Tuesday night while watching the State of the Union address, my attention was drawn to the makeup of the audience almost as much as to the content of the speech. Aside from a few distinguished guests, the crowd was made up of our members of Congress. As the camera panned the room, I almost had to blink to make sure I wasn’t seeing double. The overwhelming majority of the crowd looked like carbon copies of the stereotypical politician that has been perpetuated in movies and TV. If you are a “House of Cards,” “Scandal” or especially a “West Wing” fan, you likely can already picture the image I’m about to paint.
A white male who is a minimum of 50 years old, likely played a sport in high school before going on to an established four-year college and joining a fraternity. His hair is either a grayscale version of “Leave It to Beaver” or a slightly too darkly dyed version of the same. The suit is navy, the shirt white. We only start to see some variance when it comes to tie choice, with either red or blue depending on the respective party. Maybe, if you’re John Boehner, you go rogue and wear a green tie to match your eyes and complement your tan.
This stereotype filled nearly every seat, as if they just rolled off an assembly line. The pops of diversity, let’s say a female colleague in a pink suit, stood out like a beacon in the crowd. My intent in bringing attention to the blue-suited bunch is not to discredit their ability — that is for a different conversation — but to highlight a need for our Congress to better represent the diversity of our nation. We should see women in half of the seats. Hispanic and Latino Americans should make up 15 percent of the crowd and African Americans an additional 13 percent.
A more diversified Congress could only bring about better changes in Washington. Many voters and critics voice opinions that Washington and its leaders have become increasing detached from their constituents. It’s not hard to see why when they are all seating in a room comprised of people with such similar backgrounds as themselves. Diversity increases forward thinking by merging people from different walks of life together. A single, working mother brings a different angle to the table in the health care debate. A first-generation American brings insight to immigration reform. A politician who was reared in poverty has a personal connection to the minimum wage debate. These diversities, these differences, are actually the key to unifying us and making us a stronger nation. It is through diversity that we can truly be a nation for the people and by the people.
Anna Rush is a law student from Hattiesburg. She graduated from Mississippi State in 2011.