Our opinion: Redistricting a black and white issue, with shades of gray

April 6, 2011 9:37:00 AM



It''s a question of what is fair. 


In District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks'' mind, it isn''t fair that his district, one of two minority-dominated districts in Lowndes County, is dropping from 63.5-percent black to 62 percent. The county redraws district lines every 10 years after the latest census count. 


District 4, the other black-majority district, remains at 79.4-percent black. Under the new plan, District 1''s voting population is 71.2-percent white; District 2 is 69.8-percent white; and District 3 is 83.2-percent white. 


We bemoan the fact that we must cast these things in terms of race. With a black mayor in Columbus and a black president in the White House, and just days past the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.''s death, we''d like to think that like sufficient strides have been made in race relations that we don''t have to quibble over one and a half percent of black voters in a supervisor''s district. 


But this is Mississippi, after all. We cast everything in terms of race, and rightly so. Our redistricting must meet U.S. Justice Department approval, thanks to those small matters of a civil war, Jim Crow laws and violent civil rights era. One person likened the shift in Brooks'' district to getting kicked in the street by a white man in the ''60s, who did it only because he was white and could get away with it. 


Maybe those feelings are valid, but very few could argue we haven''t come a long way since then. At least, some of us have. Some of us, black and white, remain polarized, casting everything in terms of race. 


We count Brooks in that camp, but he has reason to complain. If we must cast these things along racial lines, he is coming up short. The other districts, and supervisors, enjoy larger majorities. Brooks'' district is the only one with a decline. 


Yet, Brooks'' district is the only one becoming more diverse -- a fact that we think we, and Brooks, should be celebrating, not gerrymandering. And, as redistricting consultant Chris Watson says, other factors, aside from race, come into play. There''s the overriding factor of population -- the total number of voters in each district must stay similar. There are natural borders that define district lines. The lines were also drawn to have the least amount of impact with regard to moving polling places. 


Brooks doesn''t seem interested in courting these new white voters in his district -- he''d rather give them away, or at least take some more black voters into his district from someone else''s -- specifically, Jeff Smith''s district. 


Wouldn''t it be a nice change of pace for us to elect someone not because of the color of their skin, but the content of their character, to paraphrase the late Rev. King? What if Brooks were to take the fact that he has new white voters as a challenge, not a hindrance, and actually reach out to them and ask for their vote? 


Brooks has never been that kind of politician. But some of us have grown past casting every issue in black and white. We hold out hope that one day he can, too.