Until we Americans deal with the color of our moral compass,“liberty and justice for all” will continue to apply to some, but not all, Americans.
Although major political candidates and their parties pontificate about America as the moral protector and leader of the world, many of us (particularly people of color) had a very different experience when we tried to register to vote and get our votes counted in this election.
This election dramatically demonstrated that racism remains alive and well in our country. Racism still clouds our judgment and persuades people to act against their own best interests. It still diverts attention from critical issues and injustices that impact everyone. It still serves as a means to divide natural allies. It still alienates Americans from their own moral compass. It still acts as a weapon to silence protest.
As the drama of this election has unfolded, it has become apparent that it is still not the right of every American to vote. In particular, people of color have been targeted for voter intimidation and disenfranchisement. The brazenness of these acts, committed by private political organizations, partisan judges and government officials is shocking. The realization that they can be so bold because no one in leadership anywhere in the U.S. will seriously challenge them is both deeply wounding for people of color and frightening for us all.
We are wounded because the allies with whom people of color have been working side by side for months really have betrayed us with silence. We are frightened because these allies don’t even realize that our mutual fates are intertwined. They have seceded political power that won’t be easily regained. They have sacrificed constituencies and power bases that they really need. And they have betrayed the integrity of their party and their own moral compass that were a source of strength and identity.
Republicans have overtly attacked the rights of people to vote, and have been very calculating in focusing on people of color. Democrats have pretended they don’t see what’s happening. They are hesitant to challenge irregularities and reluctant to demand justice. Translation: they consider people of color expendable, pawns rather than individuals who deserve justice and an equal place at the governing table.
When this betrayal happened in the 2000 election, the Democratic Party stood by, silent in Dade County, in the media, in the Congress and in the courts. No person of color will ever forget the parade of African Americans coming before the Congress to ask for justice—an inquiry into voting irregularities in Florida--and not one Democratic senator standing up on our behalf. On that day, people of color lost, the Democrats lost, and democracy lost. And here we are again. Where is the outcry?
How the U.S. treats its people of color is the real America, unmasked. For people of color, there is something chillingly familiar about the army of challengers intimidating brown and black voters at the polls, the shortage of polling places and machines in black and brown communities, the erroneous purging of voter rolls targeting African Americans, and numerous other actions that form a national pattern of racial discrimination.
Until we heal this sickness of racism, America will never be free. That which is so difficult for Americans to face, is so obvious to the rest the world. We will heal this spiritual wound or fall as so many nations have before us.
Republicans must confront their racism. So much of what makes George Bush popular is the subliminal message (responding to the subliminal hope) that he can return America to a time of white supremacy, a time of entitlement, domination and power without accountability. This kind of thinking is responsible for very dangerous choices Americans are making in the world community today.
Democrats must heal their racism—fearful of what their neighbors will think by being affiliated with “those people” that they will deny people of color in a heartbeat if they must choose between a vote and what’s right.
Progressives must challenge their racism—their persistent belief that race can wait until more important issues are handled, and failing to realize that the predominant white leadership has a lot it can learn from the survival knowledge of people of color. They must be willing to share power with people of color.
We people of color must value ourselves more. We need to dig deeper into building our own base of power—determine how we can leverage our political and economic power to advance our interests. We must organize our communities more effectively, strengthen our internal institutions, and culturally and spiritually heal and empower our people. We must withdraw our support from those who don’t support us. We need to get smarter, tougher and more strategic in the political process, and not sell ourselves cheap. We have paid for this right to vote in blood—our votes should dearly cost the person who wants them.
Those who seek a just and free society must unmask the dirty tricks of racism and partisan politics. Our coalitions must take all necessary measures to ensure that everyone can vote and every vote is counted. We must not allow code words for racism to pass as civil discourse. It is racism that is always politically incorrect—not we who speak truth to power.
We must take racism out of congressional districting and electoral policy. We must investigate the attacks on the right to vote and prosecute them to the fullest. We must push for federal voting standards and procedures. We must insist on a paper trail for every vote.
Will color continue to define the America’s moral compass? We cannot hope and wait for either party to stand up for what is right; we must take responsibility for the justice we seek. People of color have overcome slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, deportation and roundups. We will press forward with great spirit, perseverance and effectiveness to secure our rights. We challenge our fellow Americans to stand with us so that the colors—red, white, and blue—truly mean liberty and justice for all.
Eisha Mason is the
Executive Director at the
Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence. She can be reached at