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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Representation in government


Why it matters

When Joe Biden campaigned for president, he spoke about how he was determined to make his administration reflect the U.S. His administration has made several groundbreaking moments, the most obvious of them being Kamala Harris, the first Black, South Asian and woman vice president. Even in terms of his cabinet, Biden has made many firsts: the first Indigenous Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, the first Latinx Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas and the first Black Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. 

Even Congress is currently at its most diverse ever, with an 84% increase in minority members since the 107 Congress of  2001-03. While these “firsts” and numbers look great, it is important to look at the whole picture. Biden’s cabinet is still majority white, with only six minority members. Only about 22% of the members of Congress are ethnic or racial minorities. These increases are great, but do not change the fact that the government is still mostly white, and not fully representative of the American people. 

Having Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) in the government is important. The saying “representation matters” has been floating throughout social media for some time, but many people do not understand the true meaning and importance of the phrase, especially in terms of government. 

Representation goes beyond the superficiality of “looks.” For children and young adults, seeing people who look like them in positions of power is empowering. 

Even though politicians are not perfect and can make mistakes, seeing people who are breaking these barriers make these positions of power more accessible and is invaluable to BIPOC. Also, it is important to remember that no politician should be idolized. Politicians exist to serve their constituents. They are still people who can make mistakes and should be held accountable for their actions. 

Governmental positions that were once solely dominated by white people, that seemed unattainable, suddenly seem to be a more realistic goal for BIPOC. The power that this brings cannot be understood by white people. But it goes even further than that; a more diverse, equally represented government is a better government. 

The background and experiences that people have can change the way they view the world. These different perspectives are important in bringing a multitude of issues to light that otherwise would be overlooked. People cannot advocate for issues that they are unaware of. BIPOC are more familiar with the difficulties that their own groups and communities face, and therefore are able to bring awareness and potential solutions. 

A study that looked at whether lawmakers who are members of minority groups are more likely to advocate for these communities shows the crucial impact of having BIPOC in congress. The results showed how legislators from minority groups disproportionately advocate for their respective communities. They are also much more likely to hear from constituents of the same race. This makes sense, as the shared background breeds understanding and connection. Interactions such as this give America’s often ignored constituents a much needed voice. Lived experiences can lead to higher levels of understanding, solutions and hopefully an America that gets closer to equality for all people. 

Of course representation is important, but it is also necessary to realize that while shared experiences exist within different minority groups, they are not identical. While BIPOC lawmakers can certainly advocate for their communities, it would be unrealistic to believe that they have undergone the same issues as every single member of those communities. The intersectionalities of people are complex, and the issues of one person of color are seldom identical to another person of color. Within BIPOC roles, there are different factors that play into diversity, such as gender, socioeconomic background and sexual orientation, to name a few. 

While representation does not automatically lead to a perfectly equal America, it is an extremely important factor. The power, inspiration and compassion that comes from a more accurate portrayal of America is indispensable. Working towards a diverse and more just society takes hard work, but it becomes more attainable when all of America is represented in government. 

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