A hashtag on social media with the phrase “So white” has re-emerged. This time, it does not pertain to Oscar nominations, but rather House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) selfie with more than 100 Capitol Hill interns that shows a shocking lack of diversity #InternsSoWhite.
“I think this sets a record for the most number of #Capitol Hill interns in a single selfie,” Ryan captioned his Instagram post.
RJ Khalaf, an intern for Congressman Andr Carson (D-Ind.), told USA Today that Ryan’s speech was part of the Congressional Summer Intern Lecture Series.
Khalaf said a lottery system was used to randomly select interns to attend due to limited capacity. The interns in the picture work for Congress people of both parties, he said.
The seminar was arranged by the House Republican Conference and titled “Interns Today, Leaders Tomorrow,” according to the Daily Mail; and the”overwhelming” majority of interns in attendance workfor Republican offices on Capitol Hill.
Ryan’s intent to set a selfie record backfired as the picture instead went viral on social media for its lack of diversity.
Instagrammers had plenty to say:
grape_gilbert– Certainly set the record for the World Whitest Selfie
americanpatriot1777 –I think this sets a record for the most number of #whiteinterns in a single selfie.
One commenter likened the lack of diversity to a Trump rally:
ancapvolo –I love the amount of white people. The only thing that made me happier was the local Trump rally. And yes I’m serious.
Actually, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released in June found diversity is less important to Trump supporters than supporters of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. When asked about where they wanted to live, only 36 percent of Trump’s supporters said, “I prefer to live in a community with people who come from diverse cultures,” compared to 70 percent of Clinton supporters.
Twitter users also chimed in on the photo:
Chinedu Oji (@Chinedu_Oji) July 18, 2016
Matthew A. Cherry, a former NFL wide receiver turned filmmaker, also commented on the photo:
Finding a POC in this image is like playing Where’s Waldo. I did manage to find one tho.
Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) July 17, 2016
Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) July 18, 2016
‘You cannot be this clueless’
An Instagrammer with the handle tewabetchnegatu made a comment directed at Ryan that expressed a common sentiment: “You cannot be this clueless.”
Ryan has not publicly responded to the backlash from the photo. However, taking a look at the community he serves may provide insight on why the house speaker seemingly didn’t think the selfie appeared out of the ordinary.
Ryan is thefirst person from Wisconsin to become Speaker of the House. He has represented the state’s 1st Congressional District since 1999. Ryan has offices in the cities of Kenosha, Racine and Janesville.
|Population||Percentage of white residents|
*According to the 2010 U.S. Census
The 46-year-old is a native of Janesville, which is overwhelmingly white. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where the undergraduate student body is currently 81 percent white.He also had an internship in the D.C. office of Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten, who said in April he will be a part of Trump’s foreign policy team.
According to an article published in February by the Center for American Progress, “The majority of whites have voted Republican in every election over the past 50 years, but a meaningful minority of whites support the Democratic nominee every election.”
Politicians that comprise the Republican Party and the majority of its constituents are white.
It appears the norm for Ryan is environments that are not diverse. Perhaps him missing the fact the photo showsalmost exclusively white peoplecan be attributed to unconscious bias. But Ryan now has an opportunity to promote diversity on Capitol Hill, as the country is watching.
Diversity on Capitol Hill
The photo is being said to represent the lack of minority staffers on Capitol Hill that Congressional representativeshire on their own staffs.
“Each office those of all 535 members of Congress as well as assorted committees and offices hires its own staff, so there’s no centralized tracking of hires,” according to the Washington Post.
A study published in December, “Racial Diversity Among Top Senate Staff,” found only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers were nonwhite, and minorities represent approximately 36 percent of the population.
In regard to intern selection, House and Senate offices are able to set many of their own requirements, just as they are with general personnel decisions.Congressional office internships are mostly unpaid, and so are White House internships.
“The White House does not pay a single intern out of almost 100,” according to The New York Times.
The government and nonprofit organizations, unlike private companies, do not have to pay interns.
“If your parents are living paycheck to paycheck, how are you going to do [anunpaid internship]” Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank that focuses on labor and economic issues, told The Times in a July 5 interview. “It restricts access to jobs in government to a narrower group of people.”
Courtney Schneider, an unpaid intern for Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), saved up money to take an unpaid internship in Washington, D.C., but her parents pay her rent.
“I definitely think it would be more difficult without some kind of help,” Schneider told The Times. “Everyone I know has to get help from family or a scholarship.”