The United States Senate is about to become a whole lot whiter:
The Senate might not have any African-American members after the election, when Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), the only sitting black senator, vacates his seat.
Overall, the Senate has never had more than one black member at a time. Burris replaced President Obama in this distinction after filling his Illinois seat following the 2008 election. Before Obama, Carol Moseley Braun, also from Illinois, served from 1993 to 1999.
"In total," The Hill notes, "there have been six black senators since Reconstruction." This is terrible, but not as astounding as it sounds when you think about it. The states with large enough African American populations to support a black Senate candidate -- most of the Deep South -- are also the states where whites are strongly polarized against African Americans, and the Democratic Party by extension.
Indeed, at 15 percent, even Illinois might have "too many black people"; it's just that Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama had the good fortune to run in unusual elections. The former won in a three-way race that split the votes of moderate and conservative Democrats, and the latter -- a strong candidate in his own right -- benefited from the collapse of one Republican candidate, Jack Ryan, and the craziness of another, Alan Keyes.
Obviously, you can't know for sure, but my guess is that the next black senator comes from a mostly white state or a state where the largest minority population isn't African American.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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