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Public outrage over the death of 10 year-old Gavin Cato, hit by a Hasidic man, erupted in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY in 1991.

The Color of Congress

POSTED: November 04, 2010, 12:00 am

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White men may not jump, but they sure know how to hold onto power. Tuesday’s election solidified white male domination in Congress and reveals the deficiencies of our democratic system. The proportionality of representation of non-white Americans is taking a hit with the incoming Class of 2010. Though Republicans elected two African Americans to the House, the overall picture does not mirror proportionately the numerical strength of the Black community. The departure of Senator Roland Burris of Illinois leaves African Americans with no representation in the Senate.

It also remains to be seen whether newly elected Back Republicans Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida will tow the conservative/Tea Party line or act independently when issues affecting the Black community are on the table. Both Scott and West were elected in predominantly white districts, and they may see no need to align themselves philosophically with the predominant policy preferences of African Americans. It is doubtful that either freshman will seek membership in the Congressional Black Caucus or work with the group that represents African American members in Congress.

The picture is bound to worsen as Republicans won control of significant numbers of state legislatures to be in command of the upcoming legislative redistricting of state and congressional districts. Combined with federal courts that are stacked with conservative jurists who are prone to discount the Voting Rights Act, we may experience a freeze in the growth of Black political representation in Congress for the coming decade. Complicating matters is the difficulty Black candidates face when running statewide for the U.S. Senate. On Tuesday, Kendrick Meek went down to defeat in Florida after a valiant effort, and after the meddling of former President Bill Clinton. Moreover, even conservative Democrats like Harold Ford could not hurdle the barriers placed in his way when he sought the Senate seat in Tennessee a few years back.

We must now contend with the type of Black congressional representation more so than the number of Blacks serving. While the Republican Party might now advance Black candidates, we will have to wait and see the nature of their politics. This not to suggest we should automatically discount Black Republicans. Former Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts was a model of moderation and stood up for civil rights as his party was making a turn to the right. In recent history, former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma fought for Black farmers and supported historically Black colleges. Newly elected representatives Scott and West deserve the benefit of the doubt before they are written off as conservative ideologues.

We must learn that what happens in the Capitol matters as much as what happens in the White House. The real problem is that the “people’s house” does not look like the people. True change means a change in the composition of the decision-making bodies that determine public policy in a way that reflects our nation. Sadly, we are falling far short on this measure of democratic participation. When taking a wider view beyond our nation’s capital, the picture looks no better. Luckily, Governor Deval Patrick won re-election in Massachusetts but he stands alone as the nation’s sole Black governor. The farm team to the Senate is awfully thin and white voters seems reluctant to extend their support to Blacks who try to move up the political ladder.

With Black Democrats back in minority status, and surrendering their leadership of committees, a real readjustment must take place by sitting members and we must reconsider our approach to the 111th Congress under white, Republican rule.

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