I am pleased to see that the incoming congressional freshman are as diverse than they’ve ever been.
- This freshman group is the youngest at an average age of 49, a full decade younger than the full Congress.
- A whopping 40% of the incoming freshman are women.
- Over 25% of the freshman entering our House of Representatives are minorities (there are no minorities in the incoming senators).
- The incoming freshman are well educated, with nearly 70% of them having not just higher level education but master’s level. And shoot, 1/3 of them have law degrees.
But diversity doesn’t equate to inclusion, which leads me to this post.
You see, as proud as I am about the diversity entering our legislative body, I am not inclined to think this diversity will naturally lead to inclusion, and inclusion is what America needs.
I worry about this – specifically, I worry about labels, forced diversity and threats.
Much ado has occurred regarding all the labels of our incoming representatives and really, the labels of everyone currently in Congress. I am afraid that by labeling any of them (she’s the youngest, he’s a Muslim, she’s openly gay, he’s old, she’s rich, etc.), we are simply perpetuating the silos and, subsequently, feeding into often false paradigms about those groups. Moreover, when we’re labeled over and over again, we find it difficult to think otherwise about ourselves. It’s common to begin acting and behaving in a manner that “fits” our label. Labeling others or succumbing to those labels closes our hearts and minds to accepting others as humans, comrades, and neighbors. Ultimately, these labels discourage us from engaging with individuals on a personal level. This worries me.
As pleased as I am about the diversity in our incoming Congress, I am afraid that so much hype about it will backfire. You see, I don’t propose a Congress must look like its constituents. I fear that if we pay too much attention to the reflection, it begins to look like we’re forcing it. It has been my experience that forced diversity isn’t good for anyone. If we’re not careful, we’ll begin to think that someone is there, or someone should be there, simply because of our quest for diversity and not because they are worthy of their position. I believe that anyone who is willing to represent all people fairly and justly and who is trusted to represent all people fairly and justly can, indeed, represent all people fairly and justly. In other words, I don’t think we must be like someone to effectively represent that someone. Focusing so much on the contrary worries me.
I have not forgotten what it was like be a freshman in high school and college. The initiation into high school was dramatic as can be, with the older students ensuring that we youngsters were immediately put in our place, especially those of us who threatened the older ones with our intelligence, athletic or artful talents, or in some cases, our innate ability to be liked. In college, the initiation was more subtle. The older students simply snubbed the wide eyed freshman, nonchalantly ensured we couldn’t find our way around campus, and reveled in watching us learn through failure and humiliation. Heaven forbid these seasoned students admitted our new minds had value and it was unheard of to see them solicit our opinions and insight.
As goes Congress. Washington’s senior representatives appear to expend their resources (emotional, intellectual, physical and financial) on putting incoming representatives in their place, discrediting their worth or otherwise intimidating them. Why? Because just as the senior students did in high school or college, our senior representatives feel threatened.
And for you naysayers who are claiming that the incoming freshman aren’t offering any great legislation or they aren’t making any positive change, I ask that you glance down at your calendar. It has been three months, one of which was overrun by a ridiculous furlough! I simply don’t believe your complaints have merit.
- You can’t say they aren’t doing anything when the senior representatives have crippled them.
- You can’t say say they aren’t knowledgeable about the beloved “process” when the senior representatives have not mentored them.
- You can’t say they are naive about a corrupt and ineffective system when the senior representative have ensured this very system is hidden and protected.
- You can’t say they are useless and powerless when senior representatives haven’t shared their authority and clout.
I worry that our senior representatives, because they may feel threatened, will render our increasingly diverse congress ineffective.
So what now?
Diversity only gets us so far. We need inclusiveness in our Congress to effectively represent our nation.
- Inclusiveness empowers our representatives.
- Inclusiveness accentuates and capitalizes on their influence.
- Inclusiveness makes them feel valued, which helps to ensure they value others.
- Inclusiveness encourages them to appreciate each others’ differences.
- Inclusiveness among each other ensures inclusiveness in legislation.
Inclusion requires activity, effort and, more importantly, willingness!
- Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all of our representatives were willing to make all resources readily available to others?
- Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all of our representatives were willing to mentor others?
- Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all of our representatives were willing to solicit and hear truthful insight and ideas from others, regardless of whether they shared those beliefs?
- Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all of our representatives were willing to put cooperation over competition?
- Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all of our representatives were willing to collectively work together to serve our nation?
I’m happy that our incoming Congress is so diverse, I really am, and I’m certain it will continue to diversify in the years to come.
However, I worry that diversity only gets us so far.