The same week that we commemorated the 55th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr, in Memphis, Tennessee, the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville, majority-Republican, expelled two young, Black Democratic representatives on April 6. The reason? Leading their constituents in a gun control protest on the floor. Days earlier, a school shooting in that city took the lives of six people, including three nine year-old children.
But the vote, in reality, was to expel three Democrats: one woman, Gloria Johnson, and the two young, Black men, Justin Pearson and Justin Jones. However, something very particular happened, though not too shocking these days, according to the Republican racial code: Johnson, who is white, kept her place by one vote. (Jones was reinstated to his position on Monday following a vote of the Nashville City Council, the city he represents in the state’s General Assembly.)
It is well-said that there is nothing more evident than a racist being racist; it doesn’t matter if their rejection of someone for their color takes place in a store, an airport, a school, or a legislative body. It’s something intrinsic to their way of being and thinking, the culture in which they were raised and the education they received in their family. Despite all the efforts of various generations, it’s sad to realize that Rev. Dr. King’s dream has yet to be realized.
Basically, racist acts today are just as obvious as ever, even at the height of the fight for civil rights. And Republicans do not even try to hide it. Why? Because there is a considerable segment of the U.S. population that still abides by the anachronistic standard of white privilege, which translates, in electoral times, into guaranteed votes, based on the old-fashioned promise of a United States where white was the color that dominated everything.
Take this, for example: chamber Republican leaders argued that they did not expel Johnson because her participation in the protest was not as “active” as Pearson and Jones’, although Johnson herself told the press that it was obvious that the difference in treatment was due to “the color of our skin.”
Nor did those same Republican leaders opt for sanctions less than expulsion because, according to them, they had to send a message that this type of conduct would not be accepted in the middle of a session.
What’s more, some had the audacity to compare a peaceful demonstration in Tennessee with the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, by fanatic followers of Donald Trump, where mob violence resulted in destruction and death. But they are two distinct and separate occurrences. In Tennessee, it was about stopping the use of guns that destroy lives, as part of a never-ending epidemic of massacres; in Washington, it was about a coup d’etat in real-time, with the whole world as a witness while it unfolded.
But the more complicated matter is evidence of how Republicans use their majorities in state assemblies and governors’ mansions around the country in order to silence their opponents, particularly if they are females or people of color.
At the governorship level, one only has to look at the record of Republicans in states like Florida, for example.
Ron DeSantis, whose is seen as an aspiring Republican presidential nominee in 2024, has launched a veritable crusade against immigrants, in a state that—curiously— is home to hundreds of thousands of them, and not only undocumented immigrants but people seeking asylum, permanent residents, and naturalized citizens.
All will be in some way affected by the explosive measures that DeSantis is pushing, like the one that makes it a felony to transport, house, or employ undocumented people. Basically, a family of mixed migration statuses, whether citizens or residents with legal status, runs the risk of being incarcerated if they transport an undocumented family member. Religious and activist groups also run the risk of going to prison for doing their jobs, which is assisting this sector of the population.
DeSantis’ package of measures goes even further. It requires hospitals to inquire about the migration status of their patients and report it to the state. It also instructs Florida state and local authorities to assist the federal government in applying immigration laws.
DeSantis, who made news by chartering planes and sending undocumented migrants to states and cities led by Democrats, has also attacked the Dreamers, offering a measure that would end in-state tuition for those who live in Florida.
The governor of Florida is joining the list of Republican Party extremists who, despite the failure of anti-immigrant policies in previous years in states like Arizona, with SB 1070, and Alabama, with HB 56, insist on promoting measures to keep support from the most extremist Republican sector, regardless of the consequences, particularly on to the state’s economy.
America’s Voice en Español reported from Arizona, and was in Alabama for several months documenting the damage these measures had on U.S. citizens, especially the citizen children of undocumented migrants, and on the economy, from the loss of consumers and residents to the loss of entire harvests due to a lack of workers.
However, with the ascension of Donald Trump and the subsequent competition to see who is the most anti-immigrant or the most extreme, the Republican Party continues to repeat the mistakes of the past.
They are also doing this by intruding on the reproductive rights of women. Last week, a Texas judge nominated by Trump decided that the Food and Drug Administration “made a mistake” more than twenty years ago in authorizing the use of the abortion pill Mifepristone. Another judge from the state of Washington, opining in another case, prohibited the FDA from taking the medication off the market.
These are examples of how xenophobia, racism, and misogyny from one party are translated into not only federal measures, but also state and local policies that impact our rights as individuals and have a severe effect on the economy.
Certainly, the sinister fascist cost of these measures from DeSantis and other Republicans were once only seen in times we assumed to be over. But the fact that this is occurring in the 21st century, in a country like the United States, speaks volumes about the anomalies to which a highly developed society can reach, when it has all of its needs covered and should be working arduously to become a state of solidarity.
Its retreat on this matter would contradict and disappoint its own history, and those who still see the United States as a beacon of hope. But for how long?