At the New Republic, Jason Zengerle explains that the tea party wave has wiped out the gains that African Americans had made in effective representation — that is, having black legislators in a position to form coalitions and accomplish positive acts of governance.
Because of increasingly racially polarized voting patterns in the South, party has become a stand-in for race. As University of California at Irvine law professor Rick Hasen recently wrote in the Harvard Law Review, “The realignment of the parties in the South following the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s has created a reality in which today most African American voters are Democrats and most white conservative voters are Republicans.” That means that, as Democrats have lost ground in statehouses in Alabama and elsewhere across the South, so have African Americans. According to research by David Bositis, in 1994, 99.5 percent of black state legislators in the South served in the majority. By 2010, the percentage had fallen to 50.5. Today, it’s a mere 4.8 percent.
Much of this disempowerment — which Zengerle compares to the post-Reconstruction period after the Civil War — is the result of Republican gerrymandering. But it is also evidence that, upon the election of an African American president, the Democratic Party became defined in the South as the party of blacks. It’s very difficult for conservative apologists to dress this up as anything other than what it is: naked racial politics aimed at restoring white supremacy.