Maryland has a hugely active and vocal minorityi political community. The founders of the Congressional Black Caucus and many of its chairpersons have come from Maryland, as have some of the most successful advocates for and actors in mainstream US civil rights action. Maryland’s modern absence of minority representation at the state and national levels is therefore viewed as a random accident. In the face of the evidence, though, this view is a dangerous underestimation of the patterns of control truly in play in Maryland.
Everyone in Maryland politics complains about the problem of gerrymandering when it works against them, and quietly enjoys its spoils so long as their party remains in charge of redistricting.
Delegate Kirill Reznick put forward what looks like a balanced call for non-partisan, professional redistricting reform in Maryland. However, Reznick is a Democrat, and he is addressing in his message a Republican Governor to ask that the state be re-redistricted in a way that remains “fair” to Democrats. On the other hand, as the American Prospect explains, “Operating in a deep blue state, Maryland’s Democratic Party has long utilized the redistricting process as a thinly veiled political maneuver to entrench its power.”
This 40% minority population has 27% of state representation
The Prospect elaborates how, despite Republicans making up a third of Maryland voters, “[b]y redrawing a traditionally Republican seat in Western Maryland to include parts of the traditionally liberal Montgomery County, [former Governor] O’Malley helped Democrat John Delaney knock out longtime Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett from his 6thDistrict post, increasing the congressional delegation’s Democratic majority from 6-2 to 7-1.”
As most people do, both authors write about gerrymandering as a partisan issue, one party adjusting the lines of voting districts in order to strengthen their voters and isolate and weaken their opposition. But gerrymandering is not your normal corruption, it is not simply partisan, and very few are calling it what it actually is: a tool of ethnic cleansing of minority political power.
The redistricting process does the job of eliminating an ethnic group’s political power in their home
Maryland’s population is only 60% White. The 31% of the population that is Black holds only 25% of congressional seats, 23% of State representation, and no representation at the highest levels of Governor or Senator (though in the previous two administrations the Lieutenant Governors were both Black). And Maryland’s 10% Hispanic population has even less representation, with only six members of the state’s 188-member General Assembly and no representation in Congress. The largest portion of these voters, a full third, are in a single congressional district, one of the two districts with a Black Congressperson. So, together this 40% minority population has 27% of state representation and 25% at the national level.
Ethnic cleansing has been said by Harvard University historian Terry Martin to “[occupy] the central part of a continuum between genocide on one end and nonviolent pressured ethnic emigration on the other end.” Gerrymandering is one of the more direct, aggressive approaches to that “other end”.
Of course, gerrymandering does not do the job on its own, and it’s certainly a good sight better than genocide, but the redistricting process nonetheless does the job of eliminating an ethnic group’s political power in their home and forcing them, if they wish to be represented and less-obviously-oppressed, to move to their own ethnic-majority unit and leave their old district “cleansed”.
Ethnic cleansing never happens in a vacuum, either. That is to say, other tools of oppression, from violent state forms like racial profiling, mass incarceration and police brutality to the social and economic forms this article will address later, complement gerrymandering in putting pressure on un-like ethnic residents to move into their fabricated ethnic district.
Fear Of A Black Candidate?
Maryland has ghettoized a group of pre-impoverished ethnic minorities in order to solidify their representation and remove their influence on the majority districts. These districts are, by virtue of their preexisting poverty, almost necessarily higher-crime districts. Add to this the highly personal nature of US elections, and any representative of a higher-crime district is painted as at fault for that crime and labeled irresponsible or dangerous, thereby rendering them a frightening caricature, unelectable in the larger statewide elections.
This hypothesis is proven by the differing decisions made by Maryland’s two Black Congresspersons in the race for the now-open US Senate seat. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Baltimore does not run because he’s popular, beloved, powerful, and knows he won’t win a statewide race. The unwinnable nature of statewide campaigns for Black politicians has been illustrated by Maryland’s previous Senate opening, where Kweisi Mfume failed to win the Democrat nomination and Michael Steele failed to win the general election.
6 “clean” white districts that never have to concern themselves with the issues of minorities
Cummings’ choice is bolstered by the current Democrat Senate primary itself, as Occupy-supporting Black Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Prince Georges County is seeing the left abandon her for business-friendly, social-security-slashing White neighbor Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, whose closest advisers, donors, and friends include, in addition to superpower PAC-money Democrats, lobbyists for Wal-Mart, big oil, and AHIP, one of the organizations who worked the hardest to keep the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) as toothless as possible.
Instead of creating an integrated political system which allows minority citizens a voice and real representation within all of Maryland’s voting districts, Maryland’s decades-long steadily-intensifying redistricting process has created a pair of majority-minority districts into which all minority power is consolidated, and 6 “clean” white districts that never have to concern themselves with the issues of minorities, and the statewide candidates never have to fear the power of those minorities so long as they keep the Whites happy.
But the ethnic cleansing of political power is only partly a direct-political act. The actual phenomenon manifests throughout all aspects of state politics, for example housing policy.
Cleaning House: Gentrification
Gentrification is seen by many urban planners as a net positive, revitalizing a neighborhood by bringing in wealth in the hopes of benefiting all residents. However, according to a recent Harvard study, “predominantly black, seriously discriminated-against neighborhoods … aren’t reaping the same benefits from the transformation of cities… [T]his is a paradoxical result, because there is evidence that diversity and mixed neighborhoods are the ground floor of gentrification, but this paper shows there are sharp limits to that…”
Public housing units on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. were referred to by critics as “Sowetos”, in reference to Apartheid South Africa
As even Forbes magazine admits, in explaining how Washington, D.C., got off their “Most Dangerous Cities” list, “[Washington] tore down high-rise public housing towers and replaced them with garden-style apartments. Gentrification, meanwhile, drove many of the city’s poorer residents out to suburbs like Prince George’s County.” So as the city’s wealth grew, its poorer (read: non-White) citizens were cleansed as another part of that “other end” of “nonviolent pressured ethnic migration.”
Washington, D.C. is not Maryland, though it is the centerpiece of Maryland’s economy, as its wealthiest and most-powerful district, Montgomery County, is little more than a D.C. suburb. But gentrification is a statewide phenomenon, as one can see from the state Capitol of Annapolis where gentrification in the 60s and 70s cleansed minority residents out to public housing units on the outskirts of the city that critics referred to as “Sowetos” in reference to Apartheid South Africa.
“We are using a local matter as an inadequate substitute for a broader national situation that still plagues us”
By the mid-80s, there were over 5,000 tenants in Annapolis public housing, whereas today it’s just over 1,600, which begs the question: where did the rest of the Soweto residents go? In all likelihood, the answer is Baltimore City or Prince Georges County. The same phenomenon is visible in Frederick and other Maryland cities (though Columbia deserves recognition as an exception as a racially-diverse and integrated planned community).
Ta-Nehisi Coates warned against the oversimplification of gentrification as the ultimate evil in a Whites-versus-Blacks racist game, saying that “we are using a local matter as an inadequate substitute for a broader national situation that still plagues us.” He talks about “a black population that is reeling under a cocktail of an ancient wealth gap, poor criminal justice policy, and economic instability … [versus] a well-educated, well-insulated white population with different wants and different needs.” And he’s right, gentrification is not the only evil, it is merely another tool in the ethnic-cleansing toolbox, just like gerrymandering or education policy.
The Literal Schools to Prisons Pipeline
And back to Annapolis, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan made some passing derogatory remark last month that state legislators “act like they’re on Spring Break” and Maryland Democrats got all pissed off and made a big show of demanding an apology. The best summary of the true meaning of this outrage came from Paul Gardner of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood who tweeted “why did the “spring break” comments have more of an impact than defunding HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges & Universities] to open a new city jail? I mean … that’s fucking dark man. That’s some let-us-make-it-crystal-clear-how-little-you-mean-to-us type shit.”
The principle of the stageshow distraction is no different in the Balkans than it is in Baltimore.
The issues brought forward in the Baltimore Uprisings, issues like HBCU defunding, police brutality, the carceral state, lead in the walls and in the water, these could be a big piece of the coming elections unless voters get distracted by the political stageshow where Democrats and Republicans yell at each other over the airwaves about “spring break” while quietly working together in the State House to maintain the longstanding oppressive institutions of power exactly as they are for the people who fund them. Which is exactly what the stageshow is about.
Of course, the push to create tight, ethnically-pure districts is not simply an American tradition but part of a larger global trend of pure ethnic sovereignty that’s been intensifying steadily for years. And this trend has very similar patterns wherever it appears, such as the attempt to hide its occurrence. To parallel to another quiet ethnic cleansing, the day after the formerly-multiethnic region of Vojvodina in what is currently Serbia called for an independence referendum, conflict reemerged on the Serbia-Kosovo border, sparked by aggression by ethnic Serbs.
“So long as Kosovo remains a hot zone, the issue of Vojvodina will never be heard on the international level,” said an expert on Vojvodina speaking at a conference in Berlin. Her panel-discussion partner, Bosnian Defense Minister Selmo Cikotic, responded with succinct clarity: “Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?” The principle of the stageshow distraction is no different in the Balkans than it is in Baltimore.
The tone of the Democrat uproar over the prison spending is incredibly racially divided
The defunding of higher education for Black people in order to fund a prison in a majority-Black city is the most obscenely straightforward manifestation of the Schools To Prisons Pipeline. When the Baltimore Algebra Project talks about the Schools To Prisons Pipeline, they’re referring to “a system of inadequate schooling and diminished expectations that attracts kids to crime and eventually prison.” But what Maryland has done in defunding HBCUs in favor of a prison is simply to cut out the middleman: get rid of schools and build prisons instead.
Now, to give them credit, some Democrats were outraged by the defunding of Maryland’s HBCUs (as they were quick to point out to us) though not nearly as loudly outraged as over the “spring break comments. But the tone of the Democrat uproar over the prison spending is incredibly racially divided.
The HBCU advocates within the above-linked article are entirely Black, and the other opponents are annoyed that the money’s being spent on a jail instead of something they had planned in their own district, not at the injustice that is the reduction of capital for HBCUs to pay for a prison in a Black city. The criticism from Democrats from Montgomery County (Maryland’s wealthiest and currently most-powerful county) is that the prison spending is bad because it hurts Montgomery County’s interests, not because it funds a jail instead of a school.
The attacks haven’t always been financial, sometimes they’ve been regulatory
It’s good to see there’s some outrage, and in fact, that Black outrage over the past week did in fact stop Governor Hogan’s current plan, as he backed away from the prison construction plans yesterday in response to Black state legislators calling the move “unconscionable,” “shameful,” and “absolutely” racially motivated. But the outrage doesn’t seem to undermine the criticism: these state legislators taking verbal shots at each other over the airwaves is just as much a part of the stageshow as the Serbs taking real shots across the Kosovo border.
As Hogan points out, truthfully, “[i]t’s not my idea to build a jail in Baltimore. I have no desire to build a jail in Baltimore. … The legislature has demanded that we build a new jail, [t]he city of Baltimore has been demanding that we build a new jail. Legislators that were critical in the paper voted for it. It was their idea, not my idea.” Even if legislators are finally saying something about it, it’s little more than lip service after their systemic dismantling of the institution of HBCUs and support for prison construction.
And the dismantling has been systemic, it’s not a one-off. This article from former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele outlines the state’s attacks on HBCUs for more than the past decade, and it didn’t simply start when he noticed them. As Steele shows, the attacks haven’t always been financial, sometimes they’ve been regulatory, sometimes they’ve been seemingly inconsequential bills pushing for programs at Whiter universities that undermine the specialty programs of HBCUs, through which the already-struggling-for-funding HBCUs now have to compete with much more well-financed institutions.
The power of minority educational institutions been reduced while spending on prisons increased
It’s important to know your sources, and this is the same Michael Steele who chaired the Republican National Committee from 2009-2011, but it’s all the more relevant that this phenomenon was noted by a Republican, not a Democrat. Maryland’s HBCUs have been under attack for years, and Democrats with institutional ties to Whiter universities have been at least as involved in those attacks as their Republican counterparts. The decay of HBCUs is not simply due to a single instance of reduced financing, it’s been a long, slow legislative process supported by both parties in Maryland’s legislature.
As minority political power has been cleansed from most of the state into tiny cells of underrepresentation, so simultaneously has the power of minority educational institutions been reduced while spending on prisons for poor, uneducated, underrepresented Marylanders increased.
And it would have been worse if not for the Uprisings: When Baltimore took to the streets, Democrats in the legislature sought to give some sign of willingness to hear the demands of the protestors. They made a major step, restoring voting rights to ex-felons, giving 40,000 people their representation back. This in no way undoes the ethnic cleansing of minority political power, but were it not for the Uprisings, no such restoration would have occurred, and minority political power would have simply continued to decline at an even higher rate as incarceration rates rose. Nonetheless, we should be thankful for small victories.
Rewarding the Ethnic Cleansers
In addressing the issues in this article, Morgan State University’s Dr. Lawrence Brown says “in some sense the ethnic cleansing you are describing has already happened via slum clearance, urban renewal, Hopkins-led redevelopment, the Highway to Nowhere, and the dismantling of public housing, etc.” He directs our readers to the Thompson vs. HUD consent decree regarding the gentrification of Annapolis and a current federal case called The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al v. Maryland Higher Education Commission regarding HBCUs.
He concludes, “The truth is, Maryland was a Confederate state that was stopped by Lincoln’s guns. The GOP is now either filled with sophisticated racists or Confederate racists, while the Democratic Party is the party of multicultural colorblind racism. Even had Anthony Brown been elected, he would have been no good as it relates to racial equity and all of the issues we’re discussing. Which means that ultimately, it’s more than a matter of racial representation, but more of a means of restorative justice, reparations, and a people-powered political mechanism that works for people instead of large capitalist corporations,” while pointing out that “the ethnic cleansing has been going on for over 100 years” and that “Mindy Fullilove calls it serial forced displacement (that leads to root shock)“.
What’s the difference between serial forced displacement and ethnic cleansing? The answer is American Exceptionalism. We can’t bear to be tarred with the same brush as the rest of the world. We accept that historically we ethnically cleansed the Native Americans, but a modern ethnic cleansing has to be given another name like serial forced displacement, even when it bears the exact same markings as what we’d call ethnic cleansing when it happens in Eastern Europe or the Middle East.
It may be time to reconsider exactly what Democrats have done to earn your loyalty
So, Delegate Reznick and his fellow Democrats are right in demanding a fair and professional redistricting, but if their focus is merely on party representation and not on integration to ensure that all voices are heard equally loudly and all communities are represented equally strongly, then it’s just more of the same bipartisan racial injustice.
Maryland’s Democrats make a big show of being the party of and for the Black and Hispanic communities, and this show is rewarded with one-party rule by Democrats in Baltimore City and in Prince George’s County, the two endpoints for the ethnic cleansing of minority political power. Of course, this one-party rule would be no less ruinous to the regions if Republicans had the power. Nonetheless, it’s vital to recognize that Democrats are at least as responsible as Republicans for the ethnic cleansing of minority political power into these two relatively powerless blocks, blocks intended to minimize the influence of minority interests in the power and financial centers of the state. And it’s just as vital to recognize that integration is in no way a part of their long-term goals.
When, after ethnically cleansing your political representation into the smallest possible units, the establishment powers of your party choose to put forward a candidate who represents the business interests of Montgomery County instead of, once again, a candidate who represents your interests, it may be time to reconsider exactly what they’ve done to earn your loyalty.
And if restoring voting rights to ex-felons is enough, that’s your call. But they are still building prisons. And they are still responsible for underfunding Baltimore City Public Schools by $800,000,000. Building prisons and underfunding schools are all attacks on those ethnically-cleansed minorities whose power have been intentionally and institutionally removed, attacks that continue to eat away at their already-decimated representation and rights.
Maryland’s Ethnic Cleansing of Minority Political Power by Zachary Gallant is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
i In this article “minority” is used as an unfortunate blanket term to discuss the Black and Hispanic population, despite these populations together being on track to outnumber the White population in Maryland by the end of the decade. It disregards, as well, other non-White groups such as Jews or Asian-Americans, as these groups have been differently integrated into Whiteness and their stories are quite different. There are doubtless better terms, but for the sake of simplicity we’ve chosen for this article “minority”.