Along racial lines

Published 10:23 am Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1963.

When Dr. King spoke these words nearly 50 years ago, it was undoubtedly the signature moment of the American Civil Rights movement, the fight for black Americans to receive fairness, opportunity and equal rights under the law.

One can only imagine how he would have felt today, in light of the Virginia Senate’s efforts to carve out another minority-majority district, about the direction the movement is moving in.

The newly proposed 25th Senate District, which stretches 150 miles from Franklin west to Danville, was designed to provide a voting district that is comprised of a black voting majority. Never mind the fact that, by all appearances, Republicans took the opportunity to strengthen their future re-election efforts by redrawing district lines to their benefit, and used the new 25th district’s 56 percent black majority as a bone to pacify opponents.

The real question is does rigging electoral districts to benefit anyone, especially minorities, have a place in today’s political landscape?

Sen. John Watkins, R-Chesterfield, said of the new 25th “stretching across Southside Virginia, it will provide the opportunity for rural African-Americans in Virginia to elect their own representative to the Senate.”

According to Watkins and his colleagues, “their own” means a person who shares the same color skin. To Dr. King, “their own” meant a person who shared the same beliefs and ideals.

Some would argue that politically engineered voting districts, ones with artificial boundaries so specific demographic groups can elect one of “their own,” are necessary to advance the goal of racial equality under the law. To Dr. King, true racial equality meant that, one day, we would be able to erase these imaginary boundaries.