Thanks to the outcome of the 2020 election, the denial of a two-term Trump presidency has raised spirits among many Americans who felt like they were living in darkness for the last four years. While the end of Trump’s time in office in no way means the end of prejudice, the Biden administration has made significant strides to include diverse voices that have historically been ignored. Whether it’s Pete Buttigieg as the first confirmed openly gay cabinet member, Lloyd Austin as the first black Pentagon Chief, or Janet Yellen as the first female Treasury Secretary, the new perspectives they bring to these positions is something that should be celebrated. However, a common theme in comments on these announcements is that the growing diversity of these prominent placements is irrelevant: “it only matters how they do their job.” While quality and transparency in public service is a priority, this gut reaction demonstrates just how uncomfortable people are with minorities in positions of power and how they fail to realize that diverse viewpoints typically contribute to better policy and a truer reflection of America.
President Biden’s picks have drawn mixed reactions from both sides of the aisle, with some progressives condemning his picks as too centrist and conservatives wanting nominees that they feel will represent their party and interests. Despite both parties criticizing his picks, Democrats have tended to be more critical and open about wanting more diversity while Republicans have tended to be critical about wanting less diversity, although not in those exact words. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because both sides want their leaders to reflect what their party looks like—even if that isn’t what America as a whole looks like. With only 16% of the Trump Administration being people of color and the majority being white men, the Biden Administration is looking more promising for a true portrait of America. Just take a look at the this graphic on CNN to compare President Biden’s cabinet nominees to the American people.
Historically, both parties have fallen short when it comes to increasing diversity, although to different degrees. By observing past presidential debate stages, it is clear that the majority of both Republicans and Democrats have continued to be white men, with the obvious exceptions of former President Barack Obama and current Vice President Kamala Harris. While this progress is important, it is nowhere near the level of diversity that would reflect the reality of the American people. With the Census predicting that white people will cease to be the majority by 2045, the Pew Research Center has revealed that, in a survey, 46% of white Americans are concerned that this will somehow result in a “weaker American culture,” an obviously racist statement that shows no regard for the supposed “American dream”. What was once thought of as the cornerstone of American culture, the “American Dream” is supposed to represent each person being afforded equal opportunities no matter who they are or where they’re from. Unfortunately, some Americans only associate white people with the American dream and choose to ignore everyone who really built this country. If white Americans cannot accept what the future of America looks like, then they don’t really support the “American Dream”; they support their white agenda. Although studies have shown that increasing diversity can increase levels of innovation and creativity, productivity, and better business performance and profits, white America seems to be more concerned about their own prejudiced notions of what diversity will look like for them and their futures.
This is where the comment, “it only matters how they do their job”, comes into play. One only needs to think about the insulting comment of a new employee being called a “diversity hire” to see the prejudiced reaction to minorities gaining rightful and deserving employment. This phrase is commonly used as a way to attack minorities who, despite having the qualifications and necessary experience for the position, are labeled as an unworthy person who “lucked out” on the job because of some inherent part of their identity. “Identity politics”, a common phrase that is thrown around in the media, also demonstrates how some Americans look at one’s identity and one’s qualifications as a dichotomy instead of two pieces to a harmonious whole. For example, there have been clear instances of homophobia from Republicans in response to Pete Buttigieg running for President and now as the confirmed Secretary of Transportation. Instead of looking at his qualifications and identity as a united front, many have ignored his past job performance in favor of commenting on his sexuality alone. During Buttigieg’s 2020 campaign trail, recently deceased Rush Limbaugh broadcasted to his 15 million listeners that “America’s still not ready to elect a gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage.” In this instance, Limbaugh was solely looking down on Buttigieg’s sexual orientation instead of examining his track record, demonstrating the hypocrisy of telling progressives to ignore the diversity and stop applauding it while some conservatives continue to use his diversity as a homophobic talking point. If Limbaugh had his way, liberals would ignore minority identities like LGBTQ so that the only viewpoint and public commentary left would be the sneering homophobia of conservatives. Buttigieg, who has been an outspoken critic on the concept of “identity politics”, voiced that this idea is not what the media has portrayed it as, instead flipping the idea on its head and highlighting the “white identity politics” that the Trump administration adhered to.
Conservatives aren’t the only ones who take this position. Progressives have also been known to ignore diversity in favor of advancing their political agenda. With the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as just the 5th woman to the Supreme Court, Democrats were left in the unique position of having constantly been criticizing the Trump administration for their lack of diversity and, when Trump finally did nominate Barrett, denouncing the pick for her track record. Of course, by looking at Barrett’s history, the Democratic party felt that she was potentially more dangerous to women than beneficial, which in their minds canceled out her diverse nomination as only the fifth woman to the highest court in the land. As a result, there is an interesting phenomenon that is occurring within the progressive party. Not all minority candidates and voters will agree on each issue, and as such the party that vocalizes their desire for diversity can find themselves saying that diversity really only matters as long as they toe the party line. This can result in the added pressure for minority candidates to try to fully represent every single person who identifies in a similar manner, an impossible task with the amount of diverse perspectives among humans in general.
Thus, the ideological diversity within minority groups is an interesting occurrence to explore. There is a unique tension that can be felt when members from certain minority groups seem to not only side with the people who may be oppressing them, but actively support and work for those people as well. For example, Amy Coney Barrett is a woman with an extraordinary amount of power, but instead of using that power to represent and protect women, many are concerned that she will turn this country back to a time before Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision for women’s reproductive rights. This tension isn’t just among conservative representatives, however. Another obvious example that was making its rounds during the 2020 election cycle was the fact that Vice President Kamala Harris was a prosecutor for the state of California. Many have reflected upon her previous career and claimed that she did not do enough for racial justice and perpetuated institutional racism with her position of power. Again, there is an obvious tension between the fact that Harris’s nomination as the first Black and South Asian woman is an important historical event with her history of also upholding institutional racism.
This leaves everyone in America, blue or red, to reflect on how they individually react to minorities in positions of power. How does one balance the potential excitement or dread of a historic and diverse nomination with what their party’s agenda may be? Does a candidate’s work ethic and track record ever override the valuable new perspectives and voices that they are bringing to the table and, if so, at what point is that line crossed? Clearly, there is a delicate balance that must be navigated in relation to these types of questions. However, people from minority groups are necessary for policy that reflects the real America instead of the wealthy, white, and straight. Without multiple perspectives to represent everyone in the United States, certain groups will continue to be ignored, whether that’s purposefully done or out of ignorance.
Knowledge is a powerful tool and sometimes the only way to become aware of a problem is if the people it is affecting are able to express themselves and represent their own interests. Every person in America deserves to have a shot at the actual American Dream, but that is not even remotely possible with the current system in place. Without equal footing or an equal chance at being heard, the American Dream will continue to be a false narrative pushed by white America in order to suppress the reality that many minorities currently face. While we may dream of a perfect utopia where everyone is equal and the only thing that matters is diversity of thought, this a falsehood perpetuated by people who have most likely never faced discrimination in their lives.
To make comments like “it only matters how they do their job” completely ignores how this concept has never been applied to minorities in the past but should miraculously apply now. Whether it is openly queer people, people of color, or women, people from minoritized groups have historically been discriminated against because their identities were considered legal disqualifications from potential careers. To say otherwise, even today, is a slap in the face to people who have never been allowed to be a part of the “work ethic” club and instead have been actively excluded, always needing to prove that they can do the job in spite of their identity. As a result, it is our duty as Americans to keep scrutinizing those in positions of power, no matter their side of the aisle, and continue to push for a more diverse and accurate reflection of the United States.
Featured Image is by Gerd Altmann