Abigail Thernstrom has a tremendously important column at NRO today. She discusses the truly bizarre (in terms of logic) liberal teeth-gnashing over the “problem” that black population movement to the suburbs causes for the idea of black-majority legislative districts:
Blacks should know their place, the media seem to think. Increasingly, they are leaving their natural habitat — the inner city — and wandering into residential areas where lots of non-blacks live, the Washington Post and other media outlets report with obvious distress. …
There goes the neighborhood — that is, the black ghetto. It isn’t yet gone, but it’s going. One might see that as excellent news. It’s not, the mainstream media tell us. Residential segregation has long been considered the most important sign of miles to go on the road to racial equality, but the escape of blacks to the suburbs will make the creation of majority-black legislative districts harder to achieve….
A possible Justice Department response to the new, worrisome demographic picture is to insist on even more imaginative racial gerrymandering to recapture black voters who have fled cities for greener pastures, but a majority on the Supreme Court has voiced dismay over tortured race-driven lines. The Court’s discomfort arises from constitutional concerns, but quite another question can also be asked: When black voters have been able to choose the traditional path of upward mobility and settle in a suburb, should the law be working to reunite those voters with the communities they made great efforts to escape?
It seems legitimate to assume (although I know of no survey data confirming the point) that minority families who leave central cities don’t necessarily identify with their former, less prosperous neighborhoods. Surely, they acquire new interests tied to schools, as well as other institutions and organizations in the area where they now live. And thus we may wonder why legislators drawing new maps insist on stereotyping blacks as fungible members of a cohesive group and, on the basis of that assumption, place them in bizarre districts that often resemble (as one federal judge has put it) “a microscopic view of a new strain of disease.”…
Both in cities and in suburbs, America is thus becoming increasingly multi-ethnic — a picture we should surely celebrate. And yet, while residential segregation is widely viewed as evidence of continuing racial pathology, the deliberate drawing of electoral districts to segregate whites from minorities is, ironically, considered positively enlightened public policy.
It is not, in fact. Race-conscious districts, particularly in the South, were appropriate in the years in which few southern whites would vote for black candidates regardless of their qualifications. But they come with substantial costs that are bound to grow as America keeps maturing racially. By now, those costs outweigh any possible benefits.
Contortionate efforts to create “majority minority districts,” except in unique circumstances to remedy obvious past wrongs, have always been obnoxious. For the same reason that segregated lunch counters were morally wrong, so are segregated voting districts. The elder Bush’s administration in the early 1990s made a devil’s bargain with black political leaders: Ghettoize as many black voters as possible into black-majority districts, no matter how illogical the districts might otherwise look, and they could create more black elected officials in the short term — and also more Republicans, because by pushing black voters (who typically vote Democratic) out of the surrounding districts, they could increase the odds of Republican victories in those surrounding jurisdictions.
It was a cynical maneuver. It caused further divisions between blacks and whites who no longer had to even try to appeal to each other in order to win elections. It further exacerbated the trend of blacks being considered automatic vassals of the Democratic Party while Republicans developed a greater cluelessness (and sometimes an uncaring-ness) about the concerns of black citizens.
The national Democratic Party, pandering to the black elected officials, openly supported this racial gerrymandering, even though it should have been obvious that it was costing Democrats legislative victories in what otherwise would have been swing districts. As moderate Democrats lost the chance for election, the party moved ever more leftward — and the national political well was poisoned by further polarization and discord, and indeed by a growing failure of each side to even begin to understand, much less pay any heed to, the other side’s point of view.
Frankly, the left has taken its cynicism to far greater levels than Bush 41’s minions ever did. The nadir of ghettoization based on an assumption of racial group-think (not to mention the insulting assumptions of the general populace’s idiocy and possibly racism) came when the Obama Justice Department, via radical lefty attorney Loretta King, refused to allow the town of Kinston, N.C., to hold municipal elections in non-partisan fashion. Why? Because, she decided, the black majority in Kinston would not be able to elect its “candidate of choice” if Democrats were not identified on the ballot — with the assumption being that only Democrats could possibly be the “candidates of choice” for black voters. (For more on this case, read this and this and this.)
Thernstrom explains why this paternalistic attitude towards blacks is utterly counterproductive politically:
The majority-black districts to which the civil-rights community and its allies in the media and the academy are so committed also appear to act as a brake on black political participation. A number of first-rate scholars have found that safe black districts dampen electoral turnout; why bother to vote when the outcome will surely be the election of one black candidate or another — all likely to support the same policies once in office?
Worse than that, it is morally repugnant. It insists that even in the 21st Century, American government policy is to judge citizens’ political rights by the color of their skins. Jim Crow lives, and it is the political Left that is feeding him.