Redistricting and California’s African Americans

black woman movingRedistricting: California’s ‘Great Black Migration’ Still Elephant in the Room

While I’d love to sit around and argue Blacks political viability in California and who’s running for what office in the aftermath of immigration and now redistricting—with the effects of California’s Great Black Migration, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of myself.  Instead, these days, I find it much more important to ask Blacks if they’re planning on staying, and if so, do they plan to vote even when there’s not a Black man running for president on the ballot?  I don’t know—it just seems like that’s the elephant in the room.

As of now there are about 2.3 million Blacks in California, 5.8% percent 37 million—which is still the largest population of Blacks in the western U.S, and the fifth highest Black population for any state.  But whereas with whites, where high-propensity voters come in a variety of ages—with Black people our die-hard voters are slated to be six feet under over the next couple of decades, which means that we need to develop and nurture a newfound appreciatiation for voting amongst Blacks who are not in prison, ages 18-45 quick, fast, and in a hurry.

When I worked in the State Assembly, there was an all-time high of nine Black lawmakers in elected positions.  You could even say that the California Legislative Black Caucus was a force to be reckoned with.

Today, that number has significantly dwindled.  We’re down to six—four in the Assembly and two in the Senate–and it’s being projected that number will dip even lower with the realization that no legislative district in California has a majority of African-Americans.

But to be fair, the handwriting was on the wall.

When the Inland Empire lost its title as the Promise Land for Blacks and we started leaving in droves for a better life in the Deep South, of all places, I knew we had a crisis of gigantic proportions on our hands.

The issue became even clearer when census numbers showed a steady decline in the number of Blacks living in California.  We’re now down to almost 6 percent of the state’s population, or as I like to say, 6 legislators for 6 percent of the population.

Many thought that maps drawn by the state’s first-ever redistricting commission would save traditionally held Black seats in the Legislature and Congress—and maybe in the sort term they actually did.  The thinking—as it has been for years—is that Black voters mean Black people in office.  But that ain’t necessarily so—especially when said Black voters are saying to hell with California and being replaced by Latinos who may or may not even vote and when they do might not feel the same level of commitment to Black elected officials that their Black counterparts did.

While most policy wonks like to argue for or against the newly drawn maps when it comes to African-Americans—very few actually address the real crisis lurking around the corner—Blacks’ willingness to do two things:  one, stay in California, and two, vote in every election be it local, state, or national regardless of who is on the ballot.

We can no longer depend on those senior voters to get us through election after election. Simply put—that’s just short-term thinking and strategizing for the current crop of Black elected officials to ensure their re-election. Long-term thinking understands that senior voters can’t live forever and that the generations they are being replaced with simply don’t value voting the way their parents and grandparents do.  If you think GOTV efforts among Black voters are challenging now—just wait 10 years.

jasmyne cannickThe bottom line is that they can draw all the Black voter-friendly districts they want but if Blacks continue on this mass exodus to the South, there won’t be enough Blacks left to vote anyone into office and the ones that are left won’t have the same adoration for the political process their ancestors had.

California’s Black leaders and politicians, both present and hopeful, need to be fixated on how to solve the problem of getting us to stay and then getting us to vote because both are inextricably tied to our political viability in this state.  After we solve this crisis we can talk about who’s running for what office and if they actually stand a chance.

Jasmyne Cannick

Republished with permission from jasmynnecannick.com

Published by the LA Progressive on August 10, 2011
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
About Jasmyne Cannick

Jasmyne is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the intersection of pop culture, race, class, and politics as played out in the African-American community. An award-winning journalist who previously worked in the U.S. House of Representatives as a press secretary, Jasmyne was selected as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World and is a regular contributor to National Public Radio’s “News and Notes.” She is currently working as a political consultant in California on local and state campaigns.