We previously discussed the views of Boston University professor and head of the school’s Center for Antiracist Research Ibfram X. Kendi after his infamous description of Justice Amy Coney Barrett as a “white colonizer” for adopting two Haitian children. Despite such extreme views, Kendi remains a popular speaker at universities like Harvard. Now, Kendi is warning that the use of “legal vote” in the current election is itself racist.
Kendi declared on Twitter that “The term ‘legal vote’ is as fictionally fraught and functionally racist as the terms ‘illegal alien’ and ‘race neutral’ and ‘welfare queen” and ‘handouts’ and ‘super predator’ and ‘crackbaby’ and ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘post racial.’”
Many academic have used terms like “postracial” but the list of newly declared racist or “microaggressive” terms have been expanding at universities to combat racism, classism, fatphobia, sexism, transphobia, “othering” and other problems. As I have previously written, there are real issues and valid concerns with language and the need for greater sensitivity. I have tailored my own language after reading some of those concerns. However, the list of suspect or prohibited terms seems to be expanding exponentially. There are also issues of free speech raised by these lists and the chilling effect on discourse. Terms ranging from “melting pot” to phrases like “pulling oneself up by your own bootstraps” have been declared racist. While professors have made overtly racist statements about whites (including colleagues of Kendi at Boston University), the line of what is acceptable speech for faculty is getting more and more difficult to ascertain. Indeed, Kendi followed his declaration with “There are so many more terms like this. What did I leave out?”
Under Kendi’s new additions, it is not clear if a professor would be summarily dismissed for passing around a “handout” on the “personal responsibility” to cast your “legal vote.”
Professor Kendi explained “The misinformation of widespread voter fraud—or ‘illegal voting’—in Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Phoenix where Black and Brown voters predominate is baked into the term ‘legal vote.” No matter what GOP propaganda says, there’s nothing wrong with those voters and votes.”
I have no problem with Kendi striking out at what he sees as misinformation. As I have repeatedly said, there is still no evidence of systemic voting fraud. There is evidence (in the form of sworn affidavits of localized voting fraud and officials in states like Georgia have stated that they expect to find more such evidence (though they questioned whether it will be enough to make any real difference). However, illegal voting is still a crime. Cities like Detroit and Philadelphia have had prior histories of voting irregularities and fraud. So has my home town Chicago where one were guaranteed under the Daley machine a type of electoral immorality. If any inquiry into illegal voting is racist, it is not clear what we are supposed to do with our election laws. Illegal voting is a simple descriptive term on the status of a vote as improperly cast.
The doctrine of “one man, one vote” is actually a civil rights mantra found not only in constitutional law but political movements (like this Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee button). It is the doctrine embraced in a long series of court cases. See Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368 (1963); Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964); Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964); and Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474 (1968).
The declaration of illegal votes as racist is clearly meant to paint anyone considering the current challenges as themselves racist, even before these claims are fully addressed in the courts. Yet, such challenges often are filed to protect minority votes. In the 2004 election, I was working for CBS and raised whether there should be challenges in Ohio over voter suppression and irregularities targeting minority areas in the Bush/Kerry race. The very heart of our civil rights and voting rights laws is found in our political system and the integrity of our elections. Illegal voting diminishes the voice of all Americans, including minority voters.
I remain unclear why there is such a wholesale effort to shutdown these challenges. Within 24 hours of the election, legal analysts and the media were declaring no evidence of fraud before we even saw a single court challenge. Now even the reference to “legal votes” or “illegal votes” is being declared racist. I have no reason to doubt that Biden is our president-elect. However, we have the time to address these challenges and assure all Americans that the election was legitimate. Almost half of this country voted for Trump. Those roughly 71 millions voters should feel that these challenges were given a fair hearing. It is the same assurance that Democrats have demanded in prior elections. Indeed, Democratic leaders declared before this election that Trump could not win by stealing votes and Hillary Clinton told Biden not to concede under any circumstances.
So let’s count the votes and conclude this election.