The international conference that opens this week in Caux, Switzerland, to address healing history and racial equity could not be more timely.
More than 70 Americans will attend the forum which comes on the heels of the ruling by the US Supreme Court to invalidate key articles of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The stampede by several states to pass more restrictive voting laws immediately following the news of the SCOTUS decision is the clearest possible evidence that federal oversight is still needed. Since voter fraud is negligible the only real goal can be to lessen the electoral influence of minorities.
By not updating the law and thus leaving it open to challenge, Congress has been derelict in its duty. A case could be made that rather than continue to focus only on southern states, reporting requirements should have been applied more widely to include states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Better still would be uniform electoral laws for all states and a standard voter ID card mailed to each person at age 18.
The earlier ruling which challenges Affirmative Action was more expected. It has been obvious for some time that higher education admission policies need re-thinking. Affirmative Action played a vital role in giving access to people of color but it left the underlying factors of unequal grade school education untouched. The most disadvantaged of the population have not benefited nearly as much as those in middle and upper income levels.
Issues of poverty, affordable housing, health care and access to public transportation require bold public action. As far as criminal justice is concerned, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, says the civil rights movement has “allowed a human rights nightmare.”
The conference in Caux will no doubt debate some of these issues. Is this the time to move from a focus on affirmative action to racial equity? While jealously guarding hard-won civil rights, could we build an unstoppable momentum for human rights for Americans of all races and classes?