The Current Confusion Of Black Protest Politics

It is almost amusing to watch practitioners of the old black protest politics try hold on to their old positions as the threats to them come from new and unexpected directions.

Take this lament by noted black protest author/journalist Earl Ofari Hutchinson that “the number of black elected officials has been stagnant at best and, at worst, on a downhill slide,” an article that inadvertently reveals some of the confusions and contradictions of contemporary black protest politics.

Note, for starters, his assumption that blacks are owed guaranteed political success and that removing that guarantee is a “peril” for black politicians:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 1993 on minority redistricting is another potential peril for black politicians. The court tossed out districts that had been gerrymandered to preserve black population majorities. These so-called race-based districts were mostly in the South and were deliberately drawn to insure that black candidates would perpetually be elected to Congress.

Since Hutchinson himself said that these districts were “gerrymandered to preserve black population majorities,” why does he insist on calling them so-called race-based districts? And where in the Constitution, or anywhere else, is the guarantee that “black candidates” should be “perpetually elected to Congress”?

Next Hutchinson trips over some factual hurdles (facts are often hard to get across or around):

An added dilemma for black voters is that any future increase in the number of black elected officials must come from what are currently majority white districts. Yet, with the exception of former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts and former Connecticut Rep. Gary Franks — both Republicans and both conservatives who were elected from majority white districts — it is still a hard sell for blacks to triumph in non-black majority districts.

What are black Democratic Representatives Sanford Bishop of Georgia and Melvin Watt of North Carolina, potted plants? Bishop’s district (Georgia 2nd) is 60% white, and Watt’s (North Carolina’s infamous 12th, the I-85 district) has a plurality of whites.

Even the New York Times has noticed what Hutchinson hasn’t. In an article from last October that featured Melanie Levesque of New Hampshire, a black woman who “represents one of the whitest districts in one of the whitest states in the nation.” Levesque, however, was simply the cover girl for the article’s main subject: “a new generation of black elected officials who are wooing white voters and winning local elections in predominantly white districts across the country.”

… [O]ver the last 10 years, about 200 black politicians have won positions once held by whites in legislatures and city halls in states like New Hampshire, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee.

In 2007, about 30 percent of the nation’s 622 black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, up from about 16 percent in 2001, according to data collected by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington that has kept statistics on black elected officials for nearly 40 years.

Finally, note what Hutchinson describes as another of the “daunting obstacles” facing black politicians:

The turgidity in black political gains can also be dumped squarely on several phenomena: black voter apathy, alienation, inner-city population drops, suburban integration and displacement by Latinos and Asians who have shown a far greater willingness than blacks to split their votes more evenly among both Republican and Democratic candidates….

Black politicians must also expand their agenda to address the needs of Latino and Asian voters. Their support will be absolutely crucial if black politicians expect to hold or win office in the future in districts that were once majority black but are fast changing to majority Latino and Asian districts.

Turgidity? My dictionary (the Oxford American, a version of which is built into the Mac’s operating system) defines turgid as follows:

swollen and distended or congested : a turgid and fast-moving river.

[But also, and this may be more appropriate]

• (of language or style) tediously pompous or bombastic : some turgid verses on the death of Prince Albert.

But never mind the turgid style; the real problem here is the confusion and contradiction of the substance.

First, it still doesn’t occur to Hutchinson that if blacks want to get elected they should “expand their agenda” to appeal to whites as well. The pale, apparently, remain beyond the pale.

More fundamentally, however, Hutchinson doesn’t explain why blacks should be elected to represent districts that “are fast changing to majority Latino and Asian districts.” Well, of course he doesn’t. He can’t. The whole point of “diversity” these days is that people should be represented (even in institutions that are not designed to be representative) by people who “look like them.”

It has never struck me as a smart move for minorities to elevate pigment to principle and to pin their claim for equal treatment on what they look like, and I suspect some black politicians who are in the process of being displaced by Hispanics and Asians may come to hold colorblind merit in higher regard than they have in the past.

Say What? (1)

  1. ACF February 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm | | Reply

    Didn’t we just elect a “black” person (Obama) with votes from a (70%?) “white” district? The “district” is the United States.

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