Basic citizenship privileges

One section of an interview on Fresh Air on Monday:

LEVISKY: The creed to which Daniel refers and the initial establishment of strong democratic norms in this country was founded in a homogeneous society, a racially and culturally homogeneous society. It was founded in an era of racial exclusion. And the challenge is that we have now become a much more ethnically, culturally diverse society, taken major steps towards racial equality, and the challenge is making those norms stick in this new context.

DAVIES: And you do note in the book that the resolution of the conflicts around the Civil War and a restoration of kind of normal democratic institutions was accompanied by denial of voting rights and basic citizenship privileges to African-Americans in the South. So this hasn’t exactly been a laudable course all the time.

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so this is this great paradox – tragic paradox, really – that we recount in the book, which is that the consolidation of these norms, which we think are so important to democratic life of mutual toleration and forbearance, were re-established, really, at the price of racial exclusion. I mean, there was a way in which the end of Reconstruction – when Reconstruction was a great democratic effort and experiment – and it was a moment of democratic breakthrough for the United States where voting rights were extended to African-Americans. At the end of Reconstruction throughout the U.S. South, states implemented a variety of reforms to reduce the right to vote – essentially, to eliminate the right to vote for African-Americans.

There’s a major howler in that passage. It’s an interview and it’s easy to make howlers in interviews and they probably would have caught it if it had been written…but still.

That “moment of democratic breakthrough for the United States where voting rights were extended to African-Americans” during Reconstruction? Voting rights were not extended to African-Americans during Reconstruction; they were extended to African-American men. They were not extended to African-American women, nor were they extended to white women. It’s odd how women are just not considered part of the population even now, even by academics talking about democracy and norms. It’s odd how easily women are simply forgotten. It’s odd how easily the exclusion of women remains just invisible to so many people even now.

3 Responses to “Basic citizenship privileges”

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting