Sunday, July 26, 2020

Suppressing the Minority Voting: An effective discrimination tactic of the US Conservatives

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Protester at  George Floyd protest in USA | Source: Clay Banks via Unsplash

The recent protests over George Floyd’s death and reactions of the conservatives against the protest laid bare the systemic injustice and oppression faced by the people of color in the USA.

The other, albeit invisible form of discrimination perpetuated by the conservative political establishment in the USA is “Minority Voter Suppression”.

Though it may seem improbable that long after the Jim Crow laws are junked and Civil Right Laws are in place, the effort to disenfranchise the Black people is still going on.

The major piece of legislation which protected minorities from electoral exploitation was the Voter Registration Act which underpins the basic ideal of a universal adult franchise by specifically addressing and combating voting discrimination.

To ensure the representation to minority communities, this act mandated that “At-Large Elections”, where the whole of the jurisdiction elects all of the city council, were replaced by the single member districts in which each community selects a person to represent them in the city council.

It was also prohibited to draw the voting district in such a way that  minorities could be clubbed in only a few of the districts. It was also made mandatory for those states which have a history of discrimination to get pre-clearance from the justice department before changing their voting laws.

This law, however, lost its power in a process which began in 1980. In 1980 the Supreme Court ruled that at-large elections were not unconstitutional, on their own. In 1995, the Court began restricting the construction of majority minority districts on grounds that it segregates people on the basis of race.

In 2008, the court ruled that a photo voter ID law in Indiana was constitutional and was in state interest to protect against voter fraud (research shows that photo voter IDs provide disincentive to vote for people of color). The voter ID law requires the voters to have a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

In 2013, the Supreme Court scrapped the part of the law which stated that some states (which had an alleged history of discrimination) needed federal preclearance in any changes of their voting laws, meaning that the state laws would need approval from the federal government before being put into practice. This was done so citing that the methods which determined discriminatory states were invalid.

All of these slowly chipped away at the laws, and especially the 2013 Shelby County vs Holder case which led to a host of issues whVoter Suppression is Still One of the Greatest Obstacles to a More Just Americaich directly/indirectly keep a significant proportion of minorities from voting. Few of such actions are closure or relocation of precincts in majority black areas, purge of minority voters from the voter lists, and elimination of Sunday early voting days which are preferred by black voters.

There have been attempts to restrict registration drives in Tennessee on the basis that many of the forms were incomplete.

There have also been laws enacted which needed people to participate regularly in elections to keep their voting rights and reply to a letter sent to their residence, which makes it difficult for Black and Hispanics due to obscure areas and the fact that they’re half as likely than other people to get a day off work to vote.

The governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, has been accused of using intimidation tactics to scare minority communities.

In Texas, the acting secretary of state said that he had a list of 95,000 non-citizens who were registered for voting in the state, and 58,000 of them had already cast a vote. That claim was proven untrue when it was noted that there were tens of thousands of people who were naturalized citizens.

In many states, felons are not allowed to vote even after they have served their sentence, and in Florida felons are allowed to vote only if they have paid an array of fees after serving their sentence, which sets an economic bar on their ability to vote.

This is evident that forces working against the equal rights for the minority communities are still working at full force to reverse the gains of civil right movements. The fight for the unhindered voting rights for the minority communities in the USA at the social, political, and judicial front will continue in the foreseeable future.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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