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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Night Card Game (Denying D.C. Statehood is Racist and Homophobic)

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.
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  1. They should give back the part north of the Potomac to Maryland and South to Virginia, except the mall area (and anything else that is strictly the federal government).
    The alternative to prohibit residential areas in DC.

  2. Thank you for pointing out that the main reason for opposition to D.C. statehood is because it would be a "guaranteed" Democratic vote. I for on find the face, and homophobia, cards useless in the debate and they only serve to distract from the broader issue.

    Regardless of which political party gains, isn't it fundamentally undemocratic and unrepublican to deny a group of U.S. citizens representation in Congress? Even myself, as a U.S. citizen who lives outside the U.S. because of the school I am attending, is allowed to cast a ballot for my representatives in Tennessee. Why should a voter in the District be treated any differently?

  3. Racist and homophobic. The very same reasons they won't let CA divide itself up into two or three more reasonably sized states. It's all a plot by those evil - who is it we don't like this week?

  4. It's a city not a state. Should we make all cities of x thousand population, states? Good luck with that. Obviously the democrats who held sufficient filibuster proof majorities in Congress, didn't like the idea of having Ms. Norton radical marxist as a senator in the Soviet Republic of Washington, DC. And who did more to disenfranchise the residents of DC, the republicans keeping the status quo, or the city's former crack smoking mayor?

  5. The District of Columbia was set up ON PURPOSE as a "non-voting Federal enclave" so that the redients (Black, White, Brown, or even from NPR!) would not have sway over the federal government, specifically Congress.
    If anyone is worried about the current DC residents (current population - 599,657, 2009 estimate) becoming residents (once again) of Maryland, it WON'T much change the dynamics of the elections in Maryland (cur pop - 5,699,478, 2009 est) already one of the BLUEST of Blue states.

  6. Interesting. I can't see how it would be in the interest of DC to become a state. Administering a state govt is expensive. How would they pay for it and why would they want to?

  7. From Washington Post version

    “When you’re the mayor, you’re not God,” Williams said. “It’s very frustrating. When you’re in public service, you’re there to promote diversity and harmony, but on the other hand, you want to help your city economically. Sometimes, they come at cross purposes.”

    Williams said he believes African American culture will continue to be the dominant culture in the city. But others say they already see it slipping away.

    “The Parliament song ‘Chocolate City’ pinned a label on the city,” said poet E. Ethelbert Miller, a leading figure in Washington’s African American arts community. “Well, chocolate melts.”

    Miller laughed, then turned serious. “We’re seeing the eroding of a community. If you’re a black person accustomed to a way of life, that way of life is coming to an end. The city ain’t gonna be black no more. ... This is the Vincent Gray era, and that’s symbolic. The city is stuck in gray now. We’ll mourn that Chocolate City is gone, but that’s just the nature of it.”


  8. Well lets see how the elected officials of DC really feel about the people who live there.

    In the same article posted above with Williams quote, it also has a quote from Marion Barry saying that the reason that ward 3 (georgetown) doesn't have a higher black population is the lack of liquor stores.

    Another council member doesn't want the Walmart to be built on Georgia Ave because too many neighborhood teens will end up with criminal records. That neighborhood is mostly black.

    yeah, the elected officials of DC have done such a great job for the blacks of the city. Maybe that is the reason that they are moving?

  9. The Constitution provided for a federal district that deliberately would not be part of any state precisely to preclude undue local influence on the federal government as had happened in 1783 when Congress met in Philadelphia. The Constitution explicitly grants Congress exclusive authority over the federal district, which by itself makes statehood impossible without a constitutional amendment. What's more, since the Constitutiion provides that House and Senate members be elected from the states, representation in either house without statehood is also impossible (a non-voting delegate like Mrs. Norton is not a Member, whatever she may think). The real issue is not statehood, since an amendment would never be ratified by two thirds of the states. The issue is at some point Congress might embrace the theory posed by some Dems that it can by legislation make DC a state. Since the Constitution does not specify where the federal district should be or how big it should be except that it not exceed ten miles square, the obvious solution to the issue of representation is to cede back to Maryland all of the District except for the major portions of federally owned land within it. While this would be a bit awkward administratively, 90 percent of the residents would be able to vote for Barbara Mikukski!

  10. Obviously there are a number of valid points both for and against establishing "state-like" representation in Congress for DC. Absence of due consideration of all valid points renders this singular argument alleging racism specious at best.

    It's strange that the Dems would equate this to taking their "voting rights away". This "voting right" was purely symbolic giving them an administrative opportunity to put their position on the record for debate. They never had a real vote anyway.

    It's ironic that this handful of Democrats are focused on claiming racism by the evil Repubs who are only disenfranchising African-Americans in DC. What about the millions of Puerto Ricans, 150k Guamanians, 100k Virgin Islanders, and 65k Samoans? Are the reps of those territories upset that this symbolic vote was taken away? Yes. Are they crying racism? Not yet that I've seen.

    It appears that the Democrats are only pandering to blacks to try to stem the growing tide of defections from their party of those to whom the sweet song of smaller government and fiscal conservatism is beckoning.

  11. DC resident and don't like that DC is not a state? Simple solution.


  12. You're right on target. I've lived in "the District" for 34 years and assure you that the "DC Statehood" movement is a political charade.

    (BTW our general-election voter-turnout rate is among the lowest compared to the 50 States.)

  13. I was under the impression that DC had more than adequate representation in both Houses of Congress. Am I wrong in thinking that two Senators from Virginia, two Senators from Maryland, and at least one Representative apiece cover the District?