Gerrymandering racism in Tennessee

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating electoral district boundaries to benefit a particular political party or group. While it may seem like a purely political issue, the reality is that gerrymandering can have a significant impacts on furthering systemic racism in the United States.

And in State Houses across the United States, like what we are seeing in the State of Tennessee with the expulsion of two Black representitaves Justin Jones and Justin Pearson over their protesting the lack of action on gun violence, the consequences are profound for Black voters and voters of Color.

And the Tennessee State Republicans continue to reshape congressional boundaries of Metro areas to favor their numbers as a recent Guardian article points out “The proposed plan would clearly diminish the influence of Black voters and other voters of color concentrated in Nashville, inserting them into districts that are overwhelmingly white and Republican. About a quarter of the eligible voting population in the fifth congressional district is Black. Under the new lines, Black voters would make up about 14% of the new fifth district and about 17% and 10% of the other two new districts in the city.”

The history of gerrymandering is closely tied to the history of racism in the United States. The term “gerrymandering” itself comes from Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts in the early 1800s who approved a redistricting plan that benefited his party. The resulting district looked like a salamander, hence the term “gerrymander.” But it was not until after the Civil War that gerrymandering was explicitly used to suppress the voting power of Black Americans.

One of the most infamous examples of this was in North Carolina in the late 1800s, where the state legislature passed a series of laws that restricted the voting rights of Black Americans. They then gerrymandered the state’s congressional districts to concentrate Black voters into just two districts, effectively diluting their voting power in the rest of the state. This practice, known as “packing and cracking,” is still used today to diminish the political influence of minority communities.

The impact of gerrymandering on systemic racism is clear when you look at the data. In a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, researchers found that gerrymandering has led to a significant underrepresentation of people of color in Congress. For example, in the 2012 election, Democrats won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans in House races, but Republicans still won a majority of seats. This was largely due to gerrymandering, which concentrated Democratic voters in a few districts and spread Republican voters out across many districts.

In addition to diluting the voting power of minority communities, gerrymandering can also exacerbate existing racial inequalities. For example, if a district is drawn in such a way that it includes predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods but excludes lower-income, minority communities, the resulting representative is likely to prioritize the interests of their wealthy constituents over the needs of those who are struggling to make ends meet.

So, what can be done to address the impact of gerrymandering on systemic racism? One solution is to implement nonpartisan redistricting commissions that are independent of the political parties in power. This has been successful in some states, such as California, where a citizens’ commission draws district lines based on factors like population size and geographical boundaries rather than political affiliation.

Ultimately, addressing gerrymandering is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to combating systemic racism in the United States. But it’s an important one, as it has a direct impact on the political power of minority communities. By ensuring that district lines are drawn fairly and without bias, we can help to create a more equitable democracy for all.

Until we are willing to act as a Nation to end these practices, sadly, what we are seeing in Tennessee will continue to happen in the United States.

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