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Is Carrying an ID a “White Thing”?

by  Joe R. Hicks

August 19, 2011 | 4:45 pm

This article appeared in the OC Register this week:

The NAACP recently brought its 102nd annual convention to Los Angeles. The gathering touched on a variety of topics, but clearly one issue dominated the three-day affair: voter identification laws.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters gave a speech telling the delegates that voter ID laws are “21st century poll taxes and literacy tests.” Apparently unafraid of the race card charge, Waters unapologetically defended race-conscious policies and told the audience, “We cannot be worried that some people will say, ‘Oh, they’re playing the race card’ ...”

Benjamin Jealous, the NAACP’s president, opened the convention by saying, “Our voting rights are under attack ...” and that voter ID laws are “the last existing legal pillars of Jim Crow.”

This must have some folks wondering, “So, when did showing identification, something just about every American does several times in the course of a day, become bigoted and controversial?”

Even a respected former president, Bill Clinton, has echoed Maxine Waters’ claims. Speaking to a group of liberal youth activists recently, Clinton called voter ID laws a determined effort by Republicans to keep blacks from voting.

As might be predicted, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has also made voter ID laws a priority. At the 40th annual Rainbow Push Coalition conference, he argued that black people and “other (unnamed) minorities” who tend to vote Democratic are less likely to carry ID with them.

If that’s true, instead of conjuring-up “new Jim Crow laws,” wouldn’t it be more helpful if Jackson was leading a positive campaign to educate poor black people about the benefits of acquiring and carrying ID – like casting a vote?

However, the claims of racist voter ID laws stand on legal sands that have already eroded. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can require voters to produce photo ID, or in some cases other official forms of ID, and that this does not violate their constitutional rights. Currently, 29 states require all voters to show some form of ID before voting.

Further, lawsuits challenging voter ID laws in Indiana and Georgia were tossed from court because plaintiffs couldn’t produce a single individual who was prevented from voting by these laws.

The protests that these laws disenfranchise black voters does give rise to the question, “Why is producing ID such an undue burden for black voters – but isn’t presumably a burden on other races?” Certainly the NAACP, and Jackson, must be aware that state and local governments make identification cards available for free to anyone who requests one. Are liberals and civil rights figures really prepared to argue that carrying ID is somehow a “white thing?”

It would be easy to toss this off as another example of the NAACP’s usual descent into race-mongering, Reverend Jackson’s expected plunge into rhetorical excess, or an ex-president condescendingly patting a racial grievance industry on their heads. But officials of the Democratic Party also appear to endorse this view.

The current head of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, recently argued that, “... now we have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally – very transparently – block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democrat than Republican candidates.”

It is disheartening to hear a liberal Democratic political figure casually toss around images from some of this nation’s darkest years. Evoking the term “Jim Crow” just to get the media’s or the public’s attention is political opportunism of the worst kind.

Jim Crow laws were not just about voting. In the main they were about apartheid – keeping Americans of different skin colors separate. They were also about segregating public transportation, education, housing and accommodations.

This was real racism, actual discrimination that was taking place against black citizens – not the crass manipulation of historic imagery as some are now doing.

Frankly, if voter ID laws are the equivalent of modern-day Jim Crow, why doesn’t the NAACP challenge other areas of every-day life where ID is also required – checking into a hotel anywhere in America, cashing a check, making a major purchase with a credit card, buying alcohol if you appear to be under-age, or getting on an airplane?

Couldn’t the NAACP also argue that ID requirements have a disparate impact on poor, ID-less black travelers, preventing them from getting a hotel room – and are thus racist?

Outside the ranks of the race-baiters, most Americans get the point – these are silly and divisive arguments. The question begging for an answer is why only 29 states have voter ID requirements? Shouldn’t all states require you to produce evidence that you are who you say you are before you cast a vote?

The real problem aren’t dysfunctional black people who are too stupid to acquire and use ID, as Reverend Jackson, the NAACP, and some Democrats imply; it’s really activists and political figures who can’t resist the paternalistic impulse to involve themselves in the manipulation of black people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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