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June 25, 2013 at 8:06 AM
Supreme Court watchers and those listening to debates on race probably knew this day was coming. The U.S. Supreme Court about 20 minutes ago voided a key part of the Voting Rights Act.
Deep breath. The court did not question the validity or need for federal vigilance to keep polling places open to minorities, mainly African-American voters and mainly in the South – since the landmark was enacted in 1965. But justices said in a 5-4 split that enforcing one key provision required reliance on 40-year-old data.
Congress “may draft another formula based on current conditions,” said Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority.
The court’s debate about racial progress is echoed in its decision to pass on an affirmative action case, essentially acknowledging the effort is still needed to guarantee fairness in opportunity but also warning that such efforts must be narrowly-constructed and targeted.
My take: considerable racial progress has been made in America, but is it enough to guarantee equal opportunity? Anti-discrimination laws like the Voting Rights Act guarantee basic rights. Not jobs, houses or new cars, but simple American rights like the right to vote, to a good education, to live or work where you choose. It is the right to succeed or fail on your own merit, not because of racial bias, that my forebears sought. Are we there yet?
The court’s 2012-13 term ends at the end of June. Explore the most significant cases and decisions below:
January 30, 2013 at 9:06 AM
Questioning whether a controversial Super Bowl ad by Volkswagen is racist ought to take each of us back to the question of what is beauty. Watch the ad and decide for yourself.
The ad features a white, average-looking guy walking around a corporate office dispensing “don’t worry, be happy,” style advice in a thick Jamaican accent. The juxtaposition of white guys, and one Asian, riding the VW depicting Island-style carefree living is hilarious.
But the VW-Jamaica ad is no ordinary car ad. Commercials run during the Super Bowl are the equivalent of Oscar night in Hollywood. They can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a few minutes of air time. Millions of people watch them and their reaction can sell a product or tank it. So of course VW was hoping to create a buzz. But the German auto company does not want to be viewed as racist. It can be a fine line.
They need not worry. The VW ad is edgy and funny, but it is not racist. It celebrates the optimistic, can-do spirit of Jamaicans and does it with a patois accent. An advertising executive told NBC’s Today show around 100 Jamaicans were interviewed before the ad was released.
UPDATE: The Jamaican government has officially endorsed the ad. Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill explains why. Not everyone agrees, New York Times columnist Charles Blow compares the ad to blackface, a discredited form of theatre that relied on racial stereotypes.