“I can persuade them to come along with us:” Politicians continually misunderstanding true diversity

28 Aug

By: Danielle Schmersal, BSW

MSW Intern, NASW Ohio Chapter

This is the week of the Republican National Convention where, presumably, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will be declared the official GOP candidates for president and vice president, respectively.  Kick-starting the event will be speeches from multiple individuals, including Utah congressional candidate—and projected GOP rising star—Mia Love.  It is easy to see why Republicans are excited about this particular candidate; Love is young, energetic, and if she wins, she becomes the first black Congresswoman on the Republican side of the aisle.

I have now read several articles about Ms. Love’s candidacy and, honestly, I find the rhetoric surrounding her potential role in the Republican Party and the sudden high-profile attention showered on her a bit unsettling. Love enjoys the support of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Speaker John Boehner and has received donations from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and presumed Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.  Sen. John McCain said of Love’s possible victory, “It’s a historic moment in that the first African-American woman who is a Republican becomes a member of Congress…So that will give her instant visibility and influence.” Kirk Jowers’ (executive director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah) suspicions mirror my own: the GOP is trying to use Mia Love “to shed its white male image” and to attract minority and women voters.

Let me be clear. The increase (albeit, the slow increase) of diversity in our politicians represents wonderful, beneficial progress. “Tokenism,” however, is a distraction and illusion and has nothing to do with true diversity.  Real diversity involves risk, conflict, and compromise; it is a coming together of diverse ideas and values as well as a coming together of diverse people. In the “Issues” section on her website, I cannot see anything in Mia Love’s platform that varies significantly with that of any other GOP candidate.  There is nothing there that indicates a unique perspective or particular cultural influence. So, I am left feeling unconvinced that Love represents some kind of cure-all to the Grand Old Party’s history and reputation.

No one person should be charged with representing and embodying the multifaceted needs, experiences, and views of an entire group of people—or multiple groups of people. According to Love, “”Because of who I am and where I come from, I can win those votes: the independents, the moderates, the women votes. I can persuade them to come along with us [Republicans].”

Also, no one person can represent and embody the multifaceted needs, experiences, and views of entire groups of people. Mia Love is black, yes. But, she is the daughter of Haitian immigrants and not, as Sen. McCain mistakenly claimed, African American.  As a second-generation American, her experiences and family history vary tremendously with those of African Americans whose families have been here for hundreds of years.  (In fact, when Love has spoken to her racial heritage, it has not always gone well: when commenting on whether or not she would join the Congressional Black Caucus, she called the caucus a “demagoguery,” accused it for igniting emotions, blame, and racism, and stated that she would “try to take that thing apart from the inside out”). She is also a woman, but a woman who has been endorsed by the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List and so she would likely offer little relief from Congress’ continuous attacks on women’s reproductive rights.

This brings us to another level on which this is unsettling: the level of the voters. Voters are not as malleable as politicians like to think. Women who voted for Hillary Clinton did not flock toward McCain in 2008 after he nominated Sarah Palin. African American Obama supporters did not switch parties this year so they could vote for Herman Cain. Policies, platforms, and records matter. One black, female candidate who is the daughter of immigrants cannot wipe out years of “Birtherism,” the War on Women, “Papers Please,” unemployment gaps, health gaps, wage, gaps, wealth gaps, education cuts, drug-testing welfare recipients, neglect of gun violence and hate crimes, or “legitimate rape.”

Love says, “The influence I would hope to have is to create an environment where we’re not singling Americans out — that we are creating opportunities for all Americans. Not saying, ‘I’m going to funnel money into your city so that you’re completely dependent on government.” This is an argument for ignoring diversity, for ignoring gaps in opportunity, for victim-blaming. It is an argument for maintaining a system that most benefits those already in the majority and those already with power. By lending the argument her race, her gender, her history, Mia Love proves that diversity in name and appearance only is worse than no diversity at all.

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One Response to ““I can persuade them to come along with us:” Politicians continually misunderstanding true diversity”

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