Monday, January 17 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and GVSU is commemorating Dr. King this week with a series of events, presentations and workshops, many of which will be accessible remotely.
While King has advocated for deep and wide-ranging change in American politics, his ideas are often diluted into overly simple and meaningless messages. King wanted more than the United States for Americans to “not see color” or have a general awareness that racism is bad.
On MLK Day and throughout the year, many voices in American politics hijack King’s message. Some of the most concerning cases twist or re-contextualize his words to make the case for color-blind or “non-racist” policies and laws. In the realm of electoral reform, colorblind rhetoric often disguises targeted and discriminatory laws.
One of the most important messages of How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibrahim X. Kendi is the idea that simply “not being racist” is, ultimately, impossible. According to Kendi, there are policies that actively or passively reinforce racism in institutions, and there are policies that actively undermine or challenge racism in institutions, without an intermediary.
In “Framework for voting restrictionsDavid J. Barney and Jesse H. Rhodes identify colorblind rhetoric as one of multiple frameworks used by policymakers to deflect accusations that these bills perpetuate racial injustice.
As Barney and Rhodes describe it, color blindness “avoids explicitly discussing the racial factors that play a significant role in determining elite and mass support for restrictive policies, providing the public with an alternative, appealing, and seemingly unwarranted reason. racialized to support these measures. ”
After the 2020 election, in which former President Donald Trump and many other conservative leaders pushed a false narrative of massive voter fraud, a wave of restrictive election laws swept the country. Many of these electoral reform laws limit access to ballot boxes for people of color.
This new wave of electoral reform targets postal voting, which allows people who have to go to work or school on election day to vote, and even prevents volunteers from delivering water to people waiting to vote. long hours to vote. These policies make the whole voting process more difficult, limiting how and where people can vote.
With the pressure for stricter elections continues in 2022 (across the country and in Michigan, in particular), people should expect to hear more “non-racist” rhetoric defending these tough bills. Many well-meaning but ill-informed voters may not be aware of the negative impacts these bills will have.
Fortunately, GVSU is actively combating these unfair electoral reform policies and working to raise awareness of systemic racism with guest speakers and workshops, as well as expanding community access to the ballot box. Going forward, GVSU will offer on-campus voting for all upcoming elections. (While students can only register to vote at one address, students can register to vote with either their on-campus or off-campus residence address.)
Honoring Dr. King’s legacy is a monumental challenge, and the way his dream is currently understood by many, it will never truly be realized. Being “non-racist” and color blind is easy. Anti-racism is difficult. However, by pursuing the complex truth of its message and working to see racial injustice encoded in the laws and norms of the United States, some GVSU students and faculty are making an effort.