So last century

by Brian Clarey

If you’ve been paying attention to our news section and our blog, you know that the redistricting process has been playing out all over our state, county and city.

Redistricting is a neat little parlor game that generally happens every 10 years, in conjunction with Census results. And on the surface it seems legit: Populations shift; constituencies change; loyalties weaken. Adjustments need to be made periodically.

But really it’s just a chance for whoever holds power to try to consolidate it.

The art and science of redistricting has in North Carolina over the years resulted in a heinously gerrymandered mish-mash cobbled together by interested parties. Gerrymandering is why Rep. Howard Coble’s US Congressional District 6 looks like a weird Chinese character, with a big chunk of Greensboro excised to make sure it consistently leans Republican. It’s why Rep. Marcus Brandon’s NC House District 60 seeps into most African- American neighborhoods in east Greensboro, Pleasant Garden and High point, cutting a neat circle around Jamestown.

But redistricting is more than just drawing lines around sympathetic constituencies — there are rules and guidelines to follow regarding populations of districts, contiguousness and racial make-up. In Guilford County we have the added burden of US Department of Justice oversight when we redraw districts, because our past actions have been determined to be unfair to minority voters.

In our little corner of the world, segregated as it is, race is the main factor when determining new districts, based on the assumption that African-American voters usually vote the same way — at least, since Richard Nixon first employed the Southern Strategy in the late ’60s — and that while blacks may vote for white candidates, whioes will not vote for a back one It’s an oversimplification, to be sure, but the system has worked for both parties as an uneasy truce for years.

And it’s going to become irrelevant, sooner rather than later. That same Census that provides the raw data for redistricting also shows that African Americans are moving back down South, a reversal of the Great Migration that created our largest cities in the last century. In Greensboro, whites are now outnumbered by “minorities,” another term that is reaching the end of its shelf life. And racial identity is becoming disambiguated as various ethnic groups persist in genetic intermingling as the generations come along. In 1977, the feds agreed on four classifications for race on the Census: American Indian or Alaskan native, Asian or Pacific islander, black and white. The 2010 Census, because it allows for multiple options on the race question, outlines 57 different possible combinations of racial identity.

Progress is inevitable. So too, hopefully, is the eventuality that partisanship and racial-identity politics will be removed from the redistricting process.

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