Rhetoric & Policy: Heightening Vulnerabilities of Communities of Color in the 2016 Election

  • Mon, 11/07/2016 - 15:50
    by League of Women Voters

Both hostile rhetoric and lack of federal protections this election heightens vulnerabilities already present for communities of color.

Hostile rhetoric targeted at communities of color

Certain language used this election has presented people of color as the ‘other’ by calling into question their citizenship. For example, by referring to communities of color as “-the African Americans”or “-the Latinos,” communities of color are intentionally sub-categorized as “others” while white people are treated as  the “center,” or norm.

Through the intentional sub-grouping of communities of color, whiteness is normalized. Because communities of color are considered the “other,” they are depicted as outside of the American social fabric. White people, on the other hand, are assumed to be and accepted as full citizens.

As communities of color are depicted outside the norms of regular social ‘citizenship,’ their participation in political processes is questioned. Moreover, because certain communities are often vilified as causing many of the problems poor white communities face (i.e. taking away jobs), they are vulnerable to aggression and acts of violence.

Elimination of key federal protections

The stripping of federal protections within the Voting Rights Act further exacerbates the vulnerability communities of color face in the electoral process.

The 2016 Presidential Election will be the first election in fifty years where voters will not  be fully protected under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under the Supreme Court case Shelby v. Holder (2013), the court declared Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. This section outlined when states must submit their voting legislation to the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington for approval.

According to the section, districts with voting tests in place as of November 1, 1964 and  less than fifty percent turnout for the 1964 election must submit voting legislation. In other words, such districts used legal and illegal tools of voter suppression to keep communities of color from being able to vote. These districts had to prove to the Attorney General or a three-judge panel of a Washington, D.C. district court that the change "neither has the purpose nor will have the effect" of negatively impacting any individual's right to vote based on race or minority status. Without Section 4, states can make discriminatory voter laws without federal forms of accountability.

In sum, the absence of  key legal protections such as Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act allows hostile rhetoric to translate into threatening and harmful actions targeted at communities of color at the polls, as we have seen happen in the past.