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February 2003

At-Large Voting: Another Way to Disenfranchise Minority Voters

[NOTE: this continues the discussion from Chapter 5, The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes, by Ron Edwards, as told to Peter Jessen]

There is a move afoot to turn back the clock and disenfranchise Blacks again. If successful, and this is the key, it will have been done by law. The latest tactic to block Black efforts is to replace district voting with at-large voting. So even if Blacks are the majority in one district, they are in the minority citywide, statewide, and thus the at-large voters can overrule their votes. The Supreme Court’s decision in 1993 to question the constitutionality of remedial race-conscious districting, creating “majority minority” districts was the equivalent of reinstitution of Jim Crow laws (as the U.S. Supreme Court favors the Southern States version of “states rights” over the Federal constitution mandate of “individual rights,” as I discuss in Appendix A), just as Minneapolis’ redistricting achieves the same thing. In an unbelievable and totally wilful misuse of the term by White Justices, so that districts called by the U.S. Supreme Court “political apartheid” because it made the majority of the districts Blacks (stating so in a very narrow technicality sense about which they should have known better) could now be returned to the Whites. But these “majority minority” districts were created to enfranchise. The judges now use this “apartheid” technicality to again disenfranchise Blacks. Remember, apartheid “is the total exclusion of one racial group from participation in government and the total domination of one racial group by another.” To call these districts formed to give Blacks a voice “apartheid” ignores the reality that before the “majority minority” districts, all North Carolina districts were dominated by Whites and achieved nothing but political apartheid, setting Blacks apart so they could not elect a Black. That was the real apartheid. The most telling statistic: The districts were set so that no Blacks had been elected to Congress in almost a century. Clearly the siding of the courts against Blacks in redistricting cases across the country is why the DFL in Minneapolis felt it could get away with it too.

The U.S. Supreme Court has added two more “kinks” to the mix. The first is ruling that dilution of the Black vote is okay as long as there is no overt denial. Why, in the age of spin and professional PR techniques, would anyone claim denial when they can achieve the same end covertly through dilution? The other roadblock is that anyone protesting these decisions has to prove intent to deny. Given all the ways to interpret/spin out of the way of “intent,” the district space of Whites adjoining the district space of Blacks trumps the Black space. And public spin and professional PR tricks will make it virtually impossible to prove intent. But if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it probably is a duck. And thus this is a dilution of the Black vote, a degrading of the Black vote, and a disenfranchising of the Black vote, rendering Black votes useless, and it still results in the White quacking that all is okay for everyone. Well, for Whites anyway. Legally. As if it was moral. And as most interpret legal as moral, they end the discussion. We still haven’t won the war. And now Minneapolis wants to use redistricting to take away the battles we have won.

By all rights, Affirmative Action laws should be eliminated. They should no longer be needed to counter the unequal place at the starting line in terms of equal access and equal opportunity for Blacks. Affirmative Action lost its moral authority when every special group stepped up to claim victim status (of which NONE of these newly claiming victim groups had happen to them what had happened to Blacks as descendants of slaves). Then Affirmative Action was defined as quotas or, as stated in some circles, racial preferences. And yet feminist groups claiming victim status can still fall back on being White. Most gay groups claiming victim status can also fall back on being White. Asians and Hispanics can fall back on being not black. Even the book The Bell Curve listed the Black person at the bottom, after Asians, Whites, and Hispanics. Blacks can’t. So having had Affirmative Action co-opted, Blacks still need some form of it to finally be applied with its original purpose, for another 15-20 years.

Ironically, Affirmative Action was twisted into something as racist as the Jim Crow laws, as eventually become just another way to keep Blacks in their place: let a few out, co-opting who could be their leaders, but that is all. Affirmative action as originally conceived was correct. It has evolved, however, into a caste system enriching those who administer it, like Black preachers and officers of the NAACP and the Urban League and other self-proclaimed leaders of self-proclaimed victim groups, but few others. What able-bodied people seeking work need is not Affirmative Action or special preferences a work ethic matched with fair treatment, and the development of abilities and confidence in themselves. The key to this, of course, is to have jobs ready for them through equal access and equal opportunity. If the latter cannot or will not be done, then all that I have just said is true except then we have to add Affirmative Action if that is what it takes to force equal access and equal opportunity.

Affirmative Action is not “doing to others what you want everyone to do unto everybody else.” It insists that minorities (now defined to include far more than the ancestors of slaves, such as women, gays, people with physical disabilities) cannot and will not survive unless the system is tilted in their favor. In other words, we are inferior. That is racist. This goes against the grain of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the difference between being unqualified (receiving a purposefully poor education) and being qualifiable (what will happen if education for Blacks is as good and well funded as education for Whites). Affirmative Action enriches the special interests that “market” and administer it so they can obtain the funding that comes with doing so (either in the form of government programs or in bureaucratic positions mandated for the overseeing of it in both corporate, government, and educational settings). Now women, gays, the physically challenged, and other self-described victim groups, who never suffered slavery, who are not colored, have completely muddied the waters (pun intended). Why? To give the Democrats more voting blocs. They get the votes. Program administrators get jobs. And Blacks, especially in the inner cities, get very little.

To keep their jobs, these administrators’ interest is to maintain a large Black underclass, not help them up and out, which would end their jobs and their bureaucratic power. What is needed is to bring fairness and justice to education and housing and economic development. Affirmative Action follows the racist Kerner Commission report that Blacks can’t make it on their own. The rise in the prison population of young Black men bears testimony to this. When kids play sports, they know who should be first- and second- string, and they know who has to improve to move up. If this is eliminated, as in Affirmative Action, we are left with various graduates who have an inferior education, for federal dollars mandate their graduation, whether they learn or not, with no motivation to move up on their own. They wind up unable to compete, as they have been qualified by diploma but not by learning, and so the unintended consequence of putting them at the front of the line ends up putting them back at the end of the line.

This in no way minimizes the history of brutalization, the taking away of land, the continued discrimination in education and employment, in housing and economic development. But today, people have to be well trained and well educated. Addressing that addresses the rest.

Much progress has been made. 25% of Blacks earn $75,000/year or more. But the system still has 33% of Blacks below the poverty line, including those with jobs making only minimum or lower wages. And thus Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota still have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to minorities., Minnesota’s own web page, demonstrates that Whites overwhelmingly outnumber minorities. Minnesota’s population is 4,919,479. This is how this breaks down:*

a. State rank in population: 21st
b. White: 4,400,282 (89.4%)
c. Black or African American: 171,731 (3.5%)
d. Hispanic or Latino: 1 43,382 (2.9%)
e. Asian: 141,968 (2.8%)
f. Two or more races: 82,742 (1.7%)
g. Some other race: 65,810 (1.3%)
h. American Indian and Alaska Native: 54,967 (1.1%)
i. Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 1,979 (.04%)
*2000 Census Information

Remember the name of our game: equal access, equal opportunity, fairness and justice.

In America today, there are currently two million minority-owned firms generating in excess of $205 billion annually. The U.S. Census Bureau middle series shows that the minority of the U.S. population is projected to increase from 29% in 2000 to 46% in 2045 and to over 50% by 2060. This means that there will be an increase in minority disposable income spending of $3 trillion over the next 45 years. But there are those who don’t want to see this happen. They fight it behind the scenes with blocking laws.

There is considerable pressure from the Federal and state governments as well as from a wide range of other sectors of society (small business, education, non-profits, faith communities, and a growing number of major corporations) to create equal opportunities and to involve all minorities in the economic prosperity of America. I support this goal. Minneapolis continues to figure out clever ways to get around it in with more jails with more prison beds, order to keep unwanted Black males in their place.

A growing amount of legislation is in place that has been specifically designed to reflect this growing consensus to grant minorities access and adequate involvement in all aspects of everyday business life. But putting it in place and implementing it are two different things. Although I differ with the specifics of some of the legislation, I agree with the goal. And yet as we see in this book, Blacks are kept out as much as possible. Legally.

Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm. Formerly head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Urban League, he continues his “watchdog” role for Minneapolis. Order his book, hear his voice, read his solution papers, and read his between columns “web log” at

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