Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently shared an Instagram post of himself and a plethora of Capitol Hill interns. The photo has now gone viral, but not because of the number of people featured. Rather, Paul Ryan seems to have gotten himself in a bit of hot water online because almost every single one of the folks featured in his image is white.
The pic does not reflect the “diverse” Republican Party that the GOP has been trying so diligently to portray in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Paul Ryan’s seemingly well-intended selfie almost immediately spawned the hashtag #GOPSoWhite. As USA Today reports, the hashtag is a throwback to the #OscarsSoWhite movement last year, which resulted in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences getting a handful of new minority members. Social media users posted their hilarious responses to the sea of almost exclusively white GOP intern faces to Twitter.
Not everyone thought that Paul Ryan’s Instagram post was funny.
To be fair, the color of the interns surrounding Paul Ryan in his now-infamous selfie was really out of Ryan’s hands. One Congressional intern, RJ Khalaf (who works for André Carson, a Democratic Congressman from Indiana), advised the media that Paul Ryan’s speech was just one of many of the Congressional Summer Intern Lecture Series.
According to Khalaf, who is both a person of color and a Muslim, Paul Ryan’s speech couldn’t accommodate the entire slew of current interns, so participants were chosen by a random lottery system. Not only that, the monochromatic sea of intern faces featured in Paul Ryan’s selfie are from both parties, not just the GOP.
“I don’t think this necessarily reflects poorly on Paul Ryan. Sure, it shows his privilege and inability to see the lack of diversity. However, it’s a better representation of the fact that so many interns on the Hill are not people of color.”
I took a tour of the West Wing of the White House today and decided it would be best if I looked like a father. pic.twitter.com/oq5FMcz96P— RJ (@rjkhalaf) June 19, 2016
In a nutshell, what Khalaf is saying is that Paul Ryan and the GOP don’t necessarily have a diversity problem; it goes much deeper than that. In reality, U.S. politicians, in general, are embroiled in a very serious diversity problem, and it begins at the intern level.
While there’s not a lot of demographic data available for Congressional interns, a 2015 report indicates that only just over 7 percent of senior-level Senate staffers then were people of color. Pew Research Center also reports that of the 114th Congress, only 17 percent of elected officials are non-white. Despite the dismal numbers, it’s still the most ethnically diverse Congress that the United States has ever seen.
@Mediaite looks every bit as diverse as the five original Democratic presidential candidates— Matt McGee (@mattmcgee) July 17, 2016
@Mediaite The photo speaks Volumes doesn't it? Privilege at its finest. :(— Barbara J. Beverly (@1Bjbeverly) July 17, 2016
To put the percentages in perspective, NBC News reported a much more diverse ethnic demographic landscape in the United States than Paul Ryan’s selfie portrays following the 2010 census. While, according to the above Pew numbers, only 17 percent of Paul Ryan’s collective Congress are non-white, in the general U.S. population (as of the 2010 census), non-whites made up 37 percent of the U.S. demographic. Not only that, Non-Hispanic white Americans are expected to be in the minority in America by 2043.
So what gives on Capitol Hill?
The diversity problem faced by Paul Ryan’s 114th Congress could very well be rooted in the income inequality and lack of educational opportunities for minority children. According to research that came out not long after the 2010 census numbers were released, children’s success in life (i.e., getting the opportunity to pose for an intern selfie with Paul Ryan) is rooted largely in their parent’s income level and education.
The U.S. has a deplorable gap in education when it comes to low-income and minority children and youth vs. their white and/or higher-income counterparts. According to the 2010 census, at that time, “about 40 percent of whites age 25-29 graduated from college, compared with 15 percent for Latinos and 23 percent for blacks.”
With numbers like that, it’s not surprising that many left-wing Americans have been criticizing Paul Ryan’s GOP for not doing more to promote educational and income equality among all Americans. It also gives a different perspective on the term “white privilege.”
Not everyone critical of Paul Ryan’s Instagram post blamed him for the lack of diversity among the current crop of Capitol Hill interns. However, they did think it was in bad taste for Paul Ryan to post a selfie so clearly absent of people of color. They also believe Speaker Ryan to be utterly clueless as to what people might find offensive about the photo.
What do you think? Was Paul Ryan’s #GOPSoWhite selfie off base? Should he have been more tactful amid weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, or should Paul Ryan’s intern selfie be used as motivation for young activists to bring more people of color to the Capitol Hill?
[Image via Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock]