by Doug Payton
November 5th, 1996 could have been a day of great joy in the civil rights world. It had so much potential.
Prior to that election day, the 11th district in Georgia had been ruled unconstitutional because legislators had taken incredible pains to create what's called a "majority minority" district. In plain terms, more blacks than whites. In order to get this outcome, strange and twisting borders had to be drawn. It was so unusual that it was part of a Time magazine article about race-centered districts. At the beginning, Georgia's legislators had to deal with a schizophrenic federal government; the courts said to change the way the district was drawn so that race was not the major factor in determining its borders, and the Justice Department said to leave it the way it was. When all was said and done, the 11th had been redrawn, and it was no longer a black-majority district (according to 1990 census standards).
Democrat Cynthia McKinney had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from that district when it was majority black, and yes, she is black. Seems that the civil rights community thought that this was the only way to get an African-American in government, in spite of examples to the contrary. But after the redistricting, she ran for reelection in the 4th district, which is where she lives, and encompassed a small portion of the old 11th. This new 4th district was also majority white. If she won, then confidence in white voters to judge based on ideas rather than skin color could again be renewed (at least for those who had lost it).
Well, she won, and in doing so struck a blow to racists everywhere. She proved that a black person could be elected to office by a majority white district. She proved that the fear of racism in voting can be swept away, and that people of all colors will not be judged primarily on their ethnic background.
Except that she doesn't see it that way. Instead of high optimism, she has chosen to assume the worst. In press releases sent out soon after the election, she stressed that the only reason she was accepted by the white voters was that she had already served in Congress and had a track record that could be pointed to. She suggested that her election should not sound the death knell of race-centered districts.
What makes this even more interesting is that another Georgia district went through the same redrawing at the same time--the 2nd. Sanford Bishop, a black man, was its representative, and he did the same thing as Ms. McKinney; he was voted in by a white majority. The difference is that Mr. Bishop isn't quite so eager to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He's not discounting the importance of his reelection.
Why not? Well, while he is a Democrat, Mr. Bishop isn't nearly as liberal as Ms. McKinney. And you'll find that the degree to which a candidate or civil rights leader is willing to discount these important blows to racism is directly related to how liberal they are. It is liberals, after all, who drew up these contorted districts in the first place, and they have a stake in keeping them around. It makes you wonder about their motives in keeping things like race-centered districts and Affirmative Action going when indications abound that their usefulness is waning.
You know, it's strange. I finally find a big reason to enjoy a Democratic victory, and the Democrats discount it. But what's worse is that liberals call conservatives "racists", yet they practice their own racism so publicly; they just don't trust those white folks to vote fairly even when presented with evidence to the contrary.
Isn't that the definition of "bigot"? Where's a dictionary when you need one....
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