Historical amnesia has probably always been a problem for successive generations of people’s whose not-too-distant forebears underwent dramatic trauma that it swore would never be forgotten. Voting rights discrimination in Virginia is one of those trauma’s that appears to have largely slipped from the awareness radar of many Virginians. At the very least, it appears that a good deal of Virginians believe the initial impetus(s) for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is no longer a significant force in Virginian culture.
Exhibit A: Falls Church’s recent attempt to ‘unshackle’ itself from the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Officials of the city are claiming that it has proven that voting discrimination against minorities is virtually nonexistent, thereby releasing Falls Church from the need for further federal oversight.
In its filing with the U.S. Justice Department, the city said the following: “Voter registration opportunities in Falls Church for Falls Church elections are readily and equally available to all citizens.”
While the city may be justified in its claim, the willingness and ease with which so many localities in Virginia wish to shed their collective memory of the wrongs that were committed in the past is disturbing. Of course, being removed from the provisions of the Voting Rights Act isn’t in and of itself a sign that the city wants to completely relinquish its memory of the past and the wrongs that were committed.
Rather, the way the city has defended its petition for exemption under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 seems more like a convicted alcoholic saying that he’s sorry only after being caught drunk-driving. That is, the driver isn’t entirely sincere.
For the attempts that Falls Church has made to minimize and eliminate voting discrimination, it should be widely applauded. The city’s real test to my mind is this: if their petition is rejected, how will the city react? Will Falls Church work harder to show “how far we have come in the past 45 years,” or will it sulk in an abyss of self-pity and seeming misunderstanding?