Every ten years, our elected officials undergo a process of redrawing the political boundaries of their districts using data from the US Census. This means that new seats are often created at the federal, state and local levels. The current members of our school boards, city council, county commission and state legislature are all up for election once this process is complete. Next summer, elections will begin again with new districts and some familiar faces.
For decades after reconstruction, due to Jim Crow and legalized discrimination, African Americans were locked out of the political process. It wasn’t until lawsuits were filed challenging the lack of representation in government and that the Federal Civil Rights and Voting Acts were enforced, that seats were created that allowed Black people to elect a “candidate of their choosing”.
Believe it or not, it’s only been since 1992 that Florida has had Black representation in the US congress. Our first African American State legislators were elected in 1968 (Joe Lang Kershaw). It took legal action to establish these minority access seats and without a fair redistricting process at all levels, we could see legislative bodies that lack the presence of at least one African American.
Oftentimes, the political party in power will use their influence to create a map of districts that helps them hold on to their power by claiming to know what’s best for us. Unfortunately for African Americans, both parties, Republican and Democrats, take advantage of the laws that require the establishment of African American access seats to secure control for their party.
This practice of gerrymandering is unfair and while some maps comply with the letter of the law; they usually flies against the spirit of it. Too often, when the Black representative on that body points out the need to keep an African American district whole, those in power belittle that individual and accuse them of unsavory motives and even worse - of playing the race card. It’s in these discussions that the intelligence and integrity of our Black representatives are questioned because they choose to put the needs of the people above the selfish desires of a political party.
African Americans cannot afford to worry about whether our governments are controlled by one party or another. The blue vs. red games politicians play have never benefited us. Instead, years of purposeful neglect and finger pointing at the other side, have allowed the needs of our community to grow greater.
Our concerns need to lie with whether we are able to have seats at the table, no matter the level of government; especially locally. We must demand equity and transparency in these processes and ensure that our representatives are not being marginalized as they fight for us.
Take part in the redistricting meetings. Listen to what our Black elected officials are saying and watch who stands with (and against) them. You may be surprised by what you see. (https://planhillsborough.org/redistricting/)
Maps illustrate the alternatives