The Specter of Jim Crow
At the beginning of last week Republican Governor Robert McDonnell tried to move Virginia back hundreds of years with his decision to ignore the fundamental issues of the Civil War by declaring “Confederate History Month.” Public outcry forced him to amend his glorification of secessionists. He quietly closed the week by reaching back only a few decades to invoke the specter of Jim Crow.
Governor Bob’s latest time-traveling adventure tampers with the restoration of voting rights to non-violent felons who have successfully served their sentences. Instead of automatically restoring their voting rights (as many states do) Virginia requires a dispensation from the acting governor to complete the process. Governor Bob’s latest addition to that process now requires the applicant to submit an essay detailing their contributions to society since their release.
The governor’s office claims the new essay requirement will enhance the process by making it more “personal.” Even though no voting rights have been restored since the governor took office in January, officials claim the additional step will help the administration speed up the application processing to within 90 days, thereby keeping a campaign promise. Even the secretary of the commonwealth of Virginia, Janet Polarek, doesn’t know if she will need additional resources to handle the burden of this new layer of bureaucracy.
This essay requirement clearly increases felon disenfranchisement. Since a disproportionate number of non-violent felons are persons of color (as is the norm in the criminal justice system), Virginia will have a wider latitude to interfere with voting reinstatement. Jim Crow laws enacted after the Civil War suppressed the equality of black Americans. Former slave might have been “free” but were certainly not “equal.” The latest divisive action in Virginia is a clear example of the egregious pattern of neo-Confederate paternalism hiding behind the skirt of “state’s rights” to enact laws and processes which adversely affect non-whites.
Is Governor Bob’s goal to discourage and alienate civic involvement from this group of potential voters? Perhaps. What is more concerning to this writer is the burgeoning sense of dissociation revealed in his recent course of conduct. McDonnell is, prima facie, the purported advocate of reason and leadership, but his actions of leadership espouse a message of hatred: deep-seated, alive, and unchanged after hundreds of years of remediation.
A most profound sense of this dissociation is captured in Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s moving essay, Two Virginias. This deeply personal examination of her experience as a Virginia resident illuminates the direction in which McDonnell seeks to move his state – towards racial injustice and away from the inclusiveness that the legacy of the Civil War should have bestowed upon all of us. Instead, McDonnell chooses to represent the Confederacy as a cherished accomplishment whose values are valid and worthy of support.
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, I can only wonder what the union of hate and prejudice will bring. What is clear is that the coalescence of power and prejudice is real, present, and active within the state of Virginia.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2010 Liberaland