Black Political Power Fades in California

Black Political Power Fades in California

Important political battles happening in San Francisco and Los Angeles have African-Americans worried about their political future.

Published July 25, 2011

Malia Cohen (Photo: San Francisco Board of Supervisors)

The coming days and months will be important ones for politically minded African-Americans in California. Not only is the Obama administration up for reelection next year, but very important legislative battles are happening in the northern and southern parts of the state, battles that could shape California in important ways for decades to come.


First, in San Francisco, the fight for Blacks to stay politically relevant in the city to which they rushed during World War II—shipbuilding jobs were prevalent—is getting fevered. There is now just a single African-American on the city’s 11-member Board of Supervisors. The fact is that the Black flight from San Francisco has been happening for decades now, ever since the African-American population peaked at 13.4 percent in 1970. Since then, poor schools, terrible low-income housing, and high crime rates in Black neighborhoods have seen Black families leave en masse, putting the Black population at a paltry 6.1 percent. “And as long as identity politics, such as race and sexual orientation, continue to play a role in how some people vote,” says the San Francisco Chronicle, “the dwindling number of African-Americans living in San Francisco puts Black representation on the Board of Supervisors at risk.”


Though the one Black Board of Supervisors member, Malia Cohen, has almost four years left in her term, it’s likely that without African-American support, she won’t be reelected.


Elsewhere, in Southern California, political redistricting has other African-American politicians as worried as Cohen in San Francisco. The new district map will be released Friday, and many Blacks in California politics are paying close attention to how things shake out. The reason is that the Latino population in Los Angeles is growing while the Black population is shrinking, with more Blacks headed to the suburbs. It’s a strange irony: Blacks are integrating white suburbs, a gain, but also losing political power by leaving and diluting once powerful Black voting districts. "Because [Blacks] are less segregated now, it makes it harder to draw districts around them to preserve their voting power,” a redistricting expert told the Chronicle


What does it all matter? While it may not seem important that one or two assemblymen don’t get to keep their jobs, it’s actually quite a big deal. Now that the African-American populations of San Francisco and Los Angeles are shrinking, it’s very important to look out for their communities. Without good Black representation in political office, it’s very possible those communities and their needs will become even more marginalized than they already are. California has long been a state known for its inclusiveness and diversity. It’s absolutely important to make good on that promise.

Written by Cord Jefferson


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