Selwyn Cudjoe-----use

Selwyn Cudjoe

On March 25, Georgia’s Representative Park Cannon, a black woman and state senator, was arrested for knocking on the door of the private office of Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia, as he and six white men signed a law that effectively suppressed the right of black people to vote in local, state and federal elections. Cannon was charged with two felony counts for obstruction of law enforcement and disruption of the General Assembly that is likely to send her to prison for eight years if she is found guilty.

Georgia’s new law requires photo identification to vote absentee by mail, the source of many of the Democrats’ votes in state and federal elections. In the last presidential election, 1.3 million Georgians voted with absentee ballots; 65 per cent of whom voted for Joe Biden. The new bill makes it a crime to offer water or food to voters waiting in line. Longer lines are often found in “the poorer, densely populated communities that tend to vote Democratic” (The New York Times, April 2).

US president Joseph Biden criticised the law, saying: “This is Jim Crow in the 21st century. It must end. We have a moral and constitutional obligation to act.” He acknowledged that Republican sponsors were trying “to deny people the right to vote”, and called it “a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience”. On Thursday, three voter-mobilisation groups in Georgia sued to block the law alleging that “it illegally hurts black voters under the federal Voting Rights Act” (Jeff Amy, AP, March 27).

This Republican bill was an act of revenge for the election defeat its party suffered in the presidential and state elections in 2020 and 2021. National Public Radio, a syndicator to over 1,000 public radio stations in the US, noted the Georgia bill would “end up disenfranchising black voters. It’s also seen as Republicans’ rebuke of the November and January elections in which the state’s black voters led the election of two Democrats to the [US] Senate” (March 26).

As we view the bill that the Georgia State Legislature passed, we should remember that the states, rather than the federal government control the elections. It’s a very ominous sign then when it’s reported that 40 other state legislatures that are controlled by the Republicans are drafting similar bills to control their state’s elections. Although the Democratic-controlled House of Congress passed a bill that would set voting standards for all the states—such as allowing for automatic voter registration, allowing former felons to vote, and limiting how states can remove voters from the voting rolls—it is not likely that an evenly divided Senate would support such a bill.

America is hell-bent on retaining white supremacy as long as it can do so. That America will become “minority white” in 2045 only increases the anxiety prejudiced whites feel about this fall from grace and control of the country.

In 1972, James Baldwin said America’s major problem was the maintenance of “white supremacy” and that “blacks have never been free in this country, never was it intended that they should be free, and the spectre of so dreadful a freedom — the idea of a licence so bloody and abandoned — conjures up another, unimaginable country, a country in which no decent, God-fearing white man or woman can live. A civilised country is, by definition, a country dominated by whites, in which the blacks clearly know their place. This is really the way the generality of white Americans feel, and they consider—quite rightly, as far as any concern for their interest goes — that it is they who, now, at long last, are being represented in Washington”. (No Name in the Street)

It is not coincidental that on the same day Governor Kemp signed his dastardly bill into law (March 25) UN Secretary General António Guterres and the world celebrated the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He reminded us of the genocidal acts that were committed against black people and warned that “although the transatlantic slave trade ended more than two centuries ago, ‘the ideas of white supremacy that underpinned it remain alive’. We must end the legacy of this racist lie.

“We honour the memory of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade by educating about its history and acknowledging its impact on our world today, by urging everyone to tackle racism, injustice and build inclusive communities and economies.

“Not only do the descendants of the 15 million victims of the transatlantic slave trade have to grapple with the pain and grief of their ancestors, but every day they navigate a world built by them, but not for them.”

After she was released, Cannon wrote on social media: “We will not live in fear, and we will not be controlled. We have a right to our future and a right to our freedom” (Jeff Amy). By her simple act of knocking on Governor Kemp’s private office door, Cannon announced herself as the new Rosa Parks of the voting rights era. Hers is a fight against the New Jim Crow Law of the 21st century; an attempt to build a world in which she and her black and white compatriots could live in peace and dignity.

Fannie Lou Hamer, an American civil rights activist, reminded us: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” to which Martin Luther King added: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

Trinbagonians are an inescapable part of black people’s struggle for justice anywhere they find themselves. This is the lesson we should learn from what’s taking place in Georgia today.

—Prof Cudjoe’s e-mail address is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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