How Redistricting Might Hurt California’s African Americans

black votersThe Redistricting “Power Grab” of African American Seats: No, We’re Not Being “Too Sensitive”

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) will be voting to release the final iteration of the redistricting maps this week. These maps are supposed to reflect the state’s demographic shifts in the state’s population after the reapportionment of state and congressional legislative seats 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 in decline. Blacks in California, according to the 2010 Census, represent 6.2% of the state’s population, or 2.3 million (out of 37 million residents) who identify themselves as being of African American descent. That is down from being 7.65% of the state’s population after the 2010 Census.

California’s black population is the largest African American population in the West, and the fifth largest in the nation. Of California’s 53 congressional districts, African Americans hold four, or 7.5% 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 is being reflected in the maps released so far.

The latest float of the CCRC’s district maps, seats historically held by African American representatives, commonly referred to as “the BLACK seats,” have fewer blacks in those districts, making it much more difficult to continue the legacy of black representation. In the most dramatic scenario, two of the seats are merged into one, creating a majority black district, but losing a “black” seat in the process. Relegating the statewide African American community to three seats, Southern California, more specifically Black Los Angeles, is set to take the hit. Now one of the most progressive black populations in the nation finds 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 is about to be taken away on questionable population premises that include undocumented aliens and historical gerrymandering.

With its population in decline, CCRC rationalization is stating that the emerging Latino and Asian populations have grown and this has put the squeeze on black representation. I don’t necessarily buy that, for a number of reasons. Black population hasn’t declined that much. 2020, the seat may be gone for sure, but blacks have to retain political power to address two dramatic political interests at hand, namely unemployment and reentry, 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 from which blacks in the state may never recover.

The CCRC is playing with our community’s representation over a one percent differential in population percentage. Black Congressional representatives would go from four to three, or 5.6% of the state’s congressional representation. So they would rather us be underrepresented by one percent (5.6%) than overrepresented by one percent (at 7.5%). If population parity is the play, why does the CCRC still have over 60% of the congressional seats represented by white people when they are only 40.1% of the state’s population?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because of the way the lines are drawn and that effect on majorities, namely blacks and Latinos that 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. So, the “minority seats” which exist now represent a majority of the state’s population. The commission is playing black and Latino political interests against each other and marginalizing Asian political interests in favor of the historical political status quo. We must call this out or it will continue.

Anthony SamadIt’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 be encouraged to change them. Frederick Douglass’ words never have rung 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 Samad
The Black Commentator

Published by the LA Progressive on July 28, 2011
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About Anthony Asadullah Samad

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is an author, scholar and the co-founder, Managing Director and host of the Urban Issues Forum. Dr. Samad's most recent book is entitled "Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom". His national column can be read in newspapers and cyber-sites nationwide. His weekly writings can be read at www.blackcommentator.com. For more information about Dr. Samad, go to www.AnthonySamad.com.