This is the latest in a series on the use of the race card for political gain:
The District of Columbia has a special status that does not provide it with full voting representation in Congress, due to its unique history.
Until recently, D.C. did have a vote on something called the Committee of the Whole, a not particularly important device in Congress.
In early January 2011, the new Republican House made a rule change which took away D.C. representative Eleanor Holmes Norton’s vote on the Committee of the Whole, and there were screams of racism from David Dayen at Firedoglake, who wrote
“it wouldn’t be a Republican majority if they weren’t taking an African-American’s voting rights away.”
Teddy Partridge, also at FDL, wrote:
But by so doing, House leaders signal to their non-racist teabagger base that they will do anything they can to ensure that DC residents, majority African-American, are less well represented in Congress than they were yesterday. And that they will do it first of all!
In fact, much of the argument for statehood for D.C., or at least full congressional voting, has centered around the alleged racist implications of the non-represented status of a majority black city. An article in Ebony Magazine in 1990 argued that D.C. was being treated differently due to race:
But why all the fuss over making the district a state? The fuss, insiders say, isn’t really over statehood. It’s over power. Major league national power. Full political equality for a state, with a 70 percent Black majority.
This is the bottom line, then: If the district becomes a state, it would be entitled to elect two senators – senators who would almost certainly be Black and Democratic. And when you talk about giving Black people that kind of power at that level, simple solutions become very complex, very fast.
“It is obvious that racism and political bigotry are what really block the way to statehood for the District of Columbia,” nationally syndicated columnist Carl Rowan says. “When Hawaii was up for statehood, the opponents mostly whispered that there ought not be a state run mostly by Asians. Now the bigots are saying openly that statehood for the District of Columbia would produce the `disaster’ of two Black members of the U.S. Senate… and Jesse Jackson probably would be one of them. Why should America have a Senate in which there is not a single Black voice…? It is time we got national leaders…who will show the guts to stand against racism and… do for D.C. what others did for Hawaii and Alaska.”
As the comments by Dayen and Partridge reflect, portraying D.C.’s lack of representation in racial terms still is the party line, including by D.C.’s “shadow” Senator Paul Strauss:
Strauss hints that past attempts to make the district a state were blindsided by racism, since its populace was and is predominantly black.
He admits the last two years – with a liberal black president and an overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress – were the best shot at achieving statehood.
“It sure should have been,” Strauss grumbled. “We lost an opportunity to accomplish what was essentially our moment. Somehow we thought if we asked for less democracy we would get more. We ended up creating more diversion than solutions.”
I don’t believe that for a second.
Not only does D.C. have a unique history, the opposition to statehood or full representation in Congress stems from the fact that the residents of D.C., regardless of race or ethnicity, would vote Democratic Party. It is a purely political issue, with Democrats seeking an advantage and Republicans content with the status quo. The use of the race card really is just a tawdry attempt to sway the debate to the advantage of Democrats.
But a funny thing happened on the way to playing the race card when it comes to D.C. representation.
The just-released 2010 census numbers reflect that the percentage of non-Hispanic blacks has dropped to 50% and is falling, and non-Hispanic blacks are heading to minority status in D.C.:
Non-Hispanic blacks are on the verge of losing their majority in the District of Columbia as their population is being pushed out to the south and east of the city while the central city becomes increasingly diverse and whites concentrate in the western half of the District, new census data show.
Non-Hispanic black residents have dropped by more than 39,000 people and now account for just 50 percent of D.C.’s population. By comparison, non-Hispanic blacks comprised 70 percent of the District’s population at the peak of expansion in 1980, according to Benjamin Orr, a Brookings Institution research analyst. Meanwhile white, Asian and Hispanic populations are all on the rise.
The shift follows a trend seen in other cities, especially in the north, of blacks leaving urban environments while other races’ populations grow.
So if D.C.’s racial makeup has changed and it no longer is majority black, the race card alone is not going to work.
Partridge, in the link above, hinted at what may be the new strategy. Denying D.C. statehood or at least full congressional representation is both racist and homophobic:
55% of these residents are African-American. More than eight percent of adults in DC are LGBT….It’s important to track the backwards steps this GOP House takes to satisfy its non-racist, non-sexist teabagger base. This disenfranchisement of African-American and LGBT DC residents is the first of many of these steps.