On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act reducing the federal government’s role in overseeing voting laws in areas with a history of discrimination against people of color. Authoritative voices from across America had filed amicus briefs urging the court not to undermine this bedrock civil rights protection including the NAACP, Justice Department officials and U.S. senators and representatives; and many others.
As the LGBTQ community celebrates victories in United States v. Windsor (DOMA) and Hollingsworth v. Perry (Proposition 8), New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow reminds us of the importance of joining together in justice. “Racial hostility, homophobia and misogyny are braided together like strands of the same rope. When we fight one, we fight them all.”
“For decades, the Voting Rights Act combated racial discrimination at the polls,” writes Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “While much has changed over the last fifty years, we as a nation still have a long way to go. Legacies of racism live on. Just this past election, we witnessed firsthand how states attempted to disenfranchise Black voters. With the Court striking down such a central part of the Voting Rights Act, countless Americans will be subject to further discrimination. The Supreme Court’s decision is a grave disservice to our community and our nation as a whole.”
As coalitions fighting racial hostility, homophobia and misogyny, Blow calls us to struggle together and build a “majority minority country.” How do we see the sameness in our struggles, rather than the differences?
One movement for equality had its spirits lifted and another had them crushed.
But the truth is that these movements are not wholly dissimilar. All combatants for justice are cousins. Jim Crow and Jim Queer are of a kind. So, given what happened on the racial civil rights front this week, the LGBT civil rights movement would be wise to take heed.
Overcoming blatantly unconstitutional laws is only a first step in the never-ending march toward justice. It is in the decades that follow that discriminatory policies can become more illusory. That’s when, even if the net effect of a law is that it is discriminatory, the law itself may not be seen as such. In this murky period intent can be deemed unknowable and effect can be deemed inadvertent.
This is when the courts — and the law — can essentially say that if you can throw a rock and hide your hand, you can in turn hide your guilt. This is when personal discrimination fades into the fog of a more ominous and amorphous structural discrimination. This is when legacy injustice, which can reverberate for generations through a population, is assigned term limits. Fatigue grows in the wake of fairness.
That’s the fight equality movements must mount when they grow up — shadowboxing.
I sincerely believe that in my lifetime, gay marriage will be legal in the whole of the country. But it is unlikely that the LGBT community will become more than a minority group. I also know that the changing of laws does not work in tandem with the changing of hearts, which means that minority groups are always vulnerable. When the laws change, some things simply become subterfuge. In striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote, “things have changed dramatically.” But I submit that so have certain tactics.
Just ask black civil rights leaders still fighting a huge prison industrial complex, police policies like stop-and-frisk and predatory lending practices. Ask women’s rights leaders still fighting for equal pay, defending a woman’s right to sovereign authority of her own body — including full access to a wide range of reproductive options. Ask pro-immigration groups fighting a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.
To those celebrating the gay rights victory, this is your moment. Enjoy it. To racial diversity warriors, mourn. But not for long. In the morning we must all rise together and remember what Winston Churchill reportedly said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”