A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the diversity of Oklahoma’s elected officials; it included gender, race, and LGBTQ+ representation at the local, state, and federal levels.
This is a topic I have written about in previous years to see where we are in terms of listening to diverse voices within leadership. With every election the demographics change and it is worth looking at the track record of who is in power. A representative government must look like a representation of its people.
In the past, there have been few returns. Columns are generally quite straight to the facts with an opinion that various perspectives are good. This year, the response has been different — and angrier.
The demographic results have not changed much, although the legislature has become whiter, at 91%. But historically, state and federal leaders have been largely white, male, Protestant, and straight. Local levels showed greater gender diversity, with city councils and school boards electing more women. Metropolitan cities tend to have more people of color, but not quite commensurate with their racial and ethnic makeup.
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Of course, there are nuances to this, such as the fact that voters only have options among those who run for office.
This raises a question about what we are doing to encourage women, people of color, and those of diverse faiths and sexual orientations to run for office. The solution I proposed was to pay more attention to appointments made to various boards and commissions at the local and state levels. It trains people for public service.
But that discussion got lost among some readers. They could not exceed the statistics presented on race and ethnicity.
Several emails and calls accused me of “stirring things up,” “making trouble,” or “sowing division.” It’s the same criticism received whenever news reports are made on topics like the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Here’s a word of advice: people who don’t see – or don’t feel – that they are represented in public life already know this. They don’t count on a metro columnist to point out their reality.
It’s no surprise that social media has turned nasty in its comments, especially among anonymous Twitter accounts (how seriously can something be taken by people who aren’t brave enough to put their name on something, like I – and all columnists – do).
One commenter questioned the low number of tribal members reported to the Legislative Assembly. The discoveries came from National Conference of State Legislatures. Among its sources are the personal websites of legislators, legislative staff, and minority legislative directories. Thus, race and ethnicity are largely how a person identifies.
A few people accused me of being racist, thinking the column was an argument against white Christian men. It wasn’t, and I don’t believe it.
I just think there is room for others, and different perspectives make for better laws and policies.
As an example, the column included an explanation from Tulsa’s Global Community Advisory Council. It was created years ago to hear people from all walks of life and includes people from a variety of professions.
It was never meant to be proportional to state or city demographics. The goal is to have as many different backgrounds as possible and provide space for opinions to hear them. We cannot act on things we do not know.
Again, this was lost and accusations were made against our editorial section for not listening to white people, even though race is only one thing considered under the umbrella of diversity. Our editorial board and newsroom are predominantly white, which makes this community advisory board all the more important.
Private and nonprofit entities have taken similar steps to diversify their workforces and reach out to communities. What we do with the Community Advisory Board is no different.
It made me wonder: Why the knee-jerk reaction to this column this year? What’s going on that creates anxiety by simply exposing the facts about race and ethnicity?
Is it a fear of change? May be. This is likely heightened tension fueled by national politics and the people profiting from such chaos.
Race has become a trigger, and we need to get past that.
America is diversifying on many fronts. The census certainly points to a more racially and ethnically changing country. Young people have very different views on sexuality and organized religion than previous generations.
For children to be prepared for this changing world, they must know and see others like them in public leadership. They need role models showing how to respectfully navigate differences in cultures, backgrounds and beliefs.
There are values shared by people of opposing ideologies. We’ll never know where this intersection of common ground is if we can’t discuss the differences either.
This conversation begins by acknowledging that our chosen spheres are not diverse.