A systemic erasure of color in US politics

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Politics is a subject of intense debate, where candidates are in a constant battle to gain the support of their constituents. The land that we call “the land of freedom and opportunity” and our home holds arguably one of the highest and most powerful positions not just in North America, but when it comes to influence, the world as well: the president of the United States.

When we think of presidential leaders in our nation, we think of presidents ranging from a founding father such as George Washington to the controversial Donald Trump. Besides Barack Obama’s two terms in office, every U.S. presidency has been filled by a white man. It is almost as if color and presidency are allergic to each other. When you think about the diversity of our country as a whole, it is nearly evident that politics are not American enough. 

All of these questions present answers and solutions that have changed people of color’s interests in the field of politics, noting both a level of disillusionment and apathy for change. As an African American, the political field is a battleground where my existence has been continually challenged for centuries, dating back to the time of slavery, Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement to today’s challenges involving mass incarceration, poverty and police violence against Black people. My existence is seen as a pry for a vote, a fake ally for allegiance and a colored face for someone’s campaign photo-op.

I don’t plan on embracing or perpetuating this reality for people of color. To many, there is no story behind my face, just another shade of color to complete a white politician’s array of “diverse support.” This feeling of neglect has led more people of color to get involved in politics, and in my opinion, U.S. Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Florida, is a prime example of that. She is a trailblazer who is fighting for her district’s well-being by advocating for universal healthcare services, equality in the workforce and LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights, not just for her district, but for all of Florida. 

I remember witnessing former U.S. president Barack Obama being sworn in after his 2008 presidential election. For kids, students, parents and middle-class workers of color, it was such a pinnacle moment. Watching Obama — a man of color, an African American who defeated the odds of oppression and racism — on that TV screen made me cry tears of blissful shock. After a lifetime of experiencing inequality from the elites, it made me realize what is possible to achieve as a colored individual. 

People of color diversify ideas and beliefs, regardless of their party affiliation. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received recognition for having a racially diverse cabinet and the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history. As he famously said, “It’s important to be here before you today to present to Canada a cabinet that looks like Canada.” The inspiration that diversity can create is the reason why I got into politics in the first place. I fantasize not over the thrill and excitement of the dramatic events that happen in politics, but the knowledge that I’d be trying to make a difference. I didn’t ask to be born a certain way, and I didn’t ask to be treated poorly, but I do ask to get an opportunity to be a part of something my ancestors were denied centuries ago. 

One thing I can tell is that it’s not that reality anymore. Each and every day, our country grows, and with our growth comes diversity. With this diversity, minority representation is all but inevitable as long as we fight to dismantle the white power that stands in our way of what should be a present form of equality. It’s possible to achieve this feat if we put our minds to it. Regardless of the fact that Trump’s cabinet is mostly white and male, the United States is composed of a melting pot of cultures, religions and lived experiences that are of every color in the book. 

Without people of color in cabinet positions, a diverse array of community concerns will never be addressed in the United States and will instead be swept to the corner and never spoken of. What will it lead to? Worse yet, will our plight never be understood, felt or empathized with if our bodies cannot be the ones sharing them? White power in politics wants to silence my voice and deem it as irrelevant enough for people to listen to, but not anymore. With a rise in people of color running for office, from Eskamani to U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, we are powerful, and we are here to stay. 

Robert Abousamra is a junior studying political economy at UC Berkeley.