Do We Need Diversity in Congress?

There have been numerous posts, articles, and comments on Muslims in Congress. While I clearly understand the phobia behind these comments, I have to wonder, historically, what are the truths behind these fears. 

This country was founded on immigration. If it wasn’t, you would not be reading this commentary in the language it is written. This country was settled by immigrants who were seeking freedom from a variety of persecutions, including religious persecution. While we were founded on immigration, we have never been overly inclusive or accepting. Our founding fathers nearly decimated an entire indigenous people.  Our founding fathers also brought slaves and the slave trade to this country. The phrase “Chinaman’s chance in Hell” is the result of the White construction manager’s placing no value on the life of a Chinese laborer during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Among the more dangerous duties the Chinese were given was the task of placing nitroglycerin charges, a job that had a very high mortality rate. As late as the 19th and early 20th centuries one could see signs that read, “No Irish Need Apply.”  For those of you old enough to remember and for those of you who aren’t, when John Kennedy ran for President of the United States in 1960-61, there was a real fear of a Catholic in the White House. The paranoia was that the Pope eventually would be running the country. To date, Kennedy is the only Catholic ever elected President, and he was assassinated while in office in 1963. 

How many of these paranoias have panned out? The indigenous people of this country are no longer being persecuted; as a matter of fact, some of the most profitable casinos are owned by Native American tribes. The persecution of Blacks in this country has abated. If you truly think Blacks are still being persecuted, read a previous blog entitled, “Is the Criminal Justice System Racists?” The Irish and Chinese have assimilated into our population as have most other immigrant peoples who came to this country for a better life. The Catholic paranoia in Congress seems to have abated, as approximately 30% of the 116th Congress members are Catholic. 

Women were not readily included in our culture in the early history of the United States. They couldn’t own property, they were very limited in what jobs they could hold, and they didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 — 52 years after slaves (males) were given the right to vote in 1868. Now I am not suggesting that Blacks effectively had the right to vote in 1868, but the language of the 14th Amendment granted that right, which was more than White women had at that time. These are just a few examples of our history of lack of inclusion. 

So, this brings us to today. Social media is awash with anti-sentiment directed towards the two Muslim Congresswomen in the 116th Congress. First term Congresswoman Iinan Omar is very outspoken and wears a traditional Hijab. First term Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is also outspoken but does not wear traditional Muslim female head covering. Lumped in this group is first term Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez. Some social media postings have identified her as Muslim, also. 

What is the problem that has caused these women to be targets, not only in social media, but also from within Republican leadership? Is it the fact that they are Muslim? Cortez is clearly not, she is Catholic. Five-term Congressman Andre Carson from Indiana is also Muslim, but you don’t hear anything about him, either now or in his past five re-election campaigns. Is it the fact that Omar wears a traditional Muslim headpiece? This is an expression of her faith. How is this different from a Catholic wearing a cross or a Jew wearing a yarmulke? Is it because these Congresswomen are outspoken? Is it because these women are first term Congressional members and have not paid their dues? Is it because they are female? Is it because they are Democrats? Is it because they are different? Or, is it because they are all of the above?

These are all questions of introspection. You, gentle reader, must make a value judgement. You make them all the time. Every time you process a piece of information, you make a judgement. Do you have to justify your judgement? NO! You just have to live with it.

If we want our Country’s leadership to continue as it has for the past 200 years or so, then we don’t need any diversity. If we want our country’s direction to be driven by old White guys, then we don’t need any diversity. If we want women to be seen but not heard and kept at home, barefoot and pregnant, then we don’t need any diversity. Data from 2012 indicates that Whites made up approximately 63% of the U.S. population, followed by Hispanics at approximately 17% and Blacks at approximately 13%. The United States is 51% female, but women comprise only 25% of the Senate and only 23% of the House. Women hold more seats in the House and Senate than ever before. Minorities have made advances in the electorate at both the State and Federal levels. There is no reason to believe this trend will not continue. 

We, as human beings, are the aggregate of our life’s experiences. These experiences influence how we approach any situation, which includes our thought process and our decision-making process. Prejudice is learned. There is no prejudice gene. Prejudice is rooted in fear. What we as individuals should do first is to address our own fears and stop blaming what happens on someone else. Maybe then we could move forward as a society. 


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