We Must Demand Race-Specific Policy Reforms in the 2016 Elections

by Jaimee A. Swift

The term “post-racial” became a common fixture in American society with the election of President Barack Hussein Obama as the first African-American president. Though President Obama’s election was thought to represent a milestone in race-relations, the idealism of race-transcendence has become an ingrained fallacy in the minds of many. With this mindset, some representatives of the American political spectrum believe race-hostilities are less blatant and a kind-of, sort-of socio-economic and political playing field has been provided to the historically disenfranchised and perpetually marginalized.

Here, the notions of universalism are now applied, and the civil rights policies that many African-Americans fought and died for are now becoming diluted. For example, in April 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in public college admissions, which ultimately thwarts the diversity-flow in its school. In 2013, the Supreme Court also abolished the Section 4 preclearance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which now allows nine Southern states the ability to alter their voting regulations without federal approval.

With these color-blind changes in civil rights policies, there is a fear among many African-Americans that these initiatives will ultimately be castrated, which completely undermines the tireless work for equality that Blacks have fought and died for. All in all, the call for post-racial or race-neutral policies aims to be a tool to disregard racism under the guise of ‘progressive’ politics.

However, the question that must be answered is: Who is ultimately benefitting from these so-called progressive/race-neutral policies? Certainly not members of the Black community. Just as political scientist and author Frederick C. Harris states in his book, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics, “not every issue facing Black communities fits under the rubric of universalism.”

Although Harris notes that issues such as access to health care or “tuition free-education at public colleges and universities” are clearly inclusive to all Americans, he also poses excellent questions to combat the idealism of universal politics when made applicable to the Black community. He writes:
But what should be the political strategy for issues that overwhelmingly disproportionately affect blacks such as mass incarceration? What, for instance, would a national anti-racial profiling act – a law that would ban [and] prohibit police from profiling individuals because of their race – look like under the principle of universalism? Does the principle of color-blindness in advocating issues and policies that are rooted in racial bias actually continue to perpetuate racial inequality by ignoring it or burying it under the rug?

And does ignoring the persistence of racial inequalities capitulate to the idea that the United States has become a color-blind society, a concept that declares that race does not – or should not – matter in law and policy making?
As Harris notes, these policies ignore the historical remnants and current manifestations of systemic racism against African-Americans, which are embedded in every facet of society. Therefore, the absence of race-consciousness is therefore racism, as it denies social justice to those deliberately, historically, presently, and consistently bastardized by the system. However, if race-consciousness and race-specificity were acknowledged in the American political sphere, it would imply a systematic flaw within the societal, political, and economic paradigm of the United States—and not merely a defect in some of the individuals that comprise it—which is why the American political system finds it difficult to implement race-specific policies.

However, with the upcoming elections, the American political system needs to execute race-specific policies as a means to address structural racism that pervades our societal landscape. Although the list of policies that need to be implemented for the Black community are seemingly endless, here are three provisions that are needed for the contemporary quest for Black justice and equality:

1. Policies that address the extrajudicial killings of African-American men and women.

Now more than ever, in wake of Sandra Bland, India Clarke, Ralkina Jones, Kindra Chapman, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, and the countless other innocent Black people who have died at the hands of state-sanctioned violence, there needs to be substantive stratagem that addresses the historical and contemporary extrajudicial executions of Black people. This policy would address the prejudicial and discriminatory practices initiated by law enforcement and should include reformation of racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, and the precursors for probable cause, as well as improving police indictment and conviction stipulations.

In terms of the extensive objectivity of the use of force that officers have when claiming their lives are in danger, there needs to be a restructuring to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1989 Graham v. Connor case, which allows “the reasonableness of a particular use of force [to be judged] by the perspective from a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than 20/20 vision of hindsight.” In terms of Black lives, this reform would attempt to investigate the true impetus of the force, instead of police officers using the prejudice of their word and shields to cover their racial bias.

2. The reinstatement of the Section 4 Preclearance of the Voting Rights Act.

In April 2013, the Supreme Court eradicated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which served as a pivotal civil rights law that required certain states must gain a preclearance from a federal government or court before altering their voting laws due to the institutionalized prevalence of racial discrimination in voting. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Shelby County v. Holder was unconstitutional due to the notions that race-relations had “changed dramatically” in the South and that the formula behind the act was archaic.

Now, states no longer have to abide by the preclearance ruling and can change laws how they see fit. Southern states such as Texas, Florida and Mississippi have implemented the voter identification requirement. Unbeknown to the Supreme Court Justices, racial discrimination in voting is still very alive in every crevice of the United States of America. The eradication of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act serves is a discriminatory mechanism steeped in racial bias and serves as a mechanism to block access to Blacks and other peoples of color to the polls.

3. Policies that address the mass incarceration of Black men and women.

Although the media heavily discusses the chronic nature of the mass incarceration of Black men, Black women, along with Latina women, fall privy to the pitfalls and prejudices of the prison industrial complex. According to the Huffington Post article, “Mass Incarceration’s Impact on Black and Latino Women and Children”, “Black women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated in prison or jailed and Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely to be institutionalized.” There are about 745,000 Black males incarcerated in the United States, “which is more than the total prison populations in India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined.”

The statistics on the incarceration of Black men and Black and Latino women are extremely disconcerting and raise serious questions to the modern-day enslavement of Black and Brown lives. Prison reforms must be implemented to address police discriminating policies as well as the processes of sentencing of people of color and the contemporary nuances of disenfranchisement of Black men and Black women.

These three prospective race-specific policies, however, are only the beginning to the substantive approaches that are needed to combat institutional racism. Although this is a call for the United States to come to internal and external grips to the obvious modern manifestations of racism, the American government must realize that Blacks have not and will not stop fighting for the proverbial self-evident truths embedded in the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. A revolutionary paradigm shift in American policy in regards to race and racism must be instituted -- or Black people will keep bringin’ the noise until it does.

Jaimee A. Swift is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University, with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, respectively. A writer and truth-seeker at heart, Swift is contributing writer at For Harriet. You can follow her on Twitter @jaimeeswift.

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