“We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.” –Robert F. Kennedy
The United States federal, state, and local governments need a fundamental change of representation. Women and minorities should be relatively close proportionally in representation to their population to progress forward, instead of regressing into policies that focus on the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few.
For the United States to truly be a symbol of hope for people around the globe, the shining city on top of the hill, the superpower that fights against injustice— it must promote and provide equal opportunities in governing to women and minorities. This process begins with quality and affordable education for all and access to jobs with strong collective bargaining rights that have no glass ceiling based on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. The United States must be a true meritocracy.
“For honest merit to succeed amid the tricks and intrigues which are now so lamentably common, I know is difficult; but the honor of success is increased by the obstacles which are to be surmounted. Let me triumph as a man or not at all.” -Rutherford B. Hayes
Partly responsible for this lack of representation, especially regarding minorities, is due to the rigged gerrymandering system within State governments. Overall, minorities make up 17% of the Congress, but that is far below their 38% share of the nation’s population.
In 2017, the number of women in Congress will remain at 104 members or 19%. The overall population is over 50% female. And compared to the world, the United States ranks 97th in women serving in government. And in many European countries, women represent an average of 40% in government, showing how far behind the United States is in regards to women holding office.
Fortunately, there is some positive news, Hispanics are a new high of 38 members in the United States Congress, African American representatives will increase from 46 to 49 in both chambers, and Asian Americans will increase from 11 to 15 representatives in Congress.
There is some stagnancy in Congress with LGBT members remaining at 7 representatives, as well remaining the same are 2 Muslims, 1 Hindu, 3 Buddhists, and 30 Jewish representatives.
Since the founding of the United States, many white wealthy men have controlled power with little interest or experience in the common lives of the diverse populations living within its borders. Many past and present representatives continue to come from wealth and are afforded an excellent education, second chances in the legal system, and much greater opportunities to gain excess wealth and power in government — not through merit, but through birth.
“Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.” -Theodore Roosevelt
In the last 200 years, a few men exhibited empathy and compassion for Americans hidden in the shadows. For example, establishing the foundations of representative democracy, the emancipation of slaves, women’s suffrage and the voting rights acts of 1866 and 1965.
This is not stating wealthy white men are malicious people in government today or in the past. However, the point is that many of these men did not and do not care to understand or learn about the vast cultures within American society. This failure to build empathy and awareness lead many men to self-centered opinions and policies. Many of the men quoted here display the lasting impact that their empathy and understanding of others had in cementing their legacies. By recognizing the injustices placed on people based on race, religion, or gender they expanded those privileges given to them by birth and transformed those privileges into rights for all Americans.
Unfortunately, the United States government continues to be a club of the advantaged. Many of these men use the less fortunate or minorities as scapegoats, promote conspiracies, and incite fear to garner more power. Perhaps, if they lived among the poor in the inner cities or in developing countries, spent more time in neglected regions of their own country or served overseas — they would govern in a less divisive and more enlightened manner. And if maybe at some point in their lives, they had their illusions shattered by witnessing hardworking everyday Americans fail to escape poverty— they would be a more progressive and less self-absorbed group of legislatures and administrators.
The lack of representation from minorities and women in the United States is not solely the issue; our current representatives maintain a lack of understanding of the reality of everyday Americans. Today the United States government lacks men who champion issues outside their own personal realm. The Senate lacks a Robert F. Kennedy (poverty). The House of Representatives lacks a Thaddeus Stevens (Emancipation). The Executive branch lacks a Woodrow Wilson (Women’s Suffrage). The Supreme Court lacks an Earl Warren (Equal Rights). For this, a diverse representation of genders, races, and cultures is essential to solve the many societal ills and biases in the United States and will catapult it into the 21st century.
Americans must celebrate their diversity, display it with pride, and stay away from placing their country in a cultural, racial, or religious box. A spirit to desire a multi-cultural and multilingual nation should be the goal in the 21st century. Whether a more diverse representation leans more conservative or liberal should not matter. What is more important is persuading and allowing the best and brightest from all races, genders, sexual orientations, and religions to run for public office.
The following generations must decide to continue to support the current Administration’s policies that actively isolate the United States from the world and remain silent to the bigotry and hate displayed at home — further ignoring the real problems and injustices facing our society. Or they can reverse this self-destructive and ignorant shortsightedness.
Luckily, our upcoming generations continue to acknowledge their own privilege, desire to question gender norms, stand up to injustice — even when it does not affect them personally, and continue to serve the less fortunate in society. No administration or generation holds power forever. When the next American generation steps onto the world stage, what will it stand for?
“Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt