A Houston Chronicle story entitled “Houston most Hispanic part of country without Hispanic in Congress” spurred online reader comments promoting the idea that race should not matter in electing a representative from a Congressional “opportunity district” (a political jurisdiction where one ethnic or racial group constitutes a majority of the population or registered voters). Regrettably, statistics related to race and representation for the 36 congressional districts in Texas suggest it is an idea few voters actually practice.
In Texas, Whites constitute the majority of the registered voters in 24 of its congressional districts, essentially making them White “opportunity districts.” All these districts are represented by a person who looks like the majority of the voters. Also, Blacks constitute the majority of the voters in three congressional districts, making them Black “opportunity districts”. Currently, all three of the districts are also represented by a person who looks like the majority of the voters.
Still, while promoting the idea that race should not matter, in response to the story, readers suggest that the persons quoted in the story, presumably Hispanics, are racist for reflecting about a Congressional Hispanic “opportunity district” that was created in 1992 by the Texas legislature, in Harris County (the 3rd largest county in the nation), and is yet to be represented by a Hispanic. The nature of the comments are summed up by a reader who says, “The implicit assumption of the article and the explicit assumption of many of the people quoted in the article – that only a Hispanic should represent this district – is racist”.
Curiously, aside from telling the story about the origin of the congressional district and asking questions about the possibility of electing a Hispanic, nowhere in the story did it mention that the Hispanic “opportunity district” had to be represented by a Hispanic. What is more, none of the persons quoted in the story said that a Hispanic must represent the Hispanic “opportunity district.” In fact, the opposite of what some readers allege took place. A Hispanic community member stated, [when it comes to ethnicity], “the community is now convinced that it doesn’t make a difference.” In regards to the possibility of electing a Hispanic, another added, “It’s not on anybody’s to-do list in the near future.” Another concluded, “He [the White congressman who currently represents the district] can continue to be a member of Congress as long as he wants.”
The sentiments expressed by Hispanics in the story are more than just talk. Hispanics are not as monolithic in their voting tendencies as readers suggest. In Texas, there are ten Congressional districts in which Hispanics are the majority of the population. These ten districts are represented by a diverse group of Americans, including four Hispanics, four Whites, and two Blacks.
Given the race and representation data pertaining to Texas congressional districts, what would motivate a person to blindly direct racially laden comments at Hispanics? Why is it that any time a discussion of “opportunity districts” comes up there is always an insinuation that minorities are the only ones that are voting for people who look like them?
Historically, the discussion of race and political representation has always struck a chord among the citizenry that is far from being “touched by the better angels of our nature.” So the unkind reaction to a Hispanic theme story where seven of the ten people quoted have Spanish surnames is not surprising. What is surprising and disappointing is how dim comments that distort the reality pertaining to race and representation in “opportunity districts” easily resonate and go unchallenged. Americans should never let the misdirected comments of a few vociferous individuals commandeer this important discussion.
Furthermore, non-Hispanics should not be quick to make sweeping racial generalizations when it comes to the allowance of political “opportunity districts” that provide voters the chance to elect a candidate of their choosing. That is, if judgments about racism are to be made by looking at the race and ethnicity of the elected representatives of the Congressional “opportunity districts” in Texas, the propensity of Black and White voters to elect representatives who look like them in political districts where they constitute the majority of the voters could easily lead one to believe that race is much more of an issue for White and Black voters than it is for Hispanic voters. But coming to such a conclusion is wrong and destructive to fully understand a complex issue.
Candidly, the reaction to the fact that “Houston remains the most Hispanic major metropolitan area in the country without a Latino elected to Congress” is an example of how the biases which exist in varying degrees in all people unwittingly manifest in unsubstantiated short-sided views; and, it is also an example of how unaware the public is about the unspoken reality of race and congressional representation.