Caribbean Immigrants, Redistricting And The Census

By Felicia Persaud

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Mar. 9, 2012: A recent headline on an email forwarded to me caught my attention as it declared: “Congressional Redistricting Proposal Would Reduce African-American Representation in Congress, and Divide Up Brooklyn’s Caribbean Community.”

The story came on the heel of U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann’s proposed Congressional district map that would eliminate two of New York’s 29 congressional districts. Mann, appointed to study the issue and make recommendations after failures by Albany’s legislative body to come to an agreement, has recommended that the number of Congressional Districts in New York, with 50 percent or more voting age Black adults, should be reduced.

Consequently, a delegation of local politicians, community organizations and other groups from central Brooklyn organized a press conference and rally on Thursday, March 8th to call on Judge Mann to preserve communities of interest in central Brooklyn.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, currently representing the historic 11th Congressional District, indicated contends that the proposed change is a violation of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

True! But the reality is that many black politicians were missing from the push to get their communities truly counted in 2010 and the fight to get the U.S. Census to more effectively fund the count in traditionally under counted communities of color.

Where were the press conferences to wage that battle in 2010? I know for a fact that many looked simply at what jobs the census could bring to their district or what kind of funds could be secured for their friends before lifting a finger to help spread the message of the census.

New York State itself gave funding to organizations that to date cannot really show how they used the funds secured through the help of their political connections, to educate or help count the under served.

Further, while the Census doled out millions to one agency to handle both the Hispanic and Black media promotion, very little money was spent in the real ethnic media of these communities – especially in the Caribbean and African pockets of New York City, including Brooklyn.

Congressman Major Owens, who sits on the Census sub-committee, had a hearing after the fact on this issue in Brooklyn with the Census director, but nothing came of it. What did occur was that the traditionally under counted communities of color were again discriminated against on advertising and promotion dollars and the same folks now holding press conferences, sat by and did nothing.

Of course many choose to have tunnel vision and to forget that two years down the line, the count would mean redistricting and the possibility of losing their seats. In 2008, some three years after Caribbean American Heritage Month became a reality, I asked the Census why no facts for features was being done in June about this important immigrant population that traced their contribution in this United States back to slavery.

I was told simply that the Census could not since they did not have the data to do so. This comment, which I deemed as insulting and one that told me I and Caribbean immigrants did not matter, led to my push – with no money and little resources – for the Caribbean community to lobby for their own origin category on Census forms, to accurately allow them to self-identify like Hispanics, beyond race.

While some folks, including Congresswoman Clarke and Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, saw the wisdom in this, many including in the Caribbean community, bashed me for trying to “divide” the black count. Well the last time I checked, Caribbean nationals are of every race, country and culture under the rainbow and the one identifier and unifier is their region of birth.

As such, many Caribbean nationals choose to ignore the Census leading to the under count experienced and the redistricting we now face in New York City and in Brooklyn.

This is a battle that should have been waged years ago and the bigger fight has to be for funding for education and ongoing promotion on the importance of the Census to this demographic.

The reality is that in the black and Caribbean communities, our politicians and so called leaders are almost always reactive instead of proactive. And now it’s too late – the horse is out of the barn!

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.