Governmental dysfunction and public distrust in politics is a function of too many white men in government and politics, said Michelle Obama on Tuesday.
Obama received applause for her racial and sexual activism as the featured speaker of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.
The former first lady began by speaking of “diversity” on the bases of race, ethnicity, and sex, framing the implementation of diverse identities as necessarily delivering a diversity of views among those affected. She essentially called for voluntary implementation of racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity quotas in all sectors of society:
I’ve done a lot of conversations over the past several months, and a lot of questions I get from x-organization or x-industry is, “We’re working on diversity. What do you recommend we do?” And the first thing I recommend is that you make sure that the problem-solving table is diverse.
There can’t be a room full of men who are gonna come up with right answers for how to create a work environment that’s hospitable to women. And it can’t be a room full of women [creating a work environment that’s hospitable to men]. The same is true for all of us.
It is problematic when too many people “look alike” and are “really comfortable” with one another, added Obama:
If we’re trying to get anything done, and we look around, as we all look alike, we’re all sitting around the same table, and we feel really comfortable with ourselves, we should question that, at any table that we’re at. And we should be working actively to mix it up, so that we’re getting a real broad range of perspectives on every issue.
Obama lamented the demographics of American politics and governance, framing the pursuit of “diversity” as a solution to national political and governmental problems:
I would see that in Congress. One of the most interesting points – I told you about this – is usually at the State of the Union address where, you know, you sit on the balcony and watch the State of the Union… when you’re in the room, what you can see is this real dichotomy; on one side of the room – it’s a feeling of color, almost – on one side of the room it’s literally grey and white. Literally. That’s the color pallet on one side of the room. On the other side of the room, there are yellows and blues and whites and greens; physically there’s a difference in color and the tone, because one side; all men; all white. On the other side; some women; some people of color.
And wherever I was sitting, I would always have a guest in that booth; and I was always the most embarrassed at the beginning when people would see that, because I’d say, “Is it just me? Am I looking at how governance works?” And people look down at that and go, “Yeah, that looks good. That looks right. We’re probably getting a lot done, and we’re doing it right.” I look at that and I go, “No wonder. No wonder we struggle. No wonder people don’t trust politics. It’s not, we’re not even noticing what these rooms look like.”