On July 4th, 1776, all members of the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, establishing the 13 colonies’ separation from Great Britain, and recognizing a new sovereign state; this was the beginning of the United States of America. This day, all across the 50 states of the U.S., commemorates this declaration of newfound independence, as fireworks ravage the night skies and infamous fairs, concerts, gatherings, barbecues, carnivals, and parties reserve the day, all into the night. However, it is commonly forgotten that while the beginning of the country was declared free, for the Black and Native Americans of that time, it was not. We continue to witness this occurring today, 245 years later, as voting rights across the United States aim to attack and suppress voters of color, ensuring that their independent rights are disparaged and belittled. Does July 4th remain a cause for celebration?
The United States was built off the idea that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This supreme law was established, as settlers massacred the Native American inhabitants, colonized the land, and enslaved thousands from Africa, creating a hierarchical system based on race, creed, and ethnicity for the years to come, considering those of color as unequal and unfree citizens of the United States. This social construct of race and the concept or idea of racial inferiority was created and pursued in order to justify unequal and unjust treatment. It has caused racial discrimination and racial disparities to permeate every institution, producing systemic and systematic racism that has become an ingrained aspect of the United States, at all levels and structures and most importantly, the voting system.
In 1776, those allowed to vote were the white male property owners of the population. As the history of the United States developed, this norm remained for some time, as the prevalency of slavery and the societal structure of the ‘leading’ white man painted the country. Within the constitution, voting rights were left up to state decision and discretion, as each individual state held varying views on political topics. As time progressed, the 1800s brought change to the system, as qualifications for property owning became eliminated and the 15th amendment of the Constitution became an explicit addition to voting rights within the governmental and political system. The 15th amendment stating, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” was ratified in the 1870s, allowing Black citizens to exercise their right to vote. However explicitly stated the 15th amendment might have been, restrictions and regulations remained in place to make this right to exercise significantly difficult, in which poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests continued in suppressing the Black vote. It wasn’t until 1965 where the Voting Rights Act was introduced and made effective, that racial discrimination in voting would be outlawed and put to an end; or so we thought.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 can be considered one of the most imperative forms of legislation within the history of the United States of America, as it banned all limitations and regulations, applying the 15th amendment nation-wide. Though it brought vast protest and widespread violence, President Johnson signed the legislation into law on August 6th, prohibiting voting denial on the basis of discrimination and ensuring that specific enforcement was placed to avoid areas where this could be guaranteed to occur. Under varying sections of the law dedicated to upholding the universal suffrage of all natural born citizens of America, no matter what race, the Voting Rights Act held a sanctified place within history, granting the U.S. official democratic statehood. As numerous sections and provisions were added since then, the latest being the 2006 renewal of the special provisions by Congress, the Voting Rights Act now faces danger. As of July 1st, 2021, all six conservative justices of the Supreme Court voted to uphold two of Arizona’s proven racist voting laws. Both laws having been found to make voting significantly more difficult for voters of color such as Black, Native American or Latino individuals, the first requires that election officials dispose of ballots that have been cast under the wrong precinct, while the other blocks most individuals and groups from collecting and distributing absentee ballots at their proper polling locations, unless it is a caregiver or close relative. Intentional or not, these laws under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act discriminate against race. The reason for not barring them immediately: simply because an inconsistency occurs, does not entail that the system itself is unequal, stated by the Supreme Court justices of the United States.
This news comes at a time in which various Republican-led and Republican majority states and governments across the nation have been pushing for new voting restrictions, specifically aimed to target communities of color. After the 2020 election, states such as Georgia, turning from Republican to Democratic, saw record breaking numbers of votes, accredited mainly to communities of color. These communities showing record turnout and lending a hand to elect current President Joe Biden, left Republican conservatives in anger, to say the least, resulting in these actions. As the Supreme Court ruling now paves the way for how courts may or should interpret Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, it is considered yet another weakening tool utilized in chipping away at it. Only a year after the pandemic summer of 2020, in which the Black Lives Matter Movement swept the globe, we witness the country moving in the opposite direction from what was hoped for and expected. Still reeling from the aftermath of the Trump Presidency, hoping to usher in a new era of progressive leadership, has instead demonstrated opposite, as the Republican stronghold on this issue is tightening its grip, and the Voting Rights Act faces worrying and detrimental effects to its legitimacy and its commitment to upholding the desired, necessary, and just equal rights of the communities of color within the United States. As July 4th rolls around for yet another consecutive year, while thousands take the time to celebrate the supposed ‘greatness’ of America, it is important for American citizens to understand the true gravitas it is facing and the considerable and consistent inequality and discrimination that demands justice. It is only then that a celebration will be truly called for.