Monday, March 9, 2015

‘Directly shaped . . . by racial bias’

   As the Oscars telecast moved on with impassioned acceptance speeches, one pondered the hypersonic rate at which Republican viewers were finding other fare.

  Yes, we're talking five times the speed of sound.

  How many Republicans left when "Imitation Game" screenwriter Dustin Black spoke for gay rights? Or when Patricia Arquette for equal pay for women?

  Suffice it say that near the end, darned few Republican ears heard John Legend sharing the Oscar for the theme song from "Selma" with this:

   "'Selma' is now, because the struggle for justice is now." He was referring to how the Voting Rights Act has been carved away by self-deluded jurists and lawmakers catering to voters from the suburbs of Never-Neverland.

   When the subject is the new racism, we aren't just talking about voter I.D. laws calculated to undercut people of color. We are talking of a national template increasingly harming marginalized Americans.

  The Justice Department last week pronounced that policing practices in Ferguson, Mo., were "directly shaped and perpetuated by racial bias." However any objective observer would have to say the characterization fits more than police work in this starkly polarized era.

   Too rarely anymore in politics do we see the quest to find racial harmony and equality. We see politicians whose sworn duty is to reflect the insularity of their respective hutches.

    At the state and national level, the prime reason for this is something that gets too little attention when people bemoan government dysfunction. That reason is legislative redistricting.

    As practiced today, redistricting does more than create government that doesn't work. It also apportions power in ways that accentuate racial divisions.

  Yes, it cuts both ways, partisanship-wise. But the tools of division are the same in any case. The Democratic Party is more diverse and urban; the GOP's prevailing demographic is white, suburban and rural. Leave it to computer programmers to show how either side can stick it to the other.

   The result is many ironclad, lock-cinch, racially identifiable districts, with policymakers catering to them and being openly hostile to the opposition.

   For those mostly white districts, for instance, the fact that shorter voting periods or tougher voter I.D. laws make it harder for poor people to vote is of no concern. They are more concerned about supposed waves of voter fraud, even if evidence of such a wave compares well with last year's yeti census.

   This brings us back to Selma and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which 50 years ago was a literal battlefield – yes, like Gettysburg and Antietam – in the fight for human rights.

  Among those in attendance in Selma to observe the anniversary when President Obama delivered what some considered his greatest speech was his predecessor, George W. Bush, and his wife Laura.

   This was very significant, and much to the Bushes' credit. While nearly 100 members of Congress attended, only a handful of Republicans did, and not one in GOP leadership had planned to until Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's last-second change of heart.

   This is a serious problem for the nation. Members of Congress who think the problems of blacks and Hispanics aren't their own are emblematic of Ferguson-style negligence.

   How do we get out of this mess? The citizens of Florida supported one means in 2010 when they wrote into their state constitution these words regarding congressional and legislative districts: They "may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice."

  Sadly, scandalously, Florida's Republican leadership has done everything possible to block implementation of this language. And why not? Its power is at stake.

  Until this changes across the country, we will get a government around which race means far more than it should today, 50 years after Selma's bloodbath.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

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