There’s an old English idiom about an “elephant in the room.” An elephant sits in the corner of a room, while everyone in the room just sort of pretends it’s not there so they don’t have to talk about it. Once they did talk about it, after all, they’d have to do something about it, and nobody wants to be the one who has to try and evict an elephant. So everyone goes about their business as if the elephant isn’t there.
America is a land filled with elephants. For instance…
We all want to believe the racist practice of voter disenfranchisement is dead and gone, so much so that we’re willing to ignore it when it’s sitting in our kitchen, its trunk is flailing about knocking over the microwave, and it’s eating our lunch. That particular elephant, which we thought we’d killed in 1964 when LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act into law, has again been sitting in our rooms ever since the year 2000 when Florida’s Secretary of State – who also just happened to be George Bush’s campaign chairwoman – denied tens of thousands of African-Americans their right to vote by wrongly declaring them “felons.” (the felon voting rules themselves have their genesis in the Civil Rights era, as a means to disenfranchise Blacks, who were far more likely than Whites to be convicted of felonies in the South). That pachyderm has been chilling in the corner with a big tub of nachos ever since the party that benefitted from its presence refused to investigate it, and the Justice Department declined to hunt it down.
Nationwide, 1.9 million black votes were discarded. Thrown away. Not counted. That was 50% of the ballots that were discarded as “spoiled” in 2000, even though Blacks only made up 12% of the electorate.
-SF Chronicle, June 20, 2004
Now, as all people who benefit from crimes would say, “that’s in the past. Get over it. Forget about it. Move along, there’s nothing to see here.” Well, unfortunately for our leaders, the American people – or at least a large number of us – have longer memories than they’d like us to have. When the people who committed this crime are still benefitting from it and still trying to do it again, it is not “in the past.”
•Florida AGAIN tried to remove thousands of Black voters from the rolls. The state run by George Bush’s brother created ANOTHER “potential felons list” filled with people who’ve never committed a felony. That one would’ve robbed more than 22,000 African Americans of their right to vote.
(“Florida List for Purge of Voters Proves Flawed.” NY Times, July 10, 2004)
•It was widely reported that in several urban precincts in Ohio, African Americans had to wait up to ten hours in line in order to vote. Ohio’s Secretary of State, another Bush campaign chairman, refused to provide minority precincts with an adequate number of voting machines. There was no such problem in the predominantly Caucasian suburbs.
As for this year, time will tell. I would be THRILLED if I were proven wrong this year. I really hope that happens. I really do. But the damage may have already been done, as Black voters, disillusioned by the resurrection of the age-old pracitice of voter disenfranchisement, may simply stay home today.
Some Americans would have us believe it’s all in the past — still others would have us believe it never happened at all. I spoke with one of those this morning when Frank Beckmann, an ABC “News” talkshow host from Michigan, called to talk about last Sunday’s cartoon (above). During the interview, he told me Blacks “have not been disenfranchised,” that those 54,000 African Americans who were removed from the voter rolls in 2000 WERE felons (even though the United States government report on the election concluded the opposite), and that reports of long lines in Ohio were simply wrong. People can convince themselves that any problem doesn’t exist if they don’t want it to exist – or if they benefit from its existence.
Anyone who’s read Candorville should know that I don’t believe it serves us to ignore the elephants that stand in our rooms, no matter what they are, from the constant persecution of gays, to voter disenfranchisement, to the pervasive thug culture. We can’t solve our problems unless we have the courage to first acknowledge they exist. Instead of ignoring the elephants, we should grab our elephant guns and go on safari. As difficult as it may be, it has to be done.