In the US, even voting is affected by "affirmative action".
The relaxed, moustachioed face of the Democrat congressman Melvin Watt is a familiar one around Winston Salem, North Carolina. Watt cheerfully concedes that this is due in large part to the notoriety surrounding his constituency. For when he was first elected in 1992, its contours would have reddened the cheeks of even Elbridge Gerry, the 19th-century governor of Massachusetts whose surname is immortalised in the word "gerrymander" - that vivid word for the murky concept of redrawing voting boundaries to achieve particular electoral outcomes.
Watt's North Carolina 12th District has in fact always been more serpentine or squashed armadillo than the salamander shape of Gerry's electoral district. One hundred and sixty miles long, the boundaries of Watt's constituency were drawn to run from Charlotte in the south-west to Durham in the north-east, weaving in and out of cities, such as Greensboro and Winston Salem, twisting and turning to capture some parts of town and exclude others. At many points it was barely the width of a road. "Look both ways before you cross the constituency," I was advised. There is nothing convoluted about the congressman's reputation, however.
"Congressman Watt is not a good representative. 'Good' is run of the mill. No, he is not a good representative; he is a fantastic representative," said Charlie Smith.
Smith is a 49-year-old African …