Let’s pause to let some readers stop sputtering so they can pay attention. Others will no doubt angrily close the tab and move on.
Obviously I don’t mean never vote for a white man. Often your ballot will only let you choose between a white man whose positions you support and someone whose positions you adamantly oppose. But if you want to change representation at the highest levels, you have to vote for it all the way down the ballot in every election. The folks you vote for today for city council are the future candidates for the House and Senate and, yes, the President. (If your national legislature and highest executive elected official are called something different, then you’re not in the United States like I am, you’ve probably already had a woman head of state and don’t need this blog lecture.)
Only 20% of Congress are women. Only 3.5% are black women. Women make up half the country. Black women over 6%. If you count up everyone who has ever been a member of Congress, the percentage of women, much less black women, is effectively zero. And, yes, I do count the entire history of the United States because it was unjust and wrong to deny women the vote and there was that whole slavery thing. We don’t get to just start the clock a few decades ago when black women finally gained full legal rights and say “well, 3.5% isn’t doing bad!”
The numbers for every other not-white-man group are as bad or worse. Scientists pretty consistently find that groups with members who aren’t all the same make better decisions. Yet, we accept that the most important decision making bodies in the world are made by a body that is mostly wealthy, white men.
Is it any wonder we have problems?
Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously answered the question of how many women are enough on the Supreme Court by saying nine. Prior to 1981 when Sandra Day O’Connor joined the court, for two hundred years nearly, the court was entirely men, mostly white. Yes, we can talk about the historical why, but really it’s weird. It’s just weird for the most important court in our society to be all dudes, just as it’s weird for the most important body of legislators to be almost all dudes.
Does an all women court seem weird? Does Congress made of 80% women feel weird? That is how I and many many other people live every day in many parts of life. It is really weird that I must look at a room full of men, sometimes only men, deciding the most important issues about how my country are run. It must be even weirder for someone who isn’t white. It is not only weird but it fucking pisses me off.
I want that to change. The only way this changes is if we elect more women and more black women and so forth and so on at all levels of government. If we want near proportional representation in a time frame that includes my life, we have to disproportionately elect not-white-dudes to lower offices. School board and city council and state legislature.
Depending on the study, women either don’t run until they feel they are qualified enough – but are actually more qualified than their male competitors. Or, voters are less likely to vote for them even if they are equally qualified – that is, we expect women to be more competent. I imagine studies about non-white candidates are pretty similar. Regardless, not-white-dudes are less likely to be elected. Some exceptions aside, you aren’t elected to national office without some kind of background, usually in politics or government, where men, and especially white men, find it easier.
We are trained to see a certain kind of person in power. We expect leaders to look a certain way. We’re used to seeing mostly white men in political leadership. We’re biased to assume that a white male candidate looks the part in ways we aren’t even consciously aware of. When we look at a white man’s positions, we’re more likely to explain away the parts where we disagree with him while nitpicking every word of the the not-white-man. When we judge a white man and a black woman to be similarly qualified, we’re actually missing qualifications that the latter has because we’ve been taught to not value them – or value the man’s behavior more. But that black woman probably had to walk through more shit to get where she is than the man she’s running against.
So, yes, I am saying vote for people because they aren’t a white dude. Vote for the not-white-dude who has some positions you don’t quite agree with while there’s a white dude who you totally agree with. To get more not-white-dudes into our highest political offices, we have to pack the lower parts of government. It’s going to take a while, but it will take even longer if people who care about representation keep voting for the white men.
Not everything in politics is about policy positions. It’s more important that we get more than 20% of Congress to be women in 10 years, than it is for your local city councilor to be your perfect candidate. You’re not just voting on this candidate today. You’re voting on future candidates.
Stop voting for white men.