If you can recall from your history lessons during school, the 15th amendment was ratified in 1870.  It prohibited the government from denying voting rights based on race and color.  But that wasn’t the end of the effort to prevent blacks from casting ballots.

In order to continue to block them from voting without evoking race, states instituted a poll tax that most blacks wouldn’t be able to afford during those times.  They also created literacy tests as a barrier to voting since many blacks, not far removed from slavery, could not read.  In order to make sure poor and illiterate whites didn’t fall victim to these barriers meant for blacks, they created grandfather clauses that waived those requirements for those whose grandfather was allowed to vote.

Poll Tax Receipt from Alabama, 1896. The polling tax was a tactic used to hinder Afro-Americans from voting.

In 2016, we all agree that those literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses were unconstitutional and racist despite not a single word within the laws mentioning race.  But today there is much disagreement about whether or not race plays a role in our politics and laws.

Throughout American history, it has been easy for us to admit things that happened decades ago were racist, but there has always been denial about that truth during the here and now.  Hindsight is 20/20.

President Trump and many of his supporters are upset that people are calling his executive order a ban on Muslims instead of a ban on immigrants from countries that have terrorist concerns.  But they fail to remember that Trump was the person who initially made the call for a “total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States” back in 2015 during the primary race.  So, if there is confusion, he created it.  That ban evolved over time into extreme vetting of immigrants from certain countries.  But that was not his original position.

One side of the political spectrum wants you to believe that it wasn’t an evolution.   Instead, he meant a ban of immigrants all along, but Trump is inarticulate and doesn’t speak in politically correct language all of the time.  This type of reasoning inspired Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Kellyanne Conway, to make the case that we should ignore what he says in favor of reading what’s in his heart.

Reading hearts is not an exact science.  In application, this tends to mean that everything good he says is believed at face value, while everything bad is reinterpreted more positively.  That’s a benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t extend to his political opponents.
The other side argues that he meant what he said and that his executive order is just a sugar-coated version of what he originally meant.  Trump was forced to walk back his position after the widespread backlash and concerns over constitutionality.

Keep in mind that Trump’s original statement was not a rushed tweet, but a schedule press event where he released the statement.  That means his advisers around him had to know about the statement and surely somebody warned him about it.  Saying you want to ban Muslims from entering the country is not something the average American can let slip off their tongue, let alone write it down on paper and schedule a press event to announce it, without drawing a flag.

There is evidence that Trump’s executive order is just what Trump is willing to settle for instead of a Muslim ban.  Rudy Giuliani said that Donald Trump called up him and asked him to find a way to make his ban on Muslims happen legally.  The end product is the executive order he signed.  This admission by Giuliani also sheds light into why Trump was considering him for the US Attorney General nomination.

But if you can’t see how this immigration ban is just the religious version of how racism has historically been translated into policies that don’t mention race, then you are not fit to discern the reality of anything you see within modern US politics.

Photography Credit: Johnny Silvercloud

Written by Chris Russey


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