From Harper’s magazine 1867, “The First Vote,” by sketch artist Alfred Waud. The image depicted a line of Black men patiently waiting their turn to vote, a right that was confirmed by the passing of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. What historian Eric Foner calls ‘the greatest experiment in inter-racial democracy in history’, saw former enslaved men claiming their right of sovereignty by casting ballots in post-war elections. Their ability to vote was soon again rescinded by angry whites who contrived various ‘tests’ to deny Black voters their eligibility, such as the Poll Tax, Grandfather Clause, and Literacy Test. Not until 1965 did the Federal government once again enforce that constitutional right with the Voting Rights of 1965. In 2013 the Supreme Court gutted most of the enforcement provisions of that act, and in recent years a new age of Jim Crow has seen voting and basic rights steadily eroded for Black people.
Justice might be blind, as the saying goes, but according to the saucy boys, the laws too often see color. Join us this week for the second of our two-part discussion of power, and how historically those in power have designed the laws to protect the privileges of the governing and propertied elites. Claims of impartial justice and equal rights under the law represent just two of the high-sounding “imaginaries of power” that lie at the heart of oppressive systems. Our special guest is the lawyer extraordinaire Asha Wilkerson, who shares from her work as an attorney, professor, and world traveler dedicated to social justice. Asha describes how she uses a legal system designed historically for privilege to empower underserved communities, Black people, and people of color. Josh then follows with a discussion of colonial India, and explains how British attempts to impose their authority through oppressive laws and shocking violence ended by delegitimizing the very system they were trying to uphold. With History Against the Grain, you know we’re fightin’ the law, and the law doesn’t win.
This week’s music: Run the Jewels, “Talk to Me”; Charles Bradley and the Manahan Street Players, “Heart of Gold”; Jay Electronica, “The Neverending Story”
If you would like to listen to Episode 17 The Imaginaries of Power, click the link below:
Sources Referenced and Other Items of Interest
Asha Wilkerson, Esq.
Gyan Prakash, “The Massacre that Led to the End of the British Empire (New York Times, April 13, 2019)
Antonio Pele, “Achille Mbembe: Necropolitics” (Critical Legal Thinking, March 2, 2020)
Rachel Adams, “Michel Foucault: “Biopolitics and Biopower” (Critical Legal Thinking, May 10, 2017)
Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. William M’Intosh (March 10, 1823)
“Any large-scale human cooperation, whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe, is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination….Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”Yuval Noah Harari