In the past year, there have been a number of milestones achieved in racial justice. The fight for equality has brought to light some major challenges facing communities and individuals as people from diverse backgrounds work together towards change.
“The fight for racial justice has been a decades-long battle. But it’s also clear that the fight is far from over.” Read more in detail here: critical race theory.
CNN’s Brandon Tensley contributed to this report.
16th of December, 2021
This year, we saw the terrible force of wrath and bitterness.
Insurrectionists besieged the US Capitol, brandishing Confederate flags, in what amounted to an attack on multiracial democracy. Republican-controlled state legislatures passed legislation making voting more difficult for people of color, as well as waging a war on transgender children. Islamophobia was as strong as ever among the Republican Party.
Cruelty, of course, was not tolerated. For example, in the wake of the Atlanta massacre, which killed eight people, including six Asian women, people from all across the nation took to the streets to demand reform and oppose hatred. Despite this, 2021 was distinguished by a number of significant concerns, notably in the areas of race and equality.
I enlisted the help of specialists to investigate some of these challenges. They dissected some of the year’s most significant events and trends, reflecting on how they can shape race and equality discussions as we move into the new year.
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The impact of eye-opening visuals
Tomiko Brown-Nagin is the author of this piece.
In 2021, the importance of visuals in furthering justice hit me once again. The footage of the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery were among the most powerful instances.
In the battle for equal justice under the law and civil rights in the United States, which is a focus of my research, images have historically been catalysts for change. President John F. Kennedy was “sickened” by photographs of police brutality against nonviolent marchers in Birmingham, and it stung the conscience of Whites who had disregarded the horrors of segregation, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The film of what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” when protestors marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and were assaulted by law enforcement officials, helped shift the tide in the fight to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Ordinary individuals with mobile phones have seen racial violence in recent years and posted their recordings on social media, bringing injustice to the forefront. Photos and videos have cultivated empathy and shown to be effective tools for keeping violent abusers accountable. The world—and the jury that convicted Derek Chauvin—saw footage of Floyd’s murder. The senior assistant district attorney in Cobb County seems to have played a key role in the successful conviction of Arbery’s murders.
Images of Black pain, on the other hand, have the potential to normalize it, further depreciating Black lives. Nonetheless, the democratization of the tools for capturing and disseminating photographs has made it more difficult for racial violence to thrive in the shadows.
Images that awaken the senses may occasionally help rectify wrongs, restoring hope that “these days of difficulty” might help “make America what it ought to be,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked on the night of his murder in Memphis in 1968.
Tomiko Brown-Nagin is the head of Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Harvard Law School’s Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law.
In a new garb, racial animosity
Angie Maxwell wrote this article.
In 2021, one of the most disturbing memories I have is of watching elementary school parents berating my family’s local school board members about so-called “Critical Race Theory,” and hearing their supporters cheer and applaud from the lobby hallway where they had been relegated for refusing to wear masks.
Their responses varied from boilerplate talking lines I recognized as coming from the national conservative groups responsible for the anti-CRT hysteria to rambling diatribes against masks, vaccinations, globalism, and government “co-parenting.” Although the material that was being thrown at these people was untrue, I could see that their emotional responses to it—mostly rage—were quite genuine.
Racial animosity is a highly addictive substance. When you mix in a general sense of (faux) entitlement, hatred born of decades of “us vs. them” polarization (including the working mom/stay-at-home mom wars), and a dash of Christian nationalism, the result is a potent cocktail that makes wild conspiracy theories plausible, lost causes winnable, and democracies vulnerable.
The fact that this seductive mix for racial animosity isn’t new is maybe the most troubling aspect. On the menu, it now has a fancy new moniker, and too many Republican leaders will continue to offer it to their supporters in the next year.
Angie Maxwell is a political science associate professor at the University of Arkansas.
The never-ending drive to suppress the votes of certain Americans
Johnson, Theodore R.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states implemented legislation making it more difficult to vote this year alone. Not only were there changes to mail-in balloting, stronger voter identification requirements, and voter purges, but some states also started criminalizing specific behaviors that help others vote, such as bringing out water to voters in line or assisting those who need assistance returning votes. Many of these new regulations disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic people.
Voting rights groups will not only have to continue opposing these restrictive legislation in legislatures and courts in the next year. They’ll need to launch a large-scale, long-term mobilization drive among minority groups. Educating voters about suppression tactics and how to overcome them has demonstrated a political reality: high Black and Hispanic turnout changes election outcomes. From the Georgia senatorial runoffs in January to the 2020 presidential election and the 2017 senatorial special election in Alabama, educating voters about suppression tactics and how to overcome them has demonstrated a political reality: high Black and Hispanic turnout changes election outcomes.
Those who say that voting fraud is the fundamental danger to democracy are on the opposite side of the discussion. However, research has proven that it is very unusual. Others argue that voter suppression is a hoax, citing greater voting participation among Black voters as proof that the problem isn’t genuine. However, what they are observing is not the absence of restrictive legislation, but rather how knowledge and Black people’ steadfast commitment to engage in democracy may mitigate the impact of voter suppression.
The urge to restrict the votes of certain Americans hasn’t gone away in 2021. The effort of voting rights activists to educate the public on how to overcome the undemocratic gamesmanship that is occurring throughout the nation, as well as the unfair demand that communities of color work extra hard to cast a vote, will likely determine the outcome of elections in the next year. This is not how a democracy should be managed.
Theodore R. Johnson is the head of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Fellows Program.
Jim Crow laws and white vigilantes
Andra Gillespie contributed to this article.
The Ahmaud Arbery case was a flashback to the terrible old days of Jim Crow, from the manner of the killing to the alleged cover-up (the first prosecutors refused to pursue the murders and reportedly buried evidence that showed the case needed inquiry). White vigilantes, aided by the state, were able to frighten Black people in order to preserve a social and racial hierarchy by demonstrating authority.
Because this case appeared to be a throwback, with a 911 call from one of the defendants describing “a Black man running down the street” as a crime, a defense lawyer attempting to bar Black ministers from the courtroom, and another defense attorney claiming that Arbery couldn’t have been out for a jog because he had “long, dirty toenails,” convicting Travis, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan was a simple decision. It was, in fact, a call that most Americans supported. Although the judgment will not bring their son back, I hope it provides Arbery’s parents with some closure.
The rest of us, on the other hand, should not be satisfied. Three vigilantes who murdered a Black guy in cold blood were easily convicted. Combating racism that shows in less evident, more subtle ways is a struggle. Are we willing to look into our standard operating procedures if we discover that they consistently discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities? CNN recently featured a Black couple who employed White acquaintances as decoys to reveal that appraisers undervalued their property by over $500,000. In addition, there is an ongoing argument in K-12 schools over how to educate about racism, which reflects broader issues about how much to teach about slavery, discrimination, and privilege.
So, although we—represented by 12 courageous jurors in coastal Georgia—got the Arbery judgment right, we still have a long way to go before we can be free of America’s founding sin of racism.
Andra Gillespie is an Emory University assistant professor of political science.
An illiberal minority in control of the majority
Lee Drutman contributed to this article.
The year 2021 was a difficult one for American democracy. Republican state legislatures throughout the nation have approved substantial changes to voting regulations, giving partisan legislators greater control over impartial election administrators and restricting voting options (such as postal ballots) that are more likely to assist Democrats vote.
With the newest round of severe gerrymandering and the Democrats’ inability to implement genuine democratic reform, we’re on the verge of minority rule. More precisely, in 2024, Democrats may easily win the national popular vote for president, Senate, and House—yet Republicans might still take control of the government as a whole.
This sort of minority power is much more dangerous than it seems. Republicans would not only govern by representing a small minority of people (mostly White conservatives), but they would also be governed by an extreme illiberal fringe with clear minority backing.
In a contemporary democracy, how is such minority rule possible?
Our outmoded voting system, which depends on single-winner, majoritarian elections, is to blame. Many Americans who have voted under these restrictions their whole lives may think this is normal. However, by reducing third parties to spoilers and wasted votes, these single-winner elections firmly establish a two-party system. These voting laws fuel our poisonous hyper-partisan polarization, which is layered on top of today’s profound urban-rural party divide and deep identity differences. This approach significantly over-represents the country’s most rural and conservative areas. In a two-party democracy, a minority may dominate if it is well-positioned to be a majority inside one of the two main parties—as the Republican Party’s illiberal group is currently.
There is no way out of this doom spiral as long as we keep our two-party system and the winner-take-all election institutions that erect significant hurdles to new parties. The only way ahead is for revolutionary electoral change to take place: proportional representation, which will allow new parties to enter the political arena while ensuring that an intolerant minority cannot achieve a majority of seats.
Lee Drutman is a senior fellow at New America’s Political Reform Program.
The Republican Party’s wide acceptance of Islamophobia
Deepa Kumar contributed to this article.
When Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado labeled Muslim Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota “evil” and “blackhearted,” and claimed she was a terrorist, the GOP leadership remained silent. This exposed just how widespread Islamophobia has grown inside the party and among its supporters.
Donald Trump may be credited for making outright right-wing Islamophobia acceptable.
Trump is widely regarded as the most Islamophobic president in American history. In his assaults on Barack Obama, he campaigned on a platform that included anti-immigrant, anti-Black, and anti-Muslim prejudice.
The birtherism conspiracy theory stated that Obama was born in Kenya and hence could not be president, that he was not Christian but Muslim, and that he was devoted to Muslim governments rather than the United States. Trump and Fox News propagated the birtherism conspiracy theory. These assertions were untrue, yet they contributed to Trump’s rise in popularity.
Trump blatantly relied on anti-Muslim prejudice as he approached his presidential campaign. He promised to evict all Syrian refugees during a rally in New Hampshire, claiming that they may assemble a secret army to overthrow the US. Once in power, he imposed a “Muslim ban” that barred individuals from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the country.
Trump legitimized obvious right-wing Islamophobia by shredding the dog whistle methods his party used following the civil rights struggle as part of the “Southern Strategy.” This has long been the domain of the Islamophobic network, a confederation of well-funded organizations that peddled anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
Other Republicans carried on Trump’s legacy in 2021.
In addition to the above, Boebert claimed Omar was a member of a “jihad squad.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, not to be outdone, labeled Omar “bloodthirsty” and “essentially an advocate for Islamic terrorism.” The GOP leadership remained deafeningly silent in response to these remarks.
Deepa Kumar is a Rutgers University professor of journalism and media studies and author of “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire: Twenty Years After 9/11.”
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