Lofty promises and bombastic rhetoric have always been a part of the US presidential election. This has continued to be the case in the year 2020. In spite of the fervor and hope such tactics may stir amidst the public, there needs to be discernment regarding political declarations. Highly touted policies that sound appealing my be riddled with unpleasant implications.
Elizabeth Warren's proposed inclusion policies contain such implications. She addressed the lack of diversity concerning federal employment in an article on the popular publishing platform Medium, claiming her “administration will be committed to diversity and inclusion, starting on day one.” The article also included her promises to:
- Build a cabinet and senior leadership team that reflects the full diversity of America, including having at least 50% of cabinet positions filled by women and nonbinary people.
- Ensure representation of LGBTQ+ people across all levels of government, including in leadership roles.
- Diversify recruitment to direct real resources toward attracting entry-level applicants for public service from HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other minority-serving institutions, and reform high-level recruiting processes to attract diverse, experienced hires into senior management positions.
- Create new paid fellowship programs for federal jobs for people from marginalized communities and low-income applicants, including formerly incarcerated individuals.
- Open up promotion pathways by requiring every federal agency to incorporate diversity as part of their core strategic plan and creating support networks through a government-wide mentorship program that centers Black and Brown employees.
- Recommit to President Obama’s efforts to raise the level of people with disabilities in federal service—and include federal contractors and internship programs, too.
Where Does the Value Lie?
What is important to take note of is the manner in which Warren demonstrated her aspirations. Value is placed not in the diverse peoples’ capacity to perform but in what social group they’re a part of. There’s no indication that she valued the ability of the diverse people, she only recognized the mere fact that they are diverse.
Haphazardly promising to fill roles with persons from various backgrounds for the sake of representation doesn’t undo any injustice that may have been done to discriminated persons, nor does it disprove any ill-conceived notions that may have been formed against said persons. Instead, this dynamic renders the contributions of diverse people as no more than an afterthought. Without taking into account what the discriminated persons can actually achieve based on their efforts, they are subsequently reduced to simple placeholders, symbols of the administrator’s virtue instead of a testament to their own worth. This would make it even more difficult for diverse people to legitimize their prowess.
What This Means for Discriminated-Against People
If Warren truly had faith in the downtrodden minority she had championed, then her course of action would have only consisted of mitigating the factors that prevented workforce diversity. So long as discriminated-against people are at least just as able, ambitious, disciplined, and willing as anyone else, they will make a notable impact on the workforce with the absence of any supposed barriers.
Warren’s platform robbed marginalized people of the opportunity to compete evenhandedly with everyone else. The significance of an individual from a disadvantaged group earning a respected occupation and excelling displays the potential of people from that group to overcome prejudice and contribute to the betterment of the world, thus providing distinction for the individual and garnering pride and acclaim for the group. Shoehorning disadvantaged groups into positions as a political statement renders their presence as purely symbolic. At that point, the disadvantaged peoples are merely points in a game played by do-gooders competing to mold the world to their preferred image.
The renowned educator, author, and black leader Booker T. Washington is quoted as saying:
No greater injury can be done to any youth than to let him feel that because he belongs to this or that race he will be advanced in life regardless of his own merits or efforts.
Unfortunately, the Warren platform embodied the very kind of sentiments Washington denounced. While the current conversation about inclusion has shifted to focusing on the benefits of inclusion and how best to use diverse people, Warren's expressions ignored these focal points. People flourish by showing their undeniable talent, not by being showcased as a virtue signal. Despite what causes Warren may be committed to, these kinds of procedures deprecate the very people they’re targeting.
© 2020 John A Lancaster
Kyler J Falk from California on February 08, 2020:
I really like the concise phrasing here, "Shoehorning disadvantaged groups into positions as a political statement renders their presence as purely symbolic."
A sentiment I've been observing, but didn't have a great descriptor for, since the early 2000's.
Amazingly well written article, I wish I could match your diction.