Earlier this month, The Nation published an in-depth look by Ari Berman at the trend of state legislatures throughout the U.S. South using racial gerrymandering tactics for partisan political gain after the 2010 census.
In North Carolina—a racially integrated swing state—district lines are being redrawn to group African-American voters, who traditionally lean Democrat, separate from white voters, who traditionally lean Republican. Further south in Texas, now a “majority-minority” state that gained four new Congressional seats due to population growth, redistricting proposals decreased the number of seats in majority people of color districts from eleven to ten. The state legislature’s controversial plans, which are now being legally contested, were put forth despite the fact that the Texas population increase in the last decade is largely due to the growth of communities of color – in particular, Latino Americans. While these are just two states being highlighted from the extensive range of case studies Berman provides, the trend throughout the South is clear: race is being used as a deciding factor in recreating districts for partisan advantage.
What is most obviously disturbing about these district maps is that they go against the principle of equal representation enshrined in our Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1964. The newly drawn districts will dilute and, in some cases, eliminate the influence of communities of color in the electoral process. But what is even more troubling is that these new districts will serve to politically and socially isolate communities of color from white communities. The politicians and advocacy groups quoted in the article express concern that communities of color will now tend to be represented by representatives of color and white communities will tend to be represented by white representatives because of the way the maps are drawn. This will essentially resegregate Southern states along racial lines and return to historical times that we have long struggled to move away from.
Jeff Reichert, director of the film Gerrymandering, said at an Open Society Foundations event in 2010: “There’s a story behind every line that’s put on a map.” Indeed, each line holds significant implications about what kind of representation the people living inside those districts will have. As the United States continues to evolve into a “minority-majority” country, this story—one of suppressing the rights of people of color for fair political representation—is not one we can be proud of writing as a country. This is why the Open Society Foundations proudly support the work of organizations, like MALDEF and the North Carolina-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who utilize a range of strategies such as data analysis, litigation, and community education to challenge racially gerrymandered districting maps to ensure that fair representation is possible for every voter no matter their race.