By Ed Diokno
If we want to increase the presence of Asian Americans and other minorities in the marbled halls of power in Washington, we need to elect more minority politicians to office.
Short of that, we need to get more people of color in senior staff positions — you know, the people who do the real work of governing, meeting with constituents, attending countless policy meetings in those back rooms on Capitol Hill, reading the pages and pages of bills, research issues and help shape the positions their bosses eventually takes.
According to a study published in December, “Racial Diversity Among Top Senate Staff,” found only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers were nonwhite, and minorities represent approximately 35 percent of the U.S. population.
Of the 336 people who hold top Senate staff positions, only 24 are people of color: 12 Asian Americans, seven Latinos, three African Americans and two Native Americans.
“Each office — those of all 535 members of Congress as well as assorted committees and offices — hires its own staff, so there’s no centralized tracking of hires,” according
to the Washington Post.
It also appears that Democrats are as guilty of this disparity as Republicans, according to the study.
The workforce of Capitol Hill looks a lot like the selfie that House Speaker Paul Ryan took with a roomful of interns, most of whom are Republicans.
Ryan recently took a selfie with this year’s crop of interns working for Washington’s politicians and it underlined the problem — you had to look really, really hard to find a person of color. Of over 200 interns in the picture, perhaps two of them were people of color. It is possible that number may increase if some of the interns pictured were white Latino Americans.
The Instagram selfie created a firestorm on social media for its obvious lack of diversity.
Back to the Ryan selfie, RJ Khalaf, an intern for Democratic congressman Andre Carsonn, told USA Today
that the photo included interns from both parties.
The event was a speech for the Congressional Summer Intern Lecture series and students were selected by a lottery, Khalaf added. However, the July 14 seminar
at the Capitol Building was arranged by the House Republican Conference and titled “Interns Today, Leaders Tomorrow,” according to the Daily Mail. The “overwhelming” majority of interns in attendance were Republican.
In response, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (Texas) took a picture with hundreds of Democratic interns. Note the difference?
A pretty good number of the people who take make up the lawmakers’ staff start their public service careers as interns. Most internships are unpaid positions. Therein lies the problem.
“If your parents are living paycheck to paycheck, how are you going to do (an unpaid internship)?” said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank that focuses on labor and economic issues, in a July 5 interview
with the New York Times.
“It restricts access to jobs in government to a narrower group of people.” It skews the perspective of people who are making policy. Staffers are human beings and like all human beings, they have a perspective based on their own life experiences that affect the decisions they make. If you’ve never gone to public school, never associated with communities of color, never had to work two or three jobs to pay for your education, never had to translate for your parents, never met an undocumented immigrant – your experiences are quite limited.