The New Segregation

New political districts are popping up across the country with weird, contorted shapes resembling a snake, an octopus, or even Superman's "S." They may be amusing to look at, but they threaten the very fabric of our political system. Many voters are just now learning that their new district for Congress or even the local school board has one of the new weird shapes. The problem is coming to light because of lawsuits filed by state and local officials, arguing that the new districts result from a gross misuse of Voting Rights Acts by federal officials—that they're the product of "racial gerrymandering." "Gerrymandering" first occurred in 1812 when supporters of Governor Gerry of Massachusetts redrew one county into a shape that resembled a salamander. The purpose was to mass Gerry's supporters into a single district—and to exclude his opponents. Well, if you thought such practices didn't occur anymore, think again. The only difference today is that the culprit is the federal government itself. What's worse, the new gerrymandering is intended to lump together voters of a single race, while excluding voters of another race. What an irony. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act to end state-sanctioned segregation. But today the same Act is the basis for a new form of segregation. The Justice Department argues that voters are disenfranchised unless they can choose a candidate of their own skin color. And so the feds are creating what are in effect "black-majority districts." Or in some places "Hispanic-majority districts." What's even more ironic to some people is that it's a black man—the Supreme Court's Clarence Thomas—who is leading the charge against political districts on the basis of race. Some of Thomas's critics even charge him with being "hostile" to Voting Rights statutes. But what Thomas is really hostile to is the government's wholesale abandonment of the great legacy of Martin Luther King. King helped end segregation when he declared that skin color is irrelevant in America—that what counts is a person's "character." King was right then, and Thomas is right now. In a recent case entitled Holder v. Hall, filed by a Georgia county, Justice Thomas denounced "racial gerrymandering." In his opinion, Thomas wrote: "[O]ur drive to segregate political districts by race can only serve to deepen racial divisions by destroying any need for voters or candidates to build bridges between racial groups or to form voting coalitions." Exactly. Crafting homogeneous districts offers short-term gains for some politicians, black and white. But dividing voters by race makes it impossible for all of us to build the kind of political community we all need—one bound together by shared values that have nothing to do with skin color. We can't hope to have communities of shared values if we balkanize ourselves by race. The apostle Paul wrote that "of one blood [God] made all nations." In the same way, our founding fathers foresaw a republic in which peoples of many countries could become one nation under God. That is the America of our ideals. And that must be the American reality.


Chuck Colson


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