Author: Richard Pierce

Every so often, much to the chagrin of my wife, my 3-year-old son, Avery, and I race through the house to an imaginary finish line that he determines. Before beginning the race Avery looks at me with all the seriousness someone his age can muster and says, “Daddy, whoever wins, I win. And whoever loses, you lose.” Despite the considerable odds stacked against me I still participate in the race.p. The reaction to President-elect Gorge W. Bush’s recent Cabinet announcements reminded me of my son’s convoluted construction. Talk-show panelists and commentators remarked that the diversity present among Cabinet nominees and advisers was an attempt to reach out to the African-American community. But African-Americans are wizened members of the electorate who know that the mere appointment of African-Americans does not assure that their varied interests will be represented in the new Bush administration. Moreover, Bush could not have reasonably expected to receive kudos from African-Americans for nominating Colin Powell and Rod Paige for Cabinet positions, while also nominating John Ashcroft and Linda Chavez, who withdrew her nomination as secretary of labor Tuesday.p. At best, the current list of nominees represents racial variety, but not diversity. Racial representation was among the demands of black leaders during the 1960s, but the ensuing 40 years have shown that racial representation is not enough; diversity is not simply a box that can be marked by making an appointment. The logic behind the call for representation was based on the viewpoint that it was important to have access to power and decision-making boards. We must move beyond baby steps to a more sophisticated acknowledgement of the variance within minority communities.p. It is because we have accepted representation as the definition of diversity that many people believe diversity has been achieved through President-elect Bush’s current nomination of two women, two African-Americans, two Hispanics, one Arab-American, and one Asian-American Democrat.p. President Bill Clinton fell into the same trap. He wanted a Cabinet that looked “like America.” But to what end? What is the purpose of having an assemblage of racial, gender and ethnic representatives? In and of itself it means nothing because one is not necessarily beholden to the group he or she represents. Remembers that it was a woman, Phyllis Schlafly, who led the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. And no mention needs to be made of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his support among African-Americans.p. Instead of using racial representation as a litmus test, one hoped that the president-elect would strive for ideological diversity. I would rather have a white attorney general, for instance, who has demonstrated a commitment to the enforcement of hate-crime legislation than an African-American attorney general who is lukewarm to those same laws. It is through the interaction and engagement of diverse ideas that the truest path is achieved. If the core commitment of the president and the Cabinet members is to support legislation and programs that are in the best interest of America, then there is no danger in having Cabinet members with differing ideas as to how to reach that goal.p. If citizens allow political leaders to congratulate themselves for the diversity of their advisers and stop our investigation once we have made sure that the requisite racial, ethnic and gender quotas have been filled, then we accord them far too much. We must demand more than a multiracial faAade that masks uniformity of thought.p. While some have opined that African-Americans showed their allegiance to the Democratic Party in the recent presidential election, I argue instead that they recognized that the inclusion of African-Americans at the Republican convention was mere window dressing. A commitment to minority concerns will have to be measured in actions and it will take more that the appointment of African-American and Latino Cabinet members.p. Of course, Bush and subsequent presidents are free to continue to pack their administration with people who hold views similar to their own. But in so doing they forsake the right to claim that they have achieved diversity on their staffs. And if we continue to allow them to make that claim without challenge, then we grant the same indulgence that I allow my son: Whoever wins, I win. Whoever loses, you lose."

( Written by Richard Pierce, assistant professor, Departmentsof Africana Studies and History )

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