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‘The basis of our democracy’: Traci Griffith discusses the Constitution’s effect on people of color

By Raena Doty

Asst. Arts & Features Editor

By Jack McLaughlin

Staff Writer

Traci Griffith, the racial justice program director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLU), came to FSU April 4 to lead a discussion called “Promised on Paper, Pathetic in Practice: Race-Related Protections in the U.S. Constitution.”

The ACLU is a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to social justice and protecting laws.

Students gathered in the McCarthy Center Alumni Room with Griffith and Carol Gray, a political science professor who hosted and sponsored the event.

She began by describing the parts of the United States Constitution meant to provide equal protections for U.S. citizens.

However, when these documents are put into practice, she said they leave out people of color.

Griffith gave a few examples of discrepancies in the Constitution between what it’s supposed to do and what it actually does.

Griffith said that though the First Amendment is intended to give freedom of speech among other rights to all citizens, Florida has recently imposed limits on what books are allowed to be taught in schools, which predominantly pertains to stories by and about people of color and other marginalized groups.

She also gave the example of the barriers people face when they’re arrested, and how someone who has less money may not be able to pay bail. Though two people may face the same fine for the same crime, a richer person can post bail while a poorer person must remain in jail.

Griffith said though the fine may be equal for everyone involved, it doesn’t affect both these people the same way because of their different socioeconomic statuses.

The next topic discussed was school segregation. Griffith explained that this has been an issue in Massachusetts for a long time.

Following the passing of the Racial Imbalance Act in 1965, segregated schools are defined as a student body comprised of more than 50% of one particular group, Griffith said.

She said when the Boston school committee failed to develop any plans to integrate their 44 schools, Black parents began to organize against segregation. In 1974 the committee's efforts to preserve segregation were found to be unconstitutional.

Griffith explained that as a result of this, “white flight” began happening in the city. She described this as white people moving out of the city and into the suburbs. This caused communities to become more segregated, which resulted in schools in the area to also be segregated.

It was revealed in 2020, there was a $23 billion disparity in funding for schools that primarily served Black children compared to predominantly white schools, she said.

“It’s clear that segregated schools, no matter what color children are, pose a threat to equal education opportunities,” Griffith said.

Finally, she discussed how minority groups’ voting rights are impacted.

Griffith said despite important changes such as the Voter Rights Act of 1965 and the 24th Amendment, voter suppression remains an issue in migrant communities.

Longer waiting times, a higher frequency of rejected ballots, and stricter voter ID laws make it more challenging for people of color and those who are poor to vote, she said.

Griffith explained that while it is true that you are registered to vote once you receive your driver’s license, not everyone can afford to obtain one - especially in cities like Boston and Springfield, who have high populations of people of color.

She added there are movements happening to make voting easier, but they may not all be successful.

“Shouldn’t we be making it easier [to vote]? That’s the very basis of our democracy,” Griffith said.



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