our leaders), and c) do every single thing we can to get folks to the polls in 2014 and 2016.
But the Court did not stop there, and this is the crux of why I’m writing this blog, the very next day they handed down a ruling that essentially invalidated DOMA and Prop 8 in California. Thus in the sweep of 24 hours people of color lost considerable (and perhaps the only) protections against one of the most basic and sacred rights in a democracy while LBGTQI folks gained access to one of the most powerful state-sanctioned institutions and all of the economic, social, and political benefits that arise from it. It was an incredible moment for LBGTQI people all over this country for as Justice Scalia prophesied (in his dissent) this set of rulings will most likely pave the way for LBGTQI folks throughout the US to have fair and equal access to the benefits of federally recognized marriage.
And yet, it was a bittersweet victory due to the ruling the day before. What I would have loved to have seen amidst the endless media coverage and interviews of white LBGTQI people was both a cheer for the equality of LBGTQI people and a stronger statement regarding the loss of rights for people of color. No one is free when others are oppressed. It is not lost on anyone that the plaintiffs regarding DOMA and Prop 8 were white people. And, it is also not lost on anyone that the primary beneficiaries of the legalizing of LBGTQI marriage are white people. Certainly there are ways that LBGTQI communities of color are served by this ruling and I’m not dismissing that, but overwhelmingly across the country the securing of LBGTQI marriage rights has largely been politicized, presented, and organized by and for white people.
I am going to assume that the court did not intend to create a dynamic where one group lost civil rights while another gained them the very next day, and yet intent matters little when the effects are so potentially polarizing. It would be all too easy for the dominant power structure to insidiously use these rulings as bait and fodder for division and derision among LBGTQI folks and folks of color (understanding that the dominant power structure does not even acknowledge people of color who are LBGTQI), and that simply cannot happen. The mainstream LBGTQI community in the US has fallen short countless times around issues of racial justice, as have various mainstream communities of color around LBGQI rights. Let us use this moment as a means to remember this history, see its poisonous implications for future organizing, and make a different choice. Thus, to the LBGTQI political, non-profit, community and educational leaders across the country, who also are often majority white, I implore you to acknowledge the travesty that happened to the Voting Rights Act and take a strong and immediate stand against the racism and white privilege that fuels rulings such as this and the overall disenfranchisement of people of color across the country. And to mainstream leaders of color across the country, I ask you to celebrate the Court’s ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 and honor it as one more step to full equality for LBGTQI folks throughout the country. Let us all remember that we crave justice and equality not for ourselves only, for that diminishes the very heart and corrodes the very spirit of “justice” and “equality”, but for the greater good and in the service of a society where all humans are free and equal and safe.
In closing, I am indeed celebrating one more step toward equality for LBGTQI people in this country and simultaneously beseech all of us who care about racial justice to use the momentum of this victory to not only fuel continued LBGTQI civil rights work, but also to fuel racial justice work and insure that the rights, safety and security of people of color in this country are achieved and secured for this and future generations.