Night Music Slanted
Light strike the cave of sleep. I alone
tread the red circle
and twist the space with speech
Come now, etheridge, don’t
be a savior; take your words and scrape
the sky, shake rain
on the desert, sprinkle
salt on the tail
of a girl,
can there anything
good come out of
—Etheridge Knight, from Poems from Prison (1968)
Today is an important day in African American history. On this day, February 3rd, 1870, the fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, making it illegal for the federal and state governments to deny a citizen the right to vote based on race, color, or previous servitude (slavery). A month later, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African American to cast his ballot.
Of course, those sneaky southern states would find other ways to deny the black man his civic duty (Jim Crow, literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, etc.), and black women would have to wait another 50 years before they were awarded the right to vote with the nineteenth amendment.
Etheridge Knight began writing poetry while in prison, serving an eight year sentence for armed robbery. He was just one of millions of black men and women who have been disproportionally imprisoned thanks to our flawed justice system. This is not to say that these men and women are all innocent (though there have been many cases of wrongful convictions), but we also cannot be so blind as to assume that blacks are more prone to violence than whites.
Many states deny convicted felons the right to vote, and in some cases, a felon can permanently lose the right to vote even after being rehabilitated back into society. This means that thousands of black men and women can no longer exercise one of their most important civic duties.
Furthermore, in 2010 a wave of Republican backed anti voter fraud laws swept the nation (a curious move, as regularly empty polls would show that voter apathy is a bigger issue), shortening early voting in some states, eliminating same-day registration and voting, requiring government issued IDs, and setting other mandates for voting. While no one can say these laws have anything to do with race (could it also be a coincidence that they were passed almost immediately after President Obama was elected?), it’s hard to ignore that the groups most affected are African Americans and Latinos. Then, as recently as 2014, there was (crazy) talk of repealing the Voting Rights Act of 1965!
Is it possible that the government is covertly attempting to take back the black vote? The idea will probably always remain a conspiracy theory, but it’s too important to ignore. Voting is the closest thing we have to controlling how our country is run. Who knows how detrimental it would be for us if we lost that. (a Trump election?)
For today’s optional #BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the voters. Why is voting so important? What could it mean for them if they lost their right to vote? What could it mean for this country?