Dear Speaker Ryan:
If I may, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on your recent selfie with Republican congressional interns.
As you probably are aware, the Intertubes — snarky bastards that they are — immediately noticed that one thing about the photo. Was it all the smiling, happy faces of the hopeful young, proud to be interning on Capitol Hill? Was it your charming face? (You are handsome, although I’d loosen up the hair a bit or regrow your stubble.) Was it your natural ease with a selfie stick?
Alas, no one seems to have given you credit for any of that. I will, though. Kudos for providing these young people such a great opportunity to serve their nation and a start on their path to the corridors of power. Kudos for giving them (and their proud parents) such a cool moment to remember. Kudos for your wit in titling your Instagram shot: “I think this sets a record for the most number of #CapitolHill interns in a single selfie. #SpeakerSelfie.”
No, the one thing that everyone noticed about the photo was how white it was.1
Can we talk?
I don’t believe for a second that you or anyone on your staff have excluded people of color from your intern opportunities, although there are some of your fellow congresspersons about whom I am not sure I could say the same. I’m sure you can very honestly say that the young men and women in the photo are exceptional and, while probably well-connected, the most qualified for the position.
Nor do I believe that anything about this selfie gave you pause. It never dawned on you that the rest of America might think, “Hm, that group of people looks awfully… homogeneous…” Nor did it dawn on you that the rest of America might think, “Mhm. Republicans, amirite?”
Surely you can see what a problem this is for your party. Even though you did not mean to send the message, the rest of the America got it loud and clear. Remember Ballew’s Law of Theatre: The audience is always right, even when it’s wrong.2
You’re smart enough to fix this. You know what you have to do. In order not to have to second guess every photo op like this, you have to have a room full of people who more accurately represent the rest of America. And for that to happen, you have to hire those people.
But what if they don’t apply? That’s a very good question. Here’s another very good question, which I hope has already occurred to you: if people of color, qualified people of color, are not applying to intern for Republican congresspersons, why not? And how can you change that?
Can you change that?
Merciful Cthulhu, eat me first.
1 If you like, see if you can spot the one kid of color in the photo. It’s like Where’s Waldo? only different.
2 Dr. Leighton Ballew, the genius director and founder/chair of the Department of Drama and Theatre at the University of Georgia back in the day.