Thistlethwaite: Jim Crow’s younger brother
The “America First Caucus” to promote “common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” was proposed and then withdrawn by Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Mark my words, it will be back.
This reference to “Anglo-Saxon” in particular was a trial balloon to test how far this country is willing to go in making racist politics totally explicit.
Furthermore, it is part of a comprehensive effort to make racist politics in this country not only explicit, but acceptable.
Racist politics have plagued this nation since the first race laws were enacted in the 17th century. Jim Crow, a term given to a more recent development, refers to the network of laws that often prevented African Americans from voting and restricted access to jobs, education and even movement from the end of Reconstruction to 1968.
Jim Crow’s younger brother can be seen in the (at least) 250 laws Republicans in 43 states have enacted or proposed that would restrict access to the vote for millions, placing hurdles in the way of voting particularly for African Americans, Latinx, the poor and younger voters.
This is a disastrous effort to turn back the clock. For all of our history, we have been engaged in a titanic struggle in one form or another not just over the vote, but to secure a profound moral principle: All are created equal human beings and have certain inalienable rights.
The new Jim Crow laws that are being enacted violate that moral principle.
Apparently, the members of the GOP have decided that too many people voted in 2020, especially people of color, and they largely did not vote for them. That’s the simple truth.
This is “Jim Crow in a suit” as Stacey Abrams, the Georgia politician and voting rights advocate, has said.
The first line of defense the GOP has leveled against this criticism of these restrictive laws has been a kind of “I’m shocked, shocked I tell you that you would even say this is Jim Crow!“
“[C]alumny” roared Henry Olsen in the Washington Post.
Olsen uses the completely discredited argument that these restrictive laws are actually to protect “election integrity.” Record turnout of voters produced no credible evidence of fraud. People just voted. That’s what Olsen and others don’t like.
But now, as we come to the end of April, the argument for the restrictive election laws has shifted. There is an offensive (in both sense of the term) effort to twist the argument to “Well, now, was Jim Crow so bad?”
“Why not fewer voters?” Kevin Williamson astonishingly argues in the National Review. Why believe that “having more people voting is a good thing?” Williamson asks. In fact, “Why shouldn’t we believe the opposite? That the republic would be better served by having fewer — but better — voters?”
There it is. The “better voters” argument that depends on a mythical “Anglo-Saxon” racial designation. There is no such thing. Get one of those testing kits and run your own DNA. Everybody is a lot of everything, as I learned in writing and editing the book, “Adam, Eve, and the Genome: The Human Genome and Theology.”
These developments really are Jim Crow’s younger brother. “Better” is code for those who self-designate white, and not even all whites. The author thinks that raising the voting age to 30 is a good idea. In other words, younger people who will have to live with the catastrophic effects of disastrous climate change policy cannot be allowed to vote for those who might work to save the planet.
“Better” used to be code for “white men.” I’m a woman and women like me have had the right to vote for barely 100 years. But not all women could vote, not by a long shot. The Jim Crow laws that extended from after Reconstruction to 1968 excluded African American women.
There are not two classes of human beings, the “better” and the “worse.” There are only human beings, and if they are citizens of adult age in this country, they get to vote.
This “better voters” argument is born in pure paranoia by self-designated white Americans who fear they will be “replaced” by a more diverse demographic.
Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, was surprised to learn, despite so much debunking of the economic argument on Trump supporters, that the domestic terrorists (he calls them insurrectionists) who attacked the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 were not acting out of economic anxiety, but out of racial anxiety.
In his by now well-known Op-Ed for The Washington Post, Pape determined the rioters to be 95% white, 85% male, middle and upper middle class, and — significantly — to hail mostly from counties where the white population is shrinking fastest and the nonwhite growing most aggressively.
This so-called white population fears our nation’s rising racial and ethnic diversity.
But why? Perhaps they fear that they will be treated as they have treated minoritized groups for centuries.
If only they had heeded the biblical dictum: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12) they’d have nothing to worry about.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.