Minorities are always a source of debate in America. Whether it is relating to immigration laws, equal opportunity in schools and workplaces, or their role in government minorities are often a subject of controversy. Many citizens of the United States feel their ethnicities or sex are not fairly represented in Congress, the Justice system, or even in the Executive branch. Today we have an overwhelming majority of white males in Congress. Racial minorities and women alike are underrepresented in both houses. A debate continues on how to make this representation could become more equal. Some feel that the system is what it is and generally makes a level playing field for all candidates; others believe that white males are heavily favored in our current districting. Underrepresentation of minorities has been prevalent since the beginning of America’s government, and many feel that action must be taken to achieve a more representative Federal Government.
Of all minorities, women are actually the weakest in representation. Women make up an equal amount of the United States’ total population, but they do not receive even close to half of the seats in Congress. In fact, as of this year, women only hold 19% of the seats in Congress. This number is record high, but is still very far from 50%. There are many factors contributing to women’s underrepresentation in government. One is a very obvious reason. Women simply do not have as many candidates running for office as do men. If more females hope to gain seats in Congress, more must be willing to run campaigns. Women’s participation in political education is also below that of men’s. Many argue, however, that women are receiving appropriate education and are attempting to run for office. The reason they have difficulty in gaining seats is people’s predisposition to favor the “traditional”. Voters are used to males holding these positions, and therefore naturally favor a male candidate to a female. If women hope to achieve more success in their numbers in the government, the general voting population must be more willing to accept them as leaders and vital assets on Capitol Hill. This cannot be done by apathetically hoping people will come to their senses. Women have to make strong efforts to assert themselves in those positions, and show future voters their capability. Some feel traditional views and number of candidates are not the most important factors restricting women from gaining equal representation. The biggest obstacle facing women with regards to underrepresentation in Congress is not people’s tendency to favor males for these positions. Instead their lack of wealth is the primary reason men have over eighty percent of the seats. (Rochne) The number of men with the funding to undergo a costly campaign process is much more numerous than the small number of females who could afford to run. Those women with money who choose to run are still often overmatched when it comes to funding. Fortunately, women are holding more assets, getting more degrees, and working at more high-level jobs than any other time in America’s history. If this trend continues, then women will continue to gradually increase their presence in Congress.
Racial minority’s struggles are far different from those of women. Often it is not money that holds minorities back, but how the voting system is set up in our Country. Redistricting is essentially a political game in which people with the most influence are trying to see their views favored, whether that’s to favor party or ethnic hopes. “In reality, minority voters wouldâ€¦ become submerged in white majority districts, and we would turn the clock back to a time when we had virtually all-white legislatures.”(Amy) This is focusing on how redistricting can be instrumental to the racial layout of congress. For many years this was a large factor in the white majority, until it was brought to the courts. This is seen in the Supreme Court case Thornburg vs. Gingles of 1986. The court declared in a unanimous vote that “the legacy of official discrimination … acted in concert with the multimember districting scheme to impair the ability of … cohesive groups of black voters to participate equally in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice.” Essentially this facilitated the creation of United States house districts in which a minority population constitutes a majority of the voting age population. (Banducci) Combined factors still affect minority representation. Wealth, education, experience, number of candidates all contribute to the underrepresentation of ethnicities. Despite all of these factors and the others unmentioned, districting is often considered the most challenging and restraining of all. The amount elected is solely reflected by the numbers of that minority in a voting district. (Peyton) Without minority voting populations being properly represented in their districts, they cannot be properly represented in the Federal Government.
Some believe, however, that racial redistricting would have its down falls and is paradoxical in nature. As voting districts are altered to allow for racial minorities to gain election to seats, Congress may be less likely to side with this races ideology and the policies they hope to implement. For example if a district was drawn to favor African-American candidates, Congress may feel less inclined to adopt policies that are favored by many African-American voters. “â€¦particularly in the South, the practice of concentrating minority populations into a small number of districts decreases the liberal influence in the remaining areas. Thus, a handful of minority representatives, almost invariably Democrats, win elections, but so do a greater number of conservative Republicans.” (Lublin) Not only will Congress be less willing to accept their policies, but liberal influence in other districts will suffer as a large number of minorities vote democratic. This in turn does the opposite of what activists are hoping. While one minority may gain a seat, their party could lose two. It is still very hard to deny the lack of diversity in Congress. In the United States Senate there are currently no blacks holding positions. In fact, only 6 senators have been African-American since the beginning of the Senate. Today’s Senate is made of a 96% white majority. Only 4 senators are racial minorities, Daniel Akaka, Hawaii (Asian-American, Daniel Inouye, Hawaii (Asian-American), Robert Menendez, New Jersey (Hispanic-American) and Marco Rubio, Florida (Hispanic-American). That means that Latinos make up 1% of the Senate, while the latest census found that they make up almost 17% of the United States’ entire population. It is clear why many are upset about the underrepresentation of minorities. When interviewed about this subject, it was found that most senators do not find this as a matter of importance. (Desjardins) Instead they believe the system gives an equal chance to all those running, and should be focused on merit not race. Senators feel that redistricting to aid the election of ethnic minorities is unfair and unnecessary. Of course their opinions are not at all objective; it shows the reluctance of the government when addressing these issues. Legislation is difficult to pass because the white majority would like to continue to see themselves as the majority. It creates a cycle that makes change a slow process. http://www.prosebeforehos.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/zz3490fe30.jpghttp://www.gregbocquet.com/images/thumbAfAmCongress.jpg
The Supreme Court and the Executive branch are no exception to the high underrepresentation of minorities. To date there have been only two African- Americans in the Supreme court, one who is still serving as an associate justice. And of course only one President has broken the long chain of white male president, Barack Obama. Sandra Day O’Connor made history in the Supreme Court as the first ever women elected. In today’s Supreme Court, three of the nine justices are women. Between the first ever African-American (or any minority for that matter) holding office in American history, and the new found diversity in the Court it seems both of these government branches are moving toward trends to create a more representative federal government. “Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. The long drive for broader social participation by all Americans reached a turning point in the 2012 election, which is likely to go down as a watershed in the nation’s social and political evolution – and not just because in some states voters approved of same-sex marriage for the first time.” (West) As shown by Los Angeles Times writer Paul West, a new evolution in politics is beginning. It is clear that obstacles are still very much present in the legislative branch, but the new wave of voters and the progress made elsewhere shows that these trend may become a new normal for the United States. “We’re not in the ’50s any more,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer. “This election makes it clear that a single focus directed at white males, or at the white population in general, is not going to do it. And it’s not going to do it when the other party is focusing on energizing everybody else.”(West) Barack Obama’s success in gaining election has been an unprecedented win for minorities in government. But to ensure that his achievements have a lasting impression, minorities must take his work in stride and continue down the path to representation. Now more than ever people are straying away from views that the candidates need to fit a certain profile. Still work needs to be done. The cabinet is made up of almost entirely white males, and the Supreme Court is only just beginning to diversify.
Despite the success seen in some areas of government, the two houses of Congress are far away from fair representation. The solutions to fixing this issue, however, are very difficult to identify and even more difficult to put in place. The first option is to allow things to continue on their own path, and hope that more minorities will be elected. (Amy) Some argue that this could potentially work based on trends that have been occurring since the mid 1900’s. Minorities are gaining seats slowly, and soon more will become available to them. Although possible, this method would create a long process of representation that could take several decades to become fair. It also creates an opportunity for minorities to move backwards instead of forwards, pushing districts back to even more unfair sections. Activists agree that this is not a true option to solving the problem of underrepresentation. Another solution is one that is used today. Groups like the NAACP can fight each individual challenge that is placed on minority districts. (Amy) This is more of a short-term solution however. The Supreme Court will not vote in favor of challenges when the only reason in race. Legal groups that fight for these districts are only keeping a minimal hold on the districts necessary for minority representation. “So while this effort to save current minority districts is an important short-term tactic, and while it may work in some cases, it is difficult to be optimistic about the long-term success of this approach.” (Amy) It is clear that this issue cannot be resolved by numerous court cases defending districts, especially when the Supreme Court does not look favorably on challenges solely based on race. The solution that could potentially solve these issues is an alternative election system based of proportional representation. This system is used by several Western nations and has shown great success in equaling the number of minorities in government. There are two separate ways to do this: one is by a cumulative vote, the other is by creating multi-member districts. The cumulative vote has already been used in some states for local elections in the U.S., and has shown considerable success in getting more minorities into local government positions. The success of this method at lower levels could also indicate that a cumulative vote used in districts could help minorities gain a fair amount of congressional seats. Multi-member districts are another viable option. If a district’s voting population is 20% Hispanic, then that district would have 5 members, one of them likely turning out to be Hispanic. Minorities tend to vote for candidates from the same ethnic background, so creating districts into multi-member could even the playing field and create much greater representation of ethnic minorities. “In the long run, proportional representation may be the only politically and constitutionally viable solution to the problem of minority representation in the U.S. PR would allow minorities a fair chance to elect their own candidates without resorting to the kind of race-based districting that has provoked the recent legal backlash. White voters would have nothing to complain about with PR since it would allow them to elect their fair share of representatives, and it wouldn’t involve the drawing of special or “funny shaped” districts to benefit minorities. In this sense, proportional representation is a truly “race neutral” approach to districting, and one that would finally resolve once and for all this festering political problem. Americans committed to fair representation need to familiarize themselves with how these alternative systems work, promote the adoption of these systems on the local level, and pressure Congress to pass legislation to allow the use of proportional representation for congressional elections. Now is not the time to abandon the goal of fair representation for all Americans. We simply have to find new ways to achieve that goal; and currently, switching to proportional representation elections would seem to be our best bet.” (Amy) Although this seems like an effective option, it is very difficult to put in place. Most political scientists agree that districting is the source of the problem, but if something could be done it would have already happened. (McCray) Most members of Congress are white males and will not support any acts that would potentially hurt their chances for reelection. Racial minorities need to find other ways than tirelessly challenging through the courts, and hoping that something will change about districting. Funding and strengthening of merit are two things that must be focused on. Latinos, African-Americans, and women all need to increase their wealth and their resumes if they wish to appeal to a broader audience. The graph on the next page, provided by the census bureau, shows the large gap in wealth between the majority white and all minorities. Whites hold 22 times the amount of wealth that blacks do. (Luhby) This also correlates with the amount of education received by these ethnicities. Without more success as a minority in America, it will be difficult for them to hold seats in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. “Having less wealth and home equity means it will be more difficult for blacks and Hispanics to send their children to college, which gives them a leg up on landing good jobs, said Roderick Harrison, senior research scientist at Howard University. That will further extend the wealth gap. The implications will be with us into the next generation, which will have greater difficulty in getting the kinds of jobs needed to start saving and building wealth, Harrison said.” (Luhby) This is not a trend that minorities want to continue. During the past few years, while every American’s wealth has been declining, minorities have been declining at an almost 40% faster rate than that of whites. (Luhby) The path to equal representation begins with closing the wealth gap and getting more minorities the best education possible. http://i2.cdn.turner.com/money/2012/06/21/news/economy/wealth-gap-race/chart-racial-wealth-gap-3.top.gif
The public also needs to be aware of these issues. The media plays an essential role in the United States’ political layout, and they need to do better at informing people of the gap between races. There is no doubting the struggles that women and racial minorities have in trying to gain fair representation. Some hope that these issues will eventually work itself out. Progress has been made in getting more diversity in the Federal Government. The first African-American man is now the President of the United States, more women are holding congressional seats than ever before, and the diversity of the Supreme Court is at an all-time high. There is a lot of hope that these are only the beginnings as well. The American government is based on the principle that the people are the voice of government. The government is in place to serve and embody the United States population as a whole, not just by the majority. Millions of U.S. citizens make up what is known as our nation’s minorities. It is projected that in the next few decades that America could have a minority majority (the number of minorities combined outnumbers the white population). This is why many feel that they should have proportional representation in Congress. Women and all ethnicities that make up our country have made strides in their struggle for equality in our government, and in the near future action must be taken to see that they continue to be represented fairly.
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