Racism 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 this 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
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 Nevada and Ohio, 17,000 and 35,000
challenges were filed, respectively,
disproportionately in urban areas. (Over 17,000 of
the Ohio 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
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 batch.
"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 hearing website.
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 Florida.
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.
Racism is best known among white folks for the overt