Democrats Have a Problem With Diversity? Americans Have a Problem With Racism.


It actually took me two reads and a conversation with a colleague to understand this odd column by National Journal's Josh Kraushaar. First, Kraushaar declares that Democrats have a "diversity problem." Why? Because for all their minority representatives -- 75 black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Democrats in Congress and governorships -- Democrats still have a problem with electing non-white candidates in majority-white constituencies:

Of the 75 black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Democrats in Congress and governorships, only nine represent majority-white constituencies—and that declines to six in 2011. Two of the party’s rising black stars who sought statewide office this year were rejected by their party’s own base. And when you only look at members of Congress or governors elected by majority-white constituencies (in other words, most of the governorships and Senate seats, and 337 out of 435 House seats), Democrats trail Republicans in minority representation. [...]

The numbers reflect an inconvenient reality—even with their more diverse caucus, Democrats face the same challenges as Republicans in recruiting, nominating, and electing minority candidates to statewide office and in majority-white suburban and rural districts. The vast majority of black and Hispanic members hail from urban districts that don’t require crossover votes to win, or represent seats designed to elect minorities. They are more liberal than the average Democrat, no less the average voter, making it more difficult to run statewide campaigns.

This is nonsense. For starters, it's an odd definition of "diversity" that writes out minority lawmakers because they represent minority populations. Apparently, diversity only counts when white people are involved. Worse is Kraushaar's explanation for the disparity; Democrats could elect more "diverse" candidates (read: non-whites who represent whites) if they would just get rid of those pesky majority-minority districts:

The prime culprit in preventing minorities from having broader appeal is the process of gerrymandering majority-minority seats. It has guaranteed blacks and Hispanics representation, but at the cost of creating seats where candidates would have to appeal to a broader constituency, white and non-white alike.

I'm not the biggest fan of majority-minority districts -- I think they might undermine minority representation -- but Kraushaar is missing the forest for the trees when he blames them for not meeting his odd standard for diversity. American voting is heavily ethnocentric, with minorities supporting the party that best represents minority interests, and whites supporting the party that best represents their interests. In practice, this means that Republicans can field minority statewide candidates in moderate to conservative areas -- and win -- because whites won't doubt the candidate's loyalties; i.e. a black Republican will vote like a white Republican 99 percent of the time.

By contrast, and in the South especially, black Democrats -- and indeed, white Democrats -- have to fight the perception that they will work for the sole benefit of minorities. It's no surprise that Harold Ford Jr. worked incredibly hard to identify himself with the white, "good 'ol boy" culture of Tennessee in his 2006 Senate race; to have any chance at victory, he needed to convince conservative white Democrats that he would fight for their (read: white) interests.

And of course, this is to say nothing of the fact that minorities are concentrated in states which tend to be conservative, as well as the fact that whites -- as a whole -- aren't too hot about the Democratic Party (in part because of its association with minorities). Put another way, it's not that the Democratic Party has a problem with diversity, it's that colorblindness is a myth, and the United States still has a problem with racial prejudice.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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