Tuesday, April 19, 2011

State redistricting will marginalize African Americans

Charleston wants minority representation, but state looks for Republicans

Posted by Greg Hambrick on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 10:45 AM

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about a post-racial society in America, and surprisingly, South Carolina may be a good testing ground.

One of the running themes of the 2010 Census is that African Americans are moving back to the South, and while conventional wisdom would suggest that things are improving for minorities in the old Confederacy, the realities in South Carolina and the City of Charleston tell a different story. When the state's congressional districts are determined, following the creation of a seventh district, African Americans will likely be proportionally underrepresented. Meanwhile, when it comes to Charleston City Council, it's not an issue of representation; it's an issue of finding enough African Americans to represent. According to the census, African Americans are leaving the peninsula.

Although the Right complains about gerrymandered districts that isolate a large percentage of the state's African Americans in Congressman Jim Clyburn's district — the Voting Rights Act requires that at least one district be a majority African-American district — in truth, the act barely protects African-American voters. Instead, it's an important tool for congressional Republicans worried about holding on to their districts by isolating a key Democratic voting block.

African Americans account for more than 28 percent of the state's population, meaning that at least one in every four residents of South Carolina is an African American. Yet, looking at the racial makeup of our congressional districts, you will find that only one of six districts is majority African American.

And it's about to get worse. Legislators in Columbia will be carving out a seventh district. Analysts at the online election news site The Cook Political Report drafted a redistricting map that could include a second majority African-American district by halving Clyburn's district and adding some of the majority African-American counties in Rep. Joe Wilson's Second District. But the state is controlled by white Republicans, and they're sitting in Columbia right now figuring out ways to make a new GOP district that would absolutely be majority white.

For conservatives, First District Congressman Tim Scott appears to be a trump card if they are criticized for creating another majority white district. "Look," they'll say. "More African-American representation." It's terrific that the Lowcountry's white population has gotten over racial hang-ups, but Scott represents a district populated in large part by white people. African Americans could pick another candidate to run against Scott, and, if every African American voted for the other candidate and every white person voted for Scott, Scott would still win.

There's a slightly different problem with Charleston City Council. The last time that council districts were drawn in 2000, there were five African-American districts, each with blacks making up at least 59 percent of the population. Ten years later, only one of those districts has a majority of African Americans. It's a particular problem on the peninsula where middle-class whites have replaced African Americans as they move to the suburbs.

Statewide, Republicans may be doing their best to secure another GOP seat in spite of the African-American population, but City Council members are working together to ensure that African Americans have more than one seat on the council. The state staff responsible for redistricting has offered a plan that would create two majority African-American districts by consolidating some of the districts on the peninsula. City planners have drawn up their own plans that would include three majority African-American districts.

The state legislators drafting their plan in Columbia should look to the City of Charleston and see the value of representing all citizens, not just the Republicans.

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