The impact of European colonialism still affects nations worldwide. The three cases discussed in this piece all connect at the point of institutional racism by way of disenfranchisement. These brief examples bring to light the political isolation of disenfranchised citizens.
Disenfranchisement is an effective tool used by some democracies to keep minority populations politically isolated. An inequality is created when adult citizens in a democracy are forced to obey laws created and enforced by the state for which they do not hold the right to vote. By legally disenfranchising adults, democratic states create an environment where adults lose a large amount of their citizenship. In most democracies, citizenship is broadly comprised of the right to vote and the right to own land among other factors. Democratic citizens are without resolve once disenfranchised. They exist in a system where others can vote for change and progress while they are left without a political voice.
Apartheid South Africa
In South Africa during the apartheid the South African Government effectively relocated the masses creating five new territories. These territories being The Republic of Transkei, The Republic of Bophuthatswana, The Republic of Venda, The Republic of Ciskei, and The Republic of South Africa. The first four were considered by the South African Government to be legal independent countries. The RSA (Republic of South Africa), which constituted 75% of the overall population was a Black nation. The apartheid government introduced a new constitution for the RSA that disenfranchised all Black people from national elections. The citizens of the RSA could vote in local elections, but could not vote on a national level. As a footnote, the apartheid government did give Parliamentary representation to the Coloured and Indian groups.
Later, the Coloured South Africans would also face disenfranchisement. The South African Apartheid Government at the time wanted the Coloured Citizens to lose the right to participate politically. The government could not initially complete this task legally due to opposition, therefore they expanded the government and flooded it with politicians in the national party who would vote to disenfranchise those people. This process did not happen overnight; in fact, it took several years. The Appeals Court was legally altered from five judges to eleven. The Senate was altered from forty-nine seats to eighty-nine. After the Separate Representation of Voters Act, the act that disenfranchising Coloured South Africans was passed. Afterward, the Senate was reduced to its original size.
In the United States of America, the selective enforcement of drug policies targets communities of color keeping millions of Black and Hispanic citizens in a cycle of poverty. Mass incarceration places entire groups of people, primarily Black and Hispanic, into permanent discriminatory positions in society. Once in the prison system, those convicted of a felony will lose the right to vote and they will return to American society unable to participate in civic engagement.
The thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution states in Section I that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Section II states that “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The thirteenth amendment was passed before Black men had the right to vote (fifteenth amendment). To be clear, in the far majority of states “felons” are disenfranchised. Those out on probation are disenfranchised, and in most states even after fully serving your sentence, probation, and parole the citizen is still disenfranchised. Currently, 1 out of every 13 Black-Americans is rendered unable to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, which is a rate 4 times greater than non-Black-Americans. You become a felon when you are convicted of a felony crime. A felony crime is a crime where you serve 1+ year in prison. Whether a crime is a felony or a misdemeanor depends on your state and judge. It is arbitrarily decided, for example, vandalism can be both. Drug offenses can be both a misdemeanor and felony crime. A felony can be violent or nonviolent. Common violent felonies are assault, battery, arson, rape, and murder. Common non-violent felonies include drug offenses, forgery and counterfeiting, possessing a gun without a license, and robbery. Common misdemeanors include speeding, trespassing, vandalism, and public intoxication.
The laws of a particular state, a prosecutor, and a judge are able to disenfranchise a citizen of the United States. Statistically, although Black-Americans make up 14.3 percent of the population they make up 37 percent of the prison population. (U.S., 2014)
In Israel, there is a list of systemically discriminant laws that affect Palestinians. These laws are presently in effect and they date back to 1945. The laws that focus on voter disenfranchisement and revised land and property rights are of particular interest.
According to the Absentees’ Property Law passed in 1950: those who fled were expelled, or left the country after November 29, 1947, along with their movable and immovable property were regarded by the state as absentee. The property of absentees is to be placed under the control of the State of Israel. Israel utilized this law to possess land and property belonging to internal and external Palestinian refugees.
The Arab citizens of Israel have a difficult time voting and a difficult time running for candidacy in the Knesset. Citizenship Law Amendment 10 enumerates the court’s power to revoke the citizenship of persons convicted of espionage, assisting the enemy in time of war, treason, serving in enemy forces (as defined in the Israeli penal law), acts of terrorism as defined under the Prohibition on Terrorist Financing Law (2005), and violating state sovereignty. Citizenship cannot be revoked if the person lives in Israel and does not hold dual citizenship. In those cases, the citizen drops down to residency status instead. (Adalah, 2015) Residents cannot vote in national elections.
In the Basic Law of the Knesset it states that “A list of candidates shall not participate in the elections for the Knesset if its aims or actions, expressly or by implication, point to one of the following: (1) denial of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people: (2) denial of the democratic nature of the state; and (3) incitement to racism.” The amendments in 2002 changed Section 7(A)(1) to read as, “denial of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and added Section 7(A)(3), “support for armed struggle by a hostile state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.” -Adalah Those candidates that have recently visited an Arab state without the permission of the Interior Minister will be denied the right to stand for election. Being Palestinian and seeking elected office in Israel is not an easy task. You would not be able to serve the best interests of your people and hold office simultaneously. If you did, you would likely be removed for one of the above reasons.
To be politically isolated in your nation is to be rendered without a voice. In all three cases, we at some point have citizens existing in countries where they have no say in the policies that directly affect their lives. Israel and the United States are both currently democracies and yet there are still cases of disenfranchisement occurring within their borders. Democracies are not perfect, but we should strive to progress towards a democracy that serves all citizens.
Bunting, Ian (2006). The South African case. In Governing access: A four country comparison. Conference hosted by Centre for Higher Education Transformation [CHET], Cape Town, 2–3 March 2006:4–6. [PDF] Available: http://www.chet.org.za/publications/GoverningAccessReport.pdf. [25 July 2006].
Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow. New York: The New Press.