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With just over a month from being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, there has been a sharp focus on who Joe Biden has selected to work in his administration. Some of the president-elect’s personnel decisions have been celebrated, such as hiring an all-women communications team. Other decisions have been rightfully met with contention, such as the low or mid-level cabinet positioning of BIPOC appointees in his transition team.
While race and ethnicity should play a critical role in shaping the landscape of the Biden administration, having a Black, Brown, Indigenous or Asian face in an administration position is not enough in and of itself to undo the damage of the Trump administration or to forge a path of equity and progress. There has to be space for truly left-of-center decision makers to serve as counsel to the president and have the authority to get concrete legislative goals accomplished.
It is understandable that we long for “the first Black” or “the first Hispanic” fill in the blank to be elevated to certain positions in a presidential administration. After all, we should not still need to be calling for any first non-white position of influence this deep into the history of American government. Shit, it’s damn near 2021.
But beyond the need for representation is the need for substantive policy agendas that will change the trajectory for Americans who have been cast outside the margins. We do not need melanated figureheads to do the bidding of white nationalism. Moderate politicians of color are not the catch-all solution to the extremism the Trump administration is leaving behind.
American ideals around diversity are far too often persuaded by identity as opposed to diversity of thought. For example, there are Black leaders who are fundamentally opposed to the status quo of American policing and routinely call for defunding the police, and there are Black leaders who argue against the idea of defunding and believe that robust policies around police reform will solve the problem of anti-Black police violence.
Both schools of thought are needed if the forthcoming administration is truly invested in solving the problem of police brutality. It cannot be a situation where the president is able to point to his agreeable “Black friends” and say, “See, this is what Black America wants.”
Currently, the average age of the members of the 116th Congress is 62.9 years. The majority of those members are white men that classify as senior citizens. Yes, it of great importance that the identities of politicians at the federal level mirror the growing diversity of the constituents they serve. Yes, that representation needs to embody a broader spectrum along racial lines, gender lines, orientation lines, etc.
What will not be beneficial to the progress of America is a “diverse” coalition of elected officials doing their best white man impersonation of governance. If Biden’s administration has any chance at living up to its promises of building a more equitable America, it will have to function as a revolving door, similar to the way Trump’s administration was with anyone that did not agree with him at all times.
Unlike Trump, Biden should not prepare to dismiss folks on account of not stroking his ego. He should be prepared to constantly invite new voices to the table that challenge this democracy to live up to its highest ideals and challenge him to preside over the nation in the most equitable way possible.
Maybe it will turn around, but it’s not looking good to begin with. It’s looking like the makeup of every other administration that has prioritized imagery over equality.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.