As the United States faces a national reckoning over race relations and gears up for a presidential election this month, Black Americans still encounter systemic barriers to equally exercising their right to vote. Traditionally, ethnic and racial minorities in the country have had their democratic right to elect leaders and participate in the democratic process stifled. A growing number of scholars voice their concerns about government and institutional oppression against these populations during the voting period, an issue that continues to perpetuate inequality in the country. According to the American Bar Association (Vij, 2020), although current laws and legislations attempt to guarantee fair and impartial access to voting, state governments enjoy a monopoly in the execution of the voting system. As a result, the systemic persecution and oppression perpetrated against racial minorities by state institutions permeate into the voting process. Traditional voting suppression now congregates with a natural pandemic to further mute the voices of racial minorities in the democratic process of electing their leaders.
Much like a Sisyphean being tasked by Zeus to roll a humongous boulder up a steep hill, minority groups not only have to deal with an oppressive system intent on making them voiceless, but they also have to contend with the Coronavirus. The convergence of these two events seems like something that would come out of a witch’s pot, and the minority communities are already reeling under her hex. Not only are they faced with life-threatening health conditions in their day-to-day lives, but they are faced with equally dangerous circumstances in their attempt to engage their Constitutionally protected right to participating in the democratic process.
Case in point, minority populations account for the largest portion of economically challenged individuals in the country. According to a recent report published by the Kaiser Family Foundation (“Poverty Rate by Race/Ethnicity”, 2020), minorities in 2018 formed more than 90% of all individuals living in poverty in the country. These individuals do not have jobs, they lack medical insurance, and perhaps most pertinently, they lack proper housing. While high poverty levels within the minority population are not new, following the COVID-19 outbreak, poverty and its glaring side-effects have made life all the harder. These minority groups cannot, for instance, afford the requisite items to protect themselves against the virus. The less privileged in the country are not only unable to afford protective face masks necessary to keep infections at bay, but they are disproportionately affected by the quarantine and lockdown measures.
For starters, minority populations lack access to equal employment opportunities. The lucky work menial, low paying jobs that necessitate most of them to work several jobs simultaneously. After the implementation of the lockdown and quarantine measures, most lost their employment, and without job security, they are unsure about their future. During these difficult economic times, minority communities are having to turn to government welfare programs for sustenance. Yet, the institutions put in place for the welfare of the whole society are ignorant of the plight of these communities. Such ignorance even extends to the civil rights of members of these communities. State institutions are not only unresponsive to the needs of minorities in their jurisdiction, but they initiate the institutional and systemic oppression against the communities.
These minorities, lacking in representation, cannot be expected to participate equally with others in selecting their political leaders – the same leaders who can either improve their lives. If a minority community lacks the protective gear to participate safely in the elections, how can they change and uplift their circumstances? If the disadvantaged in society are subjected to prejudicial treatment from those in power, how can society ever achieve equality? The Coronavirus continues to expose the racial and ethnic prejudice present in most states as minorities are not afforded the same safeguard as the majority.
There are reports of authorities implementing stringent lockdown measures in neighborhoods inhabited by minority communities compared to other neighborhoods. Such stringent measures, coupled with the recent flare-up in racial tensions in the country only serve to bar minorities from participating in an election that would otherwise present them with the chance of a better future. The consequence has been a collaboration of factors that have only served to widen the inequality gap between the haves and have nots. The question that then arises is, what does the future hold for the country? How will the country emerge from a year marred by escalating racial tensions, institutional oppression, and a pandemic? Well, a tentative guess would suggest that the future will be nothing short of the dystopian future depicted by George Orwell in “Animal Farm.” A small group of elites will rule over those the masses who have lost everything, including their constitutionally protected rights. Such a bleak future, by any measure, might look like unimaginable, but no one thought 2020 would turn out the way it did. It is time to undo all the historical and institutional injustices threatening to burn the country.