Racism Today: The Voting Rights Act and Paula Deen

In the midst of several landmark cases, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Prior to the decision, Section 4 of the Act established “preclearance” methods to determine which states needed federal approval to change voting laws. Intended to protect minority voting rights, Section 4 largely affected southern states with a history of discriminatory practices.

Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the majority, acknowledged that voting discrimination still exists, a hard-to-dispute reality given the numerous claims of voter suppression during the 2012 elections. However, the more conservative side of the bench found that the current formula under Section 4 is an outdated measure, applicable in 1965 but not today.


In other news, Paula Deen, one of America’s most recognizable celebrity chefs, has been battling accusations of discrimination and use of racial slurs in her restaurants. It’s unclear whether this latest scandal will crumble Paula Deen’s deep-fried empire, but her statements are reminiscent of the South’s complicated racial history.

There is no doubt that the fight against racism and discrimination has come a long way since the 1960s. As a result of her comments, Paula Deen has been harshly judged in the court of public opinion, and sponsors are fleeing. But the Paula Deen debacle also highlights the continuing existence of racist attitudes today.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act oversimplifies a complex problem. No, we are not where we were in 1965, but it would be naïve to think anti-discriminatory safeguards have outrun their course.

The ruling does allow for the possibility that Congress will instate a new formula for the Voting Rights Act, an updated preclearance equation. But with the current state of a deadlocked Congress, people are far from optimistic that such a measure will pass. In the meantime minority voting blocks are left especially vulnerable.

Historically, the path towards racial equality has been an uphill climb, and we have been steadily pushing upwards. It will be significantly more difficult to continue on without the buffers that prevent us from sliding back.


Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.