One of the ironies of modern political life in America is that some people can’t get over the fact that a middle-class suburban black family has more in common with its white neighbors than with black families in a poor, uneducated inner city. So well-meaning but unthinking people keep trying to perpetuate political racial segregation instead of letting people decide what they want for themselves.
The latest example of this comes from the county next door to me. Shelby County in on the south side of Birmingham, and it contains much of the metro area’s wealthy and middle-class suburbs. There are pockets of lower-income people, but it’s typically home to a lot of middle class and upper middle class people.
It should be a sign of progress that quite a number of the families in the upper middle class neighborhoods of Shelby County are now black. They’re certainly still a small minority, but it’s common — and it’s not an issue for anyone. For an area that was seen as Ground Zero for racial discrimination less than 50 years ago, it’s huge progress. But some people are now unhappy that those black families — spread out through all those majority-white neighborhoods — don’t see black skin on any members of the County Commission.
The county is in the midst of redistricting itself based on 2010 census data, and some “community leaders” are demanding that Shelby County find some way to create a “black district.” The problem is that the blacks in the county are spread out — integrated into the white population — and can’t be made into a geographically reasonable district. But wait? This is a problem? I thought integrating people into just “people” was what we’ve been seeking all these years.
You can’t have it both ways on this issue. If you want people treated differently (and seen differently) because their skin happens to be a particular color, you can insist that they vote for someone of their own skin color and that they must be represented by someone of that race. But if you want an integrated society where people are just people, you have to let them make their own choices and not try to engineer a solution meeting your political expectations afterwards.
It would make just as much sense to claim that political seats need to be apportioned according to religion or eye color or left/right-handedness as it is to claim Shelby County must be gerrymandered to created a majority-black district. The middle class blacks who have been successful enough to move into those neighborhoods have the same needs and concerns as their white neighbors. Trying to make them race-conscious in their local representation is a desperate attempt to keep the old racial divisions from the past instead of moving forward.