By Senator Lena C. Taylor
African Americans are embarking on a redistricting fight for fair representation, that is proportionate to our population in Wisconsin. In keeping a watchful eye on the local and state process, we understand that a nudge of a district line could change the ability of African Americans to get elected to key legislative positions. Those lines are often shifted to minimize the collective, electoral and political voices, of Black people. Today, our community faces similar battles that are in one case, deliberately injurious and in another, simply sacrificial.
Understanding that challenge, I was reminded of two oratories that addressed the political treatment of Blacks in this country: Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.’s speech “The Other America” and Frederick Douglass’ “I Denounce the So-Called Emancipation as a Stupendous Fraud.” Both capture an inherent frustration of the plight of Black Americans, but Douglass’ 1888 post-slavery narrative haunts me as I recount his words:
“Take his (the Negro) relation to the national government and we shall find him a deserted, a defrauded, a swindled, and an outcast man — in law free, in fact a slave; in law a citizen, in fact an alien; in law a voter, in fact, a disfranchised man. In law, his color is no crime; in fact, his color exposes him to be treated as a criminal. Toward him every attribute of a just government is contradicted. For him, it is not a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Douglass continues “When the colored citizens of the South point to the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution for the protection of their civil and political rights, the Supreme Court of the United States turns them out of court and tells them they must look for justice at the hands of the states, well knowing that those states are, in effect, the very parties that deny them justice. Thus is the Negro citizen swindled. The government professes to give him citizenship and silently permits him to be divested of every attribute of citizenship.”
While Douglass’ remarks were made more than 133 years ago, the sentiments he expressed ring true on many levels today. It is with this knowledge, that we work to secure fair redistricting maps. We can neither be packed so deftly into district lines that we never grow our numbers in the legislature or stretched so thinly across new boundaries that we diminish our chances at Black representation.
As some argue that African Americans should be most concerned with increasing Democratic voices and creating “opportunity districts” for Black representation, we are forced to contend with the devil we know or face the uncertainty of our future. However, it is important that our community understands this – my driving force is the physical representation of Black faces and voices at every level of government. While I appreciate allies and surrogates, Black people have to be positioned to be able to get elected to represent and speak for themselves.