Structural Discrimination Gives Rep. Van Hollen a Leg Up in MD Senate Race

Yesterday, The Washington Post endorsed Chris Van Hollen to replace retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski in a highly contested race against Van Hollen’s House colleague, Donna Edwards. While the Post’s endorsement comes as no surprise, its reasoning for choosing Van Hollen over Edwards is deeply troubling.

The Post states that both Van Hollen and Edwards are ideologically similar and values-aligned, but the members of its editorial board believe Van Hollen is more prone to compromise and has “earned a seat at the table where consensus might be forged.” This ability to be welcomed into negotiations and bipartisan dealings, according to the endorsement, will make Van Hollen a more effective senator. This seems logical on the surface, but it ignores the deep systematic biases that allow the Post to draw such a conclusion in the first place — biases rooted in structural discrimination by race and class.

Our current political dynamic favors those closest to the middle and closest to the status quo. This is not a world in which Rep. Edwards, a Black single mother with a history of community activism, can “earn a seat at the table” in the same way as Van Hollen, a white man born to a Foreign Service Officer and a CIA/State Department employee. One candidate has clearly had to overcome countless obstacles to be able to have power in government today, while the other has been exposed to the inner workings of government from an early age.

Let’s even look at the district breakdowns: Van Hollen’s district contains Montgomery County, one of the most affluent counties in the state of Maryland. It was ranked one of the 10 richest counties in America by Forbes in 2011. The district as a whole has a median income of over $97,000. Many of the wheelers and dealers in national politics reside there. Edwards’s district contains Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County. Her district is majority Black and has a median income of about $57,000.

Looking at the stark contrast between their districts and backgrounds, it is no wonder that Van Hollen can swim easily in Washington’s waters while Edwards is seen as distant and uncompromising.

Much of U.S. history and policy has been shaped by the Chris Van Hollens of the world. The status quo favors him. Edwards represents the large swaths of the American public who have been systematically excluded because they were too poor or too Black. Frankly, we need more Donna Edwardses in the room. The U.S. Senate currently has no Black women in its ranks and only two Black men. The Senate is not set up to give Edwards a seat at the table — but that doesn’t mean she should not have one.

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