“Democrats praise our national pastime while Republicans decry corporate power” sounds like a satirical headline from The Onion circa 2011. However, as we have come to expect, 2021 has already proven itself to be a year of surprises.
Two weeks ago, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill into law that many activists and voting rights watchdogs say unfairly targets Black Georgians while restricting access to the ballot on the whole. Among other things, the bill limits absentee voting, reduces voting periods for run-off elections and even makes handing water to those waiting in line to vote a felony if done with the intention of soliciting votes.
In response to this reprehensible and anti-democratic legislation, Major League Baseball announced this week that it would be moving the much-anticipated All-Star game out of Atlanta out of respect for “the voting rights for all Americans.” The removal of the game comes at the price of an estimated $100 million to the local economy and the potential loss of thousands of jobs.
I fail to see this as the great win for voting rights that many within the Democratic Party claim it is. The MLB’s decision and subsequent praise from the left is the newest manifestation of America’s longstanding tradition of scapegoating the South for all of its social issues.
If large corporations truly cared about voting rights, where is the private sector outcry about Iowa’s new omnibus bill that mimics Georgia’s legislation almost word for word? What “commitment to voting rights” did the MLB espouse when a bill was introduced in the Arizona state legislature earlier this year that would potentially prohibit 3.2 million Arizonians from early voting?
The reality is that these companies could care less about access to the ballot box. I hate to agree with Gov. Kemp, but actions like the MLB’s recent withdrawal amount to nothing more than corporate virtue signaling with profit incentives attached. Perhaps the worst part of this performative activism is that Southerners once again serve as the easiest target.
The people who are hurt by the moving of the All-Star game are not Georgia’s GOP legislators or Gov. Kemp. On the contrary, it’s the overwhelmingly Black Atlanta population that is depending upon the return of tourism like baseball to rescue the city from the economic devastation of the pandemic.
As long as Americans can point to the South as a problem that needs to be solved and as long as our national racial anxiety is affixed to one region, we as a nation are able to avoid doing the difficult work of truly combating systemic prejudice.
I know that you’ve seen the look of pity and patronization when you tell your liberal friend from up north that you live in Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama or anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. To many, we are a land full of rednecks and racists, uneducated hillbillies and Klan members.
Never mind that Mississippi has more Black elected officials than any other state in the nation. Never mind that a staggering 76% of Fulton County residents, which encompasses Atlanta, voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. These Southerners don’t matter, and they are rarely mentioned beyond stereotypes. They are made collateral damage in the name of corporate greed disguised as activism.
To be clear, Georgia’s new law is draconian and reminiscent of Jim Crow. However, while racism is certainly present in the South, it is not exclusive to it. It’s easier to divest from an area, to simply move away, than to root out the underlying causes of its issues and examine the ways in which we all might contribute to them.
We cannot abandon and isolate our way out of bias, prejudice and oppression. The solution is just the opposite. As Sen. Raphael Warnock, the first Black Senator from Georgia, said last week, “We can protest this law not by leaving Georgia but by coming here and fighting voter suppression head-on and hand-in-hand with the community.”
Katie Broten is a sophomore majoring in public policy leadership and economics from Farmington, NM.