John Oliver Exposes An Unbelievably Racist Ruling

by Alicia Lu

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, an unincorporated U.S. territory is defined as: "A United States insular area in which the United States Congress has determined that only selected parts of the United States Constitution apply." Even the official federal definition sounds condescending, doesn't it? On Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver reveals the racist ruling behind U.S. territories, which states that citizens of unincorporated U.S. territories are not granted some pretty fundamental Constitutional rights, like voting, despite the fact that many of them are U.S. military veterans. If you smell hypocrisy, don't worry — our favorite watchdog has already sniffed out the source.

Oliver opens the segment with this weekend's 50th anniversary of the Selma march, a historical moment that led to the Voting Rights Act.

But voting rights in this country, much like John Travolta's hair, are still very much a work in progress.

And he's not talking about the obvious reasons why some people can't vote, like more restrictive voter I.D. laws. Oliver wants to look into the less obvious reasons, which prohibit an entire group of Americans from voting. In a clip, Stacey Plaskett, the delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the U.S. Virgin Islands, reminds Congress:

As we commemorate the 50thj anniversary of the march on Selma this week, and the subsequent passage of the Voting Rights Act, I want to once again call to the attention of my colleagues here in Congress that there are still American citizens today who do not have equal voting rights. These are citizens of America's island territories — the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Marianas.

Oliver points out that though that is a lot of people, and therefore kind of a big deal, it's something that very few of us think about.

Yes, American citizens living in U.S. island territories do not get to vote for president. That's the kind of unsettling fact that deep down you probably knew but chose not to think about, like the fact that the dog from Full House is definitely dead by now.

But the fact is unsettling nonetheless, especially considering that of the 4.1 million people living in these territories, more than 98 percent of them are ethnic minorities and the reason why they can't vote today goes all the way back to when America first acquired these islands.In a clip, Guam historian Dr. Anne Perez Hattori reveals that in 1901, when deciding what to do with the newly acquired territories, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in the Insular Cases that the islands were inhabited by "alien races" who would not understand "Anglo-Saxon principles," and therefore the Constitution didn't need to apply.

Wow. ... I find that condescending and I'm British. We basically invented patronizing bigotry.

And even the Justice who wrote the lead decision in those rulings intended for them to be temporary.

But it's been 114 years. It's like for over a century, America's computer's been saying, "An update to your country is available" and we've been clicking "Remind me later" again and again and again.

So it's about time that we took a long, hard look at the voting rights in these territories. Oliver starts with Puerto Rico, whose citizens are Americans — a fact that many other Americans, including news anchors, were not aware of. When Justice Sonia Sotomayor was named to the Supreme Court, many anchors called her the "daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants," when she was really the "daughter of Americans who moved from Puerto Rico."

Another startling fact? Puerto Rico has more American citizens than 21 U.S. states, but less voting rights than any of them. And it's even more startling that the territory has a delegate in Congress who doesn't have voting representation in Congress.

It's pretty infantilizing when discussing national legislation to give Puerto Rico the same status as a 6-year-old voting on where the family should get to go on vacation.

And the same voting restrictions also apply to Guam, "the Pacific territory that unequivocally sounds the most like a Batman punch."

U.S. Navy and Air Force bases cover over a quarter of the island's land mass, yet its residents have no say in general elections for president. That's already messed up, but it gets worse.

As a clip from the 2014 documentary series America By The Numbers With Maria Hinojosa explains, "according to Guam's Office of Veterans Affairs, at least one in eight adult Guamanians is a veteran, among the highest percentages of all U.S. states and territories."

Guam gives a quarter of its land and as much as an eight of its people to the U.S. military. At this point, the American flag should really just be a guy from Guam waving an American flag.

And yet, in 2012, Guam ranked dead last in per capita spending on medical care by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning veterans in Guam have virtually no access to PTSD treatment or any other medical services.If you think that's painfully ironic, just wait till you hear this. Oliver reveals that just because Guam residents can't vote doesn't mean that they don't. The island holds a straw poll every year, and the election turnout in Guam is actually higher than in the U.S.

And to misquote the words of the great philosopher Lil Jon, turn out for what?

All jokes aside, it's a pretty sad reality, and Guam's residents — who, just to remind you again in case you forgot, are U.S. citizens — clearly don't think it's very fair. But, Oliver points out, Guam gets considerably more respect from the U.S. government than yet another island territory — America Samoa. To illustrate how America Samoa is treated, Oliver plays a clip showing a member of Congress introducing the island's delegate in the chamber and horribly mispronouncing not only the delegate's name, but the name of the island by calling it "American Somalia."

Listen, I get his name is a little difficult, but you cannot mispronounce American Samoa. There's a f*cking Girl Scout cookie named after it.

Somehow the delegate was able to respond graciously by thanking the Congressman and politely correcting him.

That is class that I do not have. Because if I were him I'd have responded, "Thank you. It is a privilege to be here in Waffleton D.P. in the great United Sporks of Amoogaboink."

As if the lack of voting rights weren't bad enough, American Samoans are prohibited from having something else: U.S. citizenship.

They don't even get automatic citizenship, meaning the American part of American Samoa is really just a title that doesn't mean anything, like People's Choice Award nominee or social media expert.

But to really drive the point home, Oliver reveals that a territory whose people cannot vote for a president who can send it to war also has the top Army recruiting station in the world.

So now I'm thinking the American flag should be a guy from America Samoa waving a flag with a guy from Guam on it waving the American flag.

But nope, that's not even all. American Samoans are also constantly reminded that they're not equal under the law by carrying a passport that explicitly states on the last page, "The bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen."

As a result, five American Samoans are suing the U.S. government to change this national vs. citizen rule. However, the Obama administration is fighting back using the Insular Cases mentioned earlier as their defense, meaning American Samoans, just like the residents of the other island territories are given fewer rights because they belong to "alien races" who don't understand white people thinking.

And to disprove that very antiquated and extremely racist notion, Oliver plays a clip of an American Samoan, an active U.S. Army soldier who just got back from deployment in Afghanistan, performing "Stay" by Rihanna on America's Got Talent.

Just to be clear, that is an Afghanistan war veteran moving an audience to cheers and at least one judge to a partial orgasm with a rendition of a Rihanna song on a show called America's Got Talent. If that's not an American, I don't think one has ever existed.

So what's the holdup with changing the law determined in the clearly outdated Insular Cases? Oliver lists all the things we've accomplished in the last 114 years: we invented television, we eradicated the measles ("and then for some f*cking reason, brought them back again"), we held 30 Wrestlemanias, and, oh yeah, we figured out how to fly. If we can literally fly in contraptions to visit these islands, Oliver says, maybe it's about time the 4 million people who lived there were adequately heard. Watch the entire segment below.

Images: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver/YouTube