Column: Texas gerrymandering is all about keeping a grip on white power

Greg Abbott in front of the seal of Texas
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott backed a redistricting plan that’s now the subject of a Justice Department lawsuit.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Whenever I find myself thinking, “I can’t believe Texas would do that,” I remember that former Gov. Rick Perry used to invite lawmakers to his family’s hunting camp. A place fondly known by some locals as “N—head.” According to the Washington Post, the name was painted “in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance.”

As you may recall, this piece of information became a bit of a sore spot in 2011 for Perry, who, you know, was running for president at the time.

A decade later we have another Texas governor, Greg Abbott, whose name is being mentioned as a potential candidate for the White House. And similarly, he faces accusations of racism, too.


On Monday, the Department of Justice sued Texas over its new redistricting plan, accusing the state of illegally undermining minority groups’ voting rights. The result of the latest U.S. census has Texas gaining two seats in the House because of population growth, 95% of which is attributable to people of color. However, the map Abbott signed into law increases the number of districts with majority white voters while intentionally diminishing the power of Latino and Black voters by attaching their communities to heavily white districts. For example, 60% of new state Senate districts are majority white despite white residents making up less than 40% of the population.

There really is no other way to say this: Texas’ current governor is engaged in a brazen attempt to increase white power after the previous one had to explain why a racist slur greeted visitors to his family’s property. And while Democrats have certainly done their share of gerrymandering — for example, many of the new districts that progressives in Illinois recently drew up look more like a satellite image of an oil spill than a community — they don’t give the middle finger to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Consider this: Latino Texans make up nearly 40% of the population, but just seven of the 38 congressional districts are predominantly Latino. Since 2010, Latino growth has outpaced that of white residents 11 to 1, and this new map is Abbott’s response. Or how about this: Texas is home to the largest Black population in the country, and not one of the 38 congressional districts in the state will be predominantly Black. What’s happening in Texas isn’t underrepresentation by happenstance, it is deliberate suppression.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, who oversaw the redistricting, said, “We drew these maps race-blind.”

Yes, Huffman wants you to believe that in a year when Texas lawmakers introduced and passed two bills targeting critical race theory — one of which initially sought to remove the history of slavery from the list of required classroom learning — these same lawmakers drew up a map without considering race.

And even if you gave such a preposterous claim the benefit of the doubt, the lawmakers were repeatedly informed of the racist implications of the maps and Abbott signed them into law anyway. White Texas lawmakers want all the political power that comes from being the nation’s third fastest growing state but none of the political changes from being the nation’s second most diverse.


So in Texas you have the enslavement of African Americans until after the Civil War, Confederate Heroes’ Day, N—head. In 1998, three white men in Jasper kidnapped James Byrd Jr., a Black man, chained him to a pickup truck and dragged him to death. His body was buried at the Jasper City Cemetery, near the bottom of the hill. Only white people were buried up top.

“We have the same cemetery, but we don’t mix the white and the Black graves. They’re separate. Put a Black up here? No, no, we wouldn’t do that. That would be against our custom, against our way of doing things.” That was a 2012 quote from a white retired schoolteacher, who was also a member of the cemetery board. Yes, a retired schoolteacher.

And Abbott and company want you to believe those redistricting maps are colorblind. They just happen to fortify white power by accident.