Several political analysts called Tennessee's expulsion of two Black representatives from the Republican-dominated legislature "stunning" and "historic", President Biden called it “shocking, undemocratic and without precedent”, and the New York Times described it as “an extraordinary act of political retribution”. The suppression of Black lawmakers is centuries old, and framing it as anything else is completely ahistorical.
Politics in America has always been a struggle between Black voter suppression and white supremacy. There is nothing new or extraordinary about the party politics that define the present political stage.
Richard W White, a Black superior court clerk in Chatham County, was removed from office by the Georgia supreme court in 1869. Among the three judges, White “received a majority of the votes” and was “eligible, and qualified by law for said office”, but White was still expelled. The constitution didn’t matter. Votes didn’t matter. All that mattered was whiteness. White v Clements would have been the usual naming convention, but the Georgia supreme court chose to call their decision Can a Negro Hold Office in Georgia?
Almost a century later, on Jan. 10, 1966, Georgia's House of Representatives refused to seat Julian Bond after the civil rights activist opposed US involvement in Vietnam. Bonds’ majority district went without representation until the US Supreme Court unanimously decided that the first amendment protected Bond’s right to speak out on public issues.
A more important theme emerges when America's racial binary is placed in context with its two-party system. It is not unprecedented for Black state representatives to be removed against their will - it is a longstanding precedent in the United States.
Source: The Guardian