Strength in Numbers?

2011 First Draft of California's 33rd Congressional District

Forget carmeggedon. For the black political and leadership set in Southern California, the impending-doom event this summer will snarl a lot more than traffic and last a lot longer than a weekend. I'm talking about redistricting--redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts as dictated by the census every ten years.

Sounds boring, yes? Like so much political housekeeping, hardly something that calls to mind a crisis (of course, that's what the federal debt ceiling always was...until this month). But 2011 is different.

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For one thing, the housekeeping that had always been performed in California by elected officials who agreed amongst themselves to keep districts as personally advantageous as possible is now in the hands of a new layman commission created by state initiative. Out with the old, in with the new.

The second thing is that the demographic dwindling/diffusion of blacks in L.A. county that we've all been talking about for years is now likely to bear on the current redistricting plan. This also means that the tensions with Latinos that we've been talking about for at least as many years will likely resurface in the bread-and-butter political issue of who has a greater claim to representation in spaces like South Central.

You can talk about racial commonality and coming together all you want, but drawing lines is a fundamental and objective declaration of who's dominant and who isn't. This is simply a numbers game, not a conspiracy, but to blacks who fought so hard for representation and voting rights not so very long ago, losing traditional electoral strongholds anywhere in the country feels like nothing less than Armegeddon.

It also raises for us a number of frightening existential questions, especially in this state: Without a community of numbers, who and what are we? Where are we? And why haven't we progressed further with the black representation we've had so far, to the point where we wouldn't have to be in such a tizzy now?

The immediate concern with the African American Redistricting Collaborative, which is working with the state committee, is that the draft of the new map drawn up last month dramatically and unfairly dilutes the strength of black voters by reconfiguring the black populations in the 33rd, 35th and 37th congressional districts. By the AARC's reckoning, if the plan is approved, blacks will go from having four congressional seats in California to having just one. It also has concerns with the new lines in the 48th assembly district--traditionally a heavily black district--as well as concerns about losing key institutions and landmarks such as the airport, the California African American Museum and Leimert Park. The collaborative, whose membership is hardly alarmist on racial matters, has joined forces with civil rights groups, churches and other organizations to declare that blacks have not been heard or properly informed in the new redistricting process and that it will not accept any diminishment of black representation in the new plan. This is, as Wave columnist Betty Pleasant calls it, war.

I understand why the gauntlet must be thrown. But I wonder how the war of black representation--and betterment-- will ultimately be won.

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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