One of the funniest and most memorable scenes in Eddie Murphy’s hit movie “Beverly Hills Cop” was the banana in the tailpipe scene. In fact, it was so popular and has become such a part of pop culture that it’s an expression we use when we think someone is trying to pull something over on us. So, last week when the media was exploiting the heck out of the Paula Deen situation, like most of Black America, I almost fell for it. I almost believed it was one of the most important stories of the week and that it commanded all the attention it was getting. And while she was confessing, apologizing and crying with no tears for saying the N-word, other bananas were dangling real close to the tail pipe.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which protected our right to vote. The landmark Civil Rights law was blatantly necessary back then when we were being attacked by police dogs and sprayed with water hoses for protesting the fact that we were not allowed to vote. Now, 50 years later, Supreme Court Justices ruled 5-4 that the law is no longer necessary. “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied benefits to gay couples who are legally married in their states, including Social Security survivor benefits and family leave. The court also allowed gay marriage to resume in California.
A super majority of senators passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would grant 11 million undocumented immigrants immediate legal status and a path to citizenship while sending $30 billion to the southern border to beef up security.
Now, unlike, Rev. Al, Rev. Bernice King, Sybil and J., I wasn’t so ready to say Paula Deen did not deserve the punishment that she got. She said and did some really mean, racist things, and probably did more than that has been documented. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be forgiven, but companies like The Food Network, Wal-Mart and Ballantine Books were right to sever their business ties with her. But the racist action Paula Deen committed as an individual doesn’t compare to institutional racism and the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal part of the Voting Rights Act just invites more of it.
So the victories for gay marriages and immigration have given lots of people reason celebrate. All things being equal, they illustrate democracy in action—the thing that makes this country great. But when you look more closely, it’s two steps forward, one step back for African Americans. The question is are we going to do something about it or we going to be victims blindsided by old tricks?