A post-racial society? Not. | Citizen | Indy Week

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A post-racial society? Not.


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Before I get to last week's court decision upholding our state's brutally gerrymandered election districts, let's quickly review some of the other things in the news that are not about race.

Trayvon Martin's death was not about race. Even the hapless prosecutor insisted, "This case was never about race."

But what about state laws like those in Florida and North Carolina that allow white vigilantes to be armed when they confront black teenagers? (Or perhaps you think a black vigilante shooting a white kid would be acquitted too?)

Well, they're not about race, either, which is why Zimmerman's assault with a deadly weapon wasn't found to be a crime.

No, these laws are about the Second Amendment, which Congress wrote in 1789—and we have Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion in the Heller (D.C.) case to go by—to protect every person's right to own a gun for self-protection. Every person, that is, except the slaves.

Pay no attention, therefore, to the language in the Second Amendment about well-regulated militias. Nor to the fact, cited in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, that when the slaves revolted in Southampton County, Va.—the uprising known as Nat Turner's rebellion—the state of Virginia maintained a militia roster of 101,488 white men—10 percent of the white population.

But the Second Amendment wasn't about race. It couldn't have been because—and here I borrow from an impassioned rant by essayist Charles Pierce—nothing in America is ever about race.

"And because [the Zimmerman] case was not about race," Pierce explained, "nothing out of our history counts, because our history, here in the land of the free, isn't about race either."

And if, by chance, something used to be about race, it just isn't anymore. This was the point of Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion when the Supreme Court, in June, voted 5–4 to gut the Voting Rights Act.

Oh, sure, Roberts wrote, Congress was right to pass a tough voting law back in 1965, when African-Americans in the South were routinely barred from the polls. But look, that's all changed! "The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process," Roberts declared.

Thus, the court's conservative majority ruled, the portion of the law (Section 4) that subjected some states, most in the South, to special oversight is no longer valid.

Some Southern states, including North Carolina, where 40 counties were covered due to their racist past, will be allowed to change election laws—and districts—without first persuading the Justice Department that they aren't trying to discriminate against blacks.

So naturally, the gerrymandering of election districts in North Carolina wasn't about race, according to a three-judge appeals panel's ruling last week. It was about politics—and political gerrymanders are OK.

You or I might've thought that the Republican Party, when it took control of the General Assembly after the 2010 elections, packed some districts with as many black voters as they thought they could get away with, thereby removing blacks from other "whitened" districts. With far more white districts than black, the Republicans won two-thirds majorities in the state Senate and House in the 2012 elections even though Democrats got almost half the votes.

Similarly, the Republicans won nine of 13 congressional districts in 2012 though Democrats got more than half the votes.

We might've concluded that this was a racial gerrymander since, looking at the election district maps, it's apparent that the serpentine districts drawn by the Republicans separated black voters from whites as much as possible, stringing together black communities over great distances with disregard for county, municipal or even precinct boundaries.

But the judges, including Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway, saw past the obvious segregation to determine that this case wasn't about race, but rather about "making districts more competitive for Republicans."

Because if it had been about race, Ridgeway and his fellow judges would've been guided by Roberts' opinion in the VRA case, fresh off the presses. And they'd have struck down these gerrymandered districts as the kind of race-conscious legislating that the Supreme Court used to sanction—back when voting laws were biased—but has now declared unnecessary and unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court, you will recall, looked with horror at the strung-together 12th congressional district of North Carolina when the General Assembly, under Democratic control, drew it in the '90s. Democrats put black communities together from Durham to Charlotte to create a black-majority district along I-85; twice, the Court struck it down before finally, in 2001, accepting a modified version.

As in the case of VRA enforcement, the Court allowed race-conscious gerrymandering in North Carolina on a temporary basis if it favored black voters who'd been systematically prevented from electing blacks to Congress and the General Assembly in districts drawn by the ruling white majority.

Still, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the Court when it first struck down the segregated 12th: "A reapportionment plan that includes in one district individuals who belong to the same race, but who are otherwise widely separated by geographical and political boundaries, and who may have little in common with one another but the color of their skin, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid."

The Court allowed apartheid-like districts for a time across the South, just as it sanctioned Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act for a time—but only until race discrimination in the South was "redressed."

Now that it is, the Court would surely prevent a virtually all-white Republican Party from segregating voters in order to remain in charge regardless of whether the racially diverse Democrats get more votes.

And I'm confident that it will, if this case gets to the Supreme Court—unless it turns out that it's not about race at all.

Correction: Due to an editing error, the final reference to Section 4 of the VRA instead read Section 5.


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