There has been a lot written, and even more said, about Alabama’s Republican legislators flatly refusing last week to redraw congressional voting maps with a second majority-Black district (or something very close to it).
All of the criticism from those written and spoken words has been appropriate and well-earned by those lawmakers. It’s a slap in the face to the Black citizens of this state, and a slap in the face to all the people who believe that fairness and equal rights should carry more weight than petty politics and partisan “wins.”
But I’ve noticed something lacking in those criticisms. An omission that masks some of the awfulness. Not really an intentional distortion meant to put lipstick on that ugly pig, but more an understandable oversight.
Specifically: Racial context.
That’s what’s been missing from the discussions of our lawmakers thumbing their noses at the most conservative Supreme Court in two generations and sitting pat on a one-minority district map. Because, yeah, what they did was terrible. But when you factor in the circumstances of this state when they did it … it’s even worse.
As you’re reading this, there isn’t a single Black person in statewide elected office. Only white people.
There isn’t a single Black justice on the Alabama Supreme Court.
There isn’t a single Black judge on either appeals court.
There is but one Black cabinet member in Alabama’s government. That’s half the number of this time last year, but then Gov. Kay Ivey fired the Black secretary of the Early Education Department – the only department in all of our state government that had ever overachieved – because there was a “woke” training manual for teachers that two ladies complained about.
The number of Black legislators continues to dwindle each year.
And there is but one of seven congressional seats in this state held by a Black person – Rep. Terri Sewell, inarguably Alabama’s hardest working rep.
So, now that you know all of that – of the overwhelming advantage that white Republicans hold in this state, of the overwhelming disadvantage that Black politicians face, of the declining numbers of adequate representation for the state’s Black citizens – I want you to think again about what went down last week at the Alabama Legislature.
Think about those huddles of white lawmakers in the back. Think about the plotting and scheming. Think about the ridiculous maps that somehow found 42 percent to be too much leeway to grant the Black voters of this state.
That’s what happened, you know? The House proposed a ridiculous voting map that redrew District 2 with 42 percent Black voting age citizens. The Senate balked at such a gift to the Black citizens and pushed through a map with just 38 percent.
They compromised – oh, I’m sorry, I mean, “compromised” – at 40 percent.
As if the Republican supermajority was in jeopardy. As if the balance of power in the state was somehow on the verge of shifting. As if we were all about to go “woke” because 2 of 7 districts were now represented by people of color (maybe).
The attorney general even sent a letter bemoaning the fact that the plaintiffs in the case that brought about the redrawing of maps were now expecting the state to follow the directives of the Supreme Court and draw two districts with 50 percent or better Black voting age citizens, or something very close to it.
It’s 1950’s-level embarrassing.
And I don’t understand how anyone thinks that if you wrap this in politics that it’s all OK. That somehow standing in a building in Montgomery and arguing with suits and ties on negates the fact that you’re disenfranchising thousands and thousands of voters.
Even worse, it’s cheating simply because you hold the power and can force others to live with it.
It’s holding every advantage in life, and instead of using those advantages to ensure fairness and equitability for all, you instead take great pleasure in stepping on the heads of drowning people.
So, yeah, the criticisms were accurate. What the Alabama Republicans in our legislature did last week, even if a federal court comes along later and fixes it all, was truly, truly awful. And unfair. And a waste of time and taxpayer money.
But don’t forget to consider the context so you get a clear picture of just how terrible it truly was.