Redistricting “power grab” of African American seats: No, we’re not being “too sensitive”
Between the Lines
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) will be voting on the final iteration of redistricting maps this week. These maps are supposed to reflect the demographic shifts in the state’s population following the 2010 Census.
As far as the congressional seats go, the goal of the collective African American community statewide is to hold on to what it has, despite a population that is declining. According to the 2010 Census, Blacks in California represent 6.2 percent of the state’s population, or 2.3 million (out of 37 million residents) who identify themselves as being of African descent. That is down from 7.65 percent of the state’s population after the 2000 Census. California’s Black population is the largest in the west, and the fifth largest in the nation. Of California’s 53 congressional districts, African Americans hold four, or 7.5 percent of the seats (proportional to its percentage in the 2000 Census population). The CCRC now claims that Blacks are over represented in the state’s congressional delegation. Their mindset was reflected in the maps released.
In one of the latest CCRC district maps that was defeated after a pitched battle, seats historically held by African American representatives, commonly referred to as “the Black seats,” had fewer Blacks in those districts making it much more difficult to continue the legacy of African American representation.
In the most dramatic scenario, one commissioner presented maps where two of the seats were merged into one, creating a majority Black district, but losing a “Black” seat in the process.
Relegating the statewide African American community to two seat, Southern California … more specifically Black Los Angeles would have taken the hit. One of the most progressive Black populations in the nation could have found itself on the verge of being disenfranchised.
Some people think we, the African American community, are being a little too sensitive. Huh?
Well, how should we feel about it? Political representation that we’ve fought (and died for) was being threatened on questionable population premises that include undocumented aliens and historical gerrymandering. With the African American population in decline, CCRC is rationalizing that the emerging Latino and Asian communities have grown and has put the squeeze on Black representation. I don’t necessarily buy that, for a number of reasons. The Black population hasn’t declined that much. In 2020, the seat may be gone for sure, but today Blacks have to retain political power to address to dramatic political interests namely unemployment and re-entry, which I wouldn’t trust anybody else to handle. For those reasons alone, congressional representation must be retained. I’m more inclined to think it’s a power grab that Blacks in the state may never recover from.
The CCRC is playing with our community’s representation over a one percent differential in population percentage. Taking Black congressional representatives would take us from four to three, or 5.6 percent of the state’s congressional representation. So, they would rather us be underrepresented by one percent (5.6 percent) than overrepresented by one percent (at 7.5 percent). If population parity is the play, why does the CCRC still have more than 60 percent of congressional seats represented by a White person, when they are only 40.1 percent of the state’s population? Because of the way the lines are drawn and density for which majorities, namely Blacks and Latinos are clustered in urban areas.
That’s the fallacy of the population parity argument. Whites can represent other people, but other people can’t represent Whites.
It’s power that the Black community cannot afford to concede. And so the commission must know the level of alarm our community has for its district maps and encourage them to change them.
Frederick Douglass’ words never have rang truer: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”
If the Los Angeles Black community doesn’t demand the commission retain Black political representation in Congress, it will concede Black political representation in Congress.
It is as simple as that. That’s how power shifts from one group to the next.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.
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