Dear President Bush and Sen. Kerry,

Jasmine Clair

We have troops over in Iraq right now fighting for Iraqi
democracy. You always give them your highest regards along with
thanks and praises. On Election Day, poll sites will become
battlegrounds. Fighting to preserve civil liberties through poll
watching, I’m going to lace up my combat boots (Nikes) and
put on my camouflage (Nov. 2 T-shirt) along with many others in
order to preserve democratic rights here in America. And I’ll
be expecting both of your thank you cards in the mail.

 

My vote, the black vote, was paid for with
the blood of my people in a continuous struggle for black voting
rights that should have ended with the 15th Amendment. Therefore,
as a native Detroiter, I feel personally assaulted when people such
as state Rep. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) give warnings such as
“If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to
have a tough time this election” to his party affiliates.

This statement was not merely a “bad choice of
words;” it was a threat, a warning that the upcoming
elections will once more be marked by conflict and racial tensions.
So just as members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating
Committee fought to register black voters during the ’60s, on
Election Day I’ll be in Detroit, watching the polls,
continuing the fight for civil rights, in a struggle that so many
lives have been lost over.

With an 83 percent black population, Pappageorge’s
comments were undoubtedly a racist assault upon the people of
Detroit. Pappageorge simply disguised his racist attitudes with a
partisan costume. But it’s not Halloween yet, and worse, we
all can recognize you under those white sheets.

Too many blacks have had their lives “suppressed” so
that I can retain my right to vote. Gunned down on his doorstep by
the Ku Klux Klan, Medgar Evers sacrificed his life to preserve my
voting privileges. And there exists many invisible faces whose
stories that were never told, who died for the same cause. Their
houses bombed, their bodies shot up and their churches burned
down.

This will not be forgotten on Election Day. And how could it? It
was our mothers and fathers who lived and endured the struggle; it
was aunts and uncles who fought off police dogs and their friends
who were washed away with fire hoses.

Our grandparents were the victims of racist American policies,
told that they were too illiterate to vote, yet denied admission to
educational institutions (this university included) to expand their
academic horizons.

And just to clear up the confusion, affirmative action is not
merely a reparation for the horrors of slavery. Race was used as a
demerit toward my grandparents, and now race is used as a merit for
me. The University’s admissions policies attempt to alleviate
a problem that they actively participated in creating. Despite
this, the policies are disguised as diversity billboards, just as
civil rights gains are spun into romantic tales of America’s
fight for democracy and justice for all.

Embedded within the black consciousness is a collective memory
of all the unfilled American promises made to us. It started with
the 40 acres and a mule, but if that’s too radical for you,
we can start with the Civil War’s concessions of freedom,
citizenship and voting rights. Which were all, one by one,
dismantled through state statutes, inviting back the shackles of
slavery. Only this time, they were invisible. So when my
great-grandpa asked why he couldn’t exercise his
constitutional right to vote. The law simply answered
“because you’re illiterate.” More recently, in
the 2000 election, our uncles were denied their voting rights, only
this time they received the response “because a felon has
your name … well sort of … different middle initial
… but it could be you!”

The 15th Amendment, the Civil Rights acts and voting rights act,
all failed to protect the rights of blacks during the 2000
election. Pappageorge has already indicated that the problem will
only be worse during this election. Politicians seeking to retain
power all across the country will continue this trend on Nov.
2.

However, the value of the black vote exceeds the importance of
any presidential election. This Nov. 2 has more meaning than simply
whether John Kerry or George W. will be the next president.
Especially because neither one has adequately responded to the
dilemmas unique to the black community. Flaky affirmative action
stances and riding the caravan of love from church to church just
doesn’t suffice.

Therefore, this election marks another chapter in the continuing
struggle that America has subjected blacks to for hundreds of
years. Next Tuesday, the polls will be the battleground and not
even John Pappageorge will be able to suppress this bloody
vote.

I’ll see you at the polls.

 

Clair can be reached at
“mailto:jclair@umich.edu”>jclair@umich.edu

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