By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Black Elected Positions Sacrificed As Part of National Election Strategy
You know how we’ve always heard that there was a “meeting before the meeting?” Well evidently, when it came to redistricting, most Black folks weren’t included in the pre-meeting. Don’t get me wrong, we knew redistricting was coming. We knew, historically, we could lose seats. We also knew that there were differing views on whether “majority-minority” districts were good or bad for the Black community.
The issue has been debated by highly respected leaders from Congressman John Lewis, to scholars from every walk of life. While researchers have examined the effect of racially-motivated redistricting, lay people look to anecdotal information for confirmation of how many Black people are getting elected to local, state and federal office.
Yes, there have been gains. According the to the Pew Research Center, “In 1965, there were no Black U.S. senators or governors, and only five members of the House of Representatives were Black. As of 2021, there is greater representation in some areas – 57 House members in the new Congress are Black (not including nonvoting delegates and commissioners), putting the share of Black House members (13%) about on par with the share of the overall U.S. population that is Black. But in other areas, there has been little change: There are three Black senators – the same number as in 2019 – and no Black governors.”
As we digest that data, and think about our local statehouses and municipalities, most would concede we still have work to do. It is no secret, that both political parties used redistricting to hold on to political power or make substantial power grabs. Yet, Republican elected officials have cheated and tilted the scale in such a way, to insulate themselves in legislative races, that it will take us generations to overcome if we don’t do something, I get that.
Well, it seems that there was an ideological meeting of the minds. In order to improve Democratic legislative wins, Black and brown legislative seats would be sacrificed. Now, I’m not sure who all the masterminds of this plan are, but evidence of their strategy is showing up all over the nation. Headline after headline decrying the loss of Black and brown legislative representation through currently proposed redistricting maps. From Illinois to Ohio, Michigan to Missouri, and of course, right here in Wisconsin, we have seen legislative maps, that would likely reduce the physical number of Black and brown faces in state houses across the country.
While asking Black communities to, once again, take one for the team, to increase Democratic representation, few seemed poised to ask at what cost. What is the psychological toll of decreased Black representation, in public office, on the Black community? Why do we take our daughters to work or highlight the first female vice-president? Why was it important for Black children, boys in particular to see a Barack Obama presidency? Why are LGBTQ, Muslim, or ethnically diverse candidates encouraged to run for office. Why is there EMERGE, Higher Heights, or LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens)?
These organizations exist because representation matters. Perhaps others didn’t get our memo: Black representation is about more than just a political seat. It validates our humanity, creates spaces for our talents and skills, allows for self-reliance, and it serves as an inspiration for OUR children. It matters who they see. My fight is as much for them, as it is for equity in political power.