Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa tweeted his support today of the idea that “mixing cultures” leads to a lower quality of life. The Internet backlash was immediate. But here’s my question. Should leaders be forced to be pro-diversity?
He does represent a state in this union where diverse people reside. It stands to reason that if he feels this way, he will not make political decisions that benefit all of his constituents. In fact, given his attitude and belief system, he likely will make decisions that benefit one or more groups over others, and he may even seek out ways to hurt those groups with whom he has a problem.
So, should he be punished for that tweet? Should he be forced to resign for his implied beliefs? Before you jump in with the resounding yes, think about it for a second.
King is entitled to his beliefs even if we don’t agree with them. It’s one of the rights given to him by the government that he represents. Free speech is also one of our rights, and he’s exercising it in a platform created for just this kind of sharing and discourse. And honestly? I’d rather he be completely honest about how he feels about diversity, inclusion, minorities, racial mixing, the gamut.
My motto in racial matters has always been, it’s better to know than not to know. If I know who you are and what you believe, I know how to treat you, and I can make some reasonable assumptions about how you might treat me. I dislike the idea of anyone, even a racist, being forced to fake the funk because he or she will be crucified by public opinion.
That may sound strange, but for me it’s the same as if, as a black woman I have to pretend to like a racist or gender-biased person for appearances sake. That, to me, is a form of assault/abuse. I have no energy to pretend anything, nor do I have any desire to do so. I want to live a life of rigorous honesty, and my personal and professional integrity are wrapped up in my image as a straight shooter who can always be counted on to give an honest assessment of any situation.
Now, the civilian scenario I just laid out for you is a far cry from anything affiliated with an elected official, and that is the sticky part in this thing with King. He holds a prominent and powerful place in a public office. One he was elected to by a body of people who have a reasonable expectation that he will act in the best interests of all of his constituents, not just the ones he finds racially acceptable.
He’s not, for instance, the leader of a public or private company where board members or the cult of consumer opinion could put the kibosh on certain types of behavior. I think this is a much easier question to answer when the leader in question is associated with a brand or a product rather than a government. We can make that choice to reward or punish far more easily. It’s a matter of buy or not buy. Making the choice between right or wrong is almost irrelevant once the public has spoken and cast its vote with disposable income.
Granted, voters can handle the situation similarly the next time King is up for re-election. But Senators are in office for years, six per term if I’m not mistaken. That’s a long time to wait to remove someone who has made it crystal clear that they’re not here for everyone they’ve pledged to represent.
So, no I don’t think leaders should be forced to be pro-diversity. Everyone’s entitled to think and believe what they like. But when it comes down to elected officials, we definitely need higher standards, and as voters we need to more thoughtful about our choices, knowing how long-reaching the repercussions of those choices can be.
Further, let’s not come down so hard on those whose belief systems may fall outside of what we find acceptable. Don’t bash them into oblivion for sending out dodgy ass tweets. Let’s thank them for their honesty and file those nuggets away. Let them get comfortable “bringing their whole self to work.” After all, don’t you want to know who you’re really voting for?
And if we do know, and we vote for those people – any people – anyway? Well, that’s on us. We have to deal. It’s why the power to vote can’t be taken lightly. Your vote – or your purchasing power or brand support/endorsement – can mean the difference between a racist, homophobic, gender biased or any other anti-type sitting in the big chair making the calls, or someone who has made it clear that they are a man or woman of the people – all people.
But I’ll never say force a square peg into a round hole, certainly not just for appearances sake. That’s why we have so many problems with inclusion now. You can’t force the “right” way of thinking or behaving. We’re not dealing with children. These are adults. Right is subjective, based on age, experience, socioeconomics, education, and most of all, choice.
It’s a complicated business. If we don’t push the issues around diversity and inclusion things won’t change. But if we push too hard or push in the wrong way, we risk doing just as much damage. Things go under cover, and then we can’t even fight; we don’t know who or what is the enemy.
I wish I was smart enough to figure out the right way to handle things, some definitive moves we could make that go beyond discourse and debate, to remove racism and gender bias from the political system, from any system. But all I can do is talk about it, or vote about it, or spend or withhold our valuable dollars. And I’m thankful every single day that those things can and do lead to choice and to change.