What kind of minority voice exists in politics?

By Tinbete Ermyas

What kind of minority voice exists in politics? Tinbete Ermyas ’08

This past Winter Break allowed me a lot of time to think. Surprisingly, most of my thinking did not occur on a couch late at night while watching infomercials for Bowflex or Proactiv.

No, my most substantial thought process of the winter took place while standing in line at the Motor Vehicle Association of Maryland, waiting to get my ID renewed.

I thought about how arduous a process it is to get up, drive to the MVA, and wait in line for hours just to get the date changed on a plastic card.

Moreover, I thought about how it appears that the workers at these institutions seem to contribute to the chaos with their bad attitudes, long lunch breaks, and nonsense exaggerations of the smallest little details, and how they give you that annoyed look we all know is coming (“Excuse me, sir. You don’t look like you’re 6’2″.”)

But the ineptitude of MVA workers wasn’t the only thought du jour. I also pondered the Alito hearings that dominated the news that week.

And the part of the hearings that tickled my fancy that day? You guessed it! The allegations of Alito being a racist bigot during his Princeton days (and even today.)

Though I am slightly concerned about the relationship Alito had with certain organizations rooted in bigoted practices, that wasn’t necessarily the focus of my thoughts. In fact, most of my thoughts remained on the topic of people of color and their voice in politics. One particular person Alito’s hearings made me think about was Lani Guinier, the current Harvard University Law School professor who President Bill Clinton nominated to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 1993.

After Clintion announced Guinier as his nominee for the seat, a media sandstorm started by conservative critics erupted. Most of the critics noted that Guinier was anti-Constitutional–due to her views on racial equality and adamant support of affirmative action programs–and as a result was dubbed Clinton’s “quota queen.”

Eventually Clinton withdrew the nomination before Guinier even got to the hearings.

What bothered me the most out of all this was that Guinier didn’t even have a chance to clear her name. It wasn’t until Guinier wrote articles about her nomination that the public was able to learn that the views that she held were not only fabricated but flat out falsified by the media.

At least Alito was able to clear his name from being associated strictly with a racist and bigoted identity.

What all this media fabrication and political game-playing displayed to me is just how complicated the relationship between minorities, the media, and the government has become.

No longer are the days of minorities not being able to participate in politics.

But what generates an unsettled feeling in my stomach is what kind of minorities are able to participate in the `old boys club’ of the political world.

It appears that the privileges of white skin allot one a more powerful voice in his or her own identification than that of any other. After all, Guinier was a “quota queen” but the defense for Alito is that while his group may have been racist, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is racist by default.

Why is it that when an African-American woman like Guinier critiques the status quo, she is automatically silenced by the public without any regard as to what she is really saying?

Why is it that people like the Reverend Al Sharpton are looked at with a witty smirk rather than with gratitude?

And why is it that when Alito’s racial and gender bias is called into question, the world looks at those doing the questioning with the same annoyed look on their face as the workers at the MVA? (“Hey, man. There’s no way he’s racist.”)

What can be drawn from all this is that minorities who enter the political realm are better received when they are seen and not heard. Or, depending on how “radical” they are, not seen at all.
I guess for the hundreds of minorities rallying behind the Guiniers and Sharptons of the world, the time to clear your name and be heard will never come too soon.

And it better come soon, because right now the options we have are a bit tragic: A spot in line at the MVA, waiting for yet another annoyed look to come our way.