Black or White

By Hannah Rajalingam

“Mark all that apply” is my favorite phrase. It asks nothing of me. It lets me peruse my options and choose without restriction or requirement. “Choose one” is its enemy. It doesn’t allow for plurality, ambiguity, or any manner of expressiveness. It is the most powerful, determining phrase simply because it asks you to choose a side: Black or white.

Right now, Louisiana is attempting to redefine the option of what it means to be Black. Since a Supreme Court ruling in 2003, residents were counted as Black if they checked it off on census forms, regardless of other ethnicities they checked off. However, after a recent redistricting dispute in Alabama, in which the state’s 22% Black population was given only 1 majority district, GOP officials argue that residents checking off Latino and Black should not be considered Black as it would be, with no proven reason, “most defensible.” In Louisiana, in Ardoin v. Robinson – a case brought to the Supreme Court to determine if Louisiana’s districts had diluted Black voting power in the state – officials are arguing for an even narrower definition of Black: those who check off Black and white on census forms and those who only check off Black.

Now that the Supreme Court has paused their determinations on the Louisiana case pending their decision on the Alabama case, Black voters’ protection hangs in the balance. Though the redefining of Black threatens to dilute Black voting power, the extreme arguments by Alabama officials that there should be no consideration of race in redistricting unless there is proof of intentional racial discrimination could completely undermine the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act protects the voting power of minority groups against racial discrimination. If the Alabama arguments are adopted in the Supreme Court decision, it would be nearly impossible to prove that a state has violated the VRA, since race was never a consideration.

In a time where many people belong to multiple racial and ethnic groups, narrowing the definition of what it means to be Black ignores the history of Black Latinx, Black & Native American, and Black & Asian people. It ignores the lasting effect of Jim Crow laws, Black codes, the Grandfather Clause of the 15th amendment and tactics like literacy tests that used systemic racism to maintain white voting power. Not considering racial demographics in voting districts, and failing to recognize the oppression minority communities still face today, leaves us walking backwards on the path towards equal voting rights.