Nate Silver's post on why there are no black senators is really good, and has been attracting a lot of attention. But let me begin by quibbling with something:
The question, of course, is why African-Americans aren't getting elected in these districts. Racism is undoubtedly part of the answer, but it probably can't be a complete one now that the country has just elected Barack Obama to the White House.
I want to agree that racism can't explain it all. Having said that, I also think this is the sort of thing that keeps black people up at night. The problem is that Nate is looking at the racism of right now--i.e. will white people today vote for a black guy. But the worse racism happened yesterday, and it's the worse because we're still feeling the effects of it. Nate, I think correctly, notes that one reason there aren't any black senators is because blacks aren't competing in districts that look like America:
I suspect that a lot of the problem, however, is that as Congressional Districts have become more and more gerrymandered, leading to the creation of more and more majority-minority districts following the 1980 and 1990 censuses, the black political apparatus has become more and more 'ghettoized'. Black candidates have not had to develop a message that appeals to white voters, because most of them don't have very many white voters in their districts (about half the nation's African-American population is limited to the 60 blackest Congressional Districts). Nor do they have very many conservative voters in their districts, and so they have not had to develop a message that appeals to conservatives, even though the black population itself is far more diverse in its political views than is generally acknowledged.
Leaving aside that raging lefty Harold Ford, gerrymandering isn't the only reason black congressmen tend to come from majority black districts. African-Americans are still the most segregated minority in the country. I can't overstate how much that sort of thing warps a prospective candidate's world. It influences who he meets, what he sees, what he's invited to, who he has drinks with etc. It's not because white people are saying, Nigger don't come over here. It's because these folks don't know each other.
That said, there's a Du Bois quote that I love, even though I'm about mangle it. Du Bois, disenchanted with the NAACP, ironically had entered into a Garveyite phase. Speaking on the future of race he told black people,"You didn't create this problem. But you will have to fix it." That's not the exact quote, but it's something like that, and it really captures the best of black nationalism. Du Bois's point was to not so much to dismiss white racism, but to look at the problem and acknowledge that mass white benevolence would not be forthcoming.
Du Bois said that in the 30s, but part of that thinking is still with me. So when I see a Bobby Rush comparing Roland Burris with the worse scenes out of Alabama, I don't just chafe because of the race card. Fuck the race card--the original, and most potent race card, stretches from Reagan going to Philadelphia through Bush speaking at a school that outlawed interracial dating. I chafe because it traffics in a dangerous illusion that our only way in, is through the side door. Roland Burris will--and by law should--be seated. But there will be no side doors to save him 2010. And in all likelihood, we'll be right here, having this same discussion again.
And so that leaves us with a question--What will we do? I look at my home state of Maryland. I look at the shifting demographics of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. I look at Corey Booker in New Jersey, Deval Patrick is Massechussets. I think about how this isn't 1988. How will play on this feild? Is it enough that to just be black, or should we be organizing around issues, not people? We just watched a black man use technology--and the sacrifices of others--to win. Is there not some lesson for us there? Is it only that our way in, must be through the worst impulses of corrupt politicians? What will be our magic, as Baraka would say. What will be our sacred words?