ISLES MUST GET PAST PSEUDO-DIVERSITY

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, May 5, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Melissa Newsham, Punahou School, Class of 2019

“Diversity” dominates our national dialogue. The concept is idealized as the gold standard in every area of society, including the workplace, academia, and government. Often, it is the politicians themselves who emphasize the importance of “diversity” in our government. Governor Ige urged women to seek judgeships by stating, “The Judiciary must accurately reflect our community, and I want to encourage more women to apply for these positions. Ultimately, the judicial branch will better serve the people of this state when it truly mirrors our diversity.”

When politicians proclaim the need for “diversity,” they are often referring to the superficial or otherwise immutable characteristics of people, in other words: pseudo-diversity. Our elected officials are meant to embody our ideas and principles, not our immutable characteristics such as gender and race.  

I asked a number of local Democratic politicians if they felt that the lack of Republicans in the state legislature has created an echo chamber. Most offered the same response: the different caucuses and sub-groups in the Democratic party satisfy the need for intellectual diversity as well as political diversity. In announcing the leadership roles for the upcoming legislative session, House Speaker Scott Saiki stated, “Our new leadership team and committee chairs reflect the diversity of the House and the entire state.” It is unclear what diversity the speaker was referring to in this instance. It is disingenuous to suggest that there is a plethora of political opinions in the Hawaii Legislature where the House of Representatives is composed of only five Republicans and zero Republicans occupied the state senate between 2016-2018.  

We must be careful when defining diversity. Having a numerically balanced number of women and races represented in our legislature is no reason to pride ourselves for diversity when the overwhelming majority of individuals occupy similar intellectual spheres. Moreover, the argument that racial and gender ‘numbers’ mean something important suggests that all people of a certain race and or gender think alike. Was it not precisely this kind of monolithic thinking that our society fought to overcome in decades past?

Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore are examples of cities run almost exclusively by one party for over the past 50 years and have seen little to no progress or regression. Regardless of the party, ‘one-party’ rule inevitably results in stagnation, a lack of government accountability , and a sense of apathy in the population. The compromises that take place in an ideologically diverse political body are a healthy component of a truly representative government.

Of course, this is not to suggest that these state representatives are undeserving of their positions; they were elected by the majority in their respective districts. However, the emphasis on pseudo-diversity by prominent politicians is a convenient distraction from one of our states’ most embarrassing flaws, including  the lowest voter-turnout rate in the country. One might question how accurately a representative body or government branch can “mirror our diversity” when the voter-turnout rate has hovered around 50% in recent years. Perhaps more time and effort should be allocated towards rectifying this proportion of inactivity before analyzing the arbitrary proportions of state officials by gender and race.

True diversity, the diversity of opinions and perspectives, has been neglected in our local government. While the topic of superficial diversity is frequently discussed, it is time that our community shifts from electing individuals who represent our physical appearances to those representing our fundamental beliefs. What Hawaii desperately needs is not to equalize gender and superficial imbalances but create an intellectually diverse legislative body, where politicians can hold each other accountable and honestly question the merit of ideas.




“Diversity” dominates our national dialogue. The concept is idealized as the gold standard in every area of society including the workplace, academia, and government. Often, it is the politicians themselves who emphasize the importance of “diversity” in our government. Governor Ige urged women to seek judgeships by stating, “The Judiciary must accurately reflect our community, and I want to encourage more women to apply for these positions. Ultimately, the judicial branch will better serve the people of this state when it truly mirrors our diversity.”

When politicians proclaim the need for “diversity,” they are often referring to the superficial or otherwise immutable characteristics of people, in other words: pseudo-diversity. Our elected officials are meant to embody our ideas and principles, not our immutable characteristics such as gender and race.  

I asked a number of local Democratic politicians if they felt that the lack of Republicans in the state legislature has created an echo chamber. Most offered the same response:  the different caucuses and sub-groups in the Democratic party satisfy the need for intellectual diversity as well as political diversity. In announcing the leadership roles for the upcoming legislative session, House Speaker Scott Saiki stated, “Our new leadership team and committee chairs reflect the diversity of the House and the entire state.” It is unclear what diversity the speaker was referring to in this instance. It is disingenuous to suggest that there is a plethora of political opinions in the Hawaii Legislature where the House of Representatives is composed of only five Republicans and zero Republicans occupied the state senate between 2016-2018.  

We must be careful when defining diversity. Having a numerically balanced number of women and races represented in our legislature is no reason to pride ourselves for diversity when the overwhelming majority of individuals occupy similar intellectual spheres. Moreover, the argument that racial and gender ‘numbers’ mean something important suggests that all people of a certain race and or gender think alike. Was it not precisely this kind of monolithic thinking that our society fought to overcome in decades past?

Places such as Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore are examples of cities run almost exclusively by one party for over the past 50 years and have seen little to no progress or regression. Regardless of the party, ‘one-party’ rule inevitably results in stagnation, a lack of government accountability , and a sense of apathy in the population. The compromises that take place in an ideologically diverse political body are a healthy component of a truly representative government.

Of course, this is not to suggest that these state representatives are undeserving of their positions; they were elected by the majority in their respective districts. However, the emphasis on pseudo-diversity by prominent politicians is a convenient distraction from one of our states’ most embarrassing flaws, including  the lowest voter-turnout rate in the country. One might question how accurately a representative body or government branch can “mirror our diversity” when the voter-turnout rate has hovered around 50% in recent years. Perhaps more time and effort should be allocated towards rectifying this proportion of inactivity before analyzing the arbitrary proportions of state officials by gender and race.

True diversity, the diversity of opinions and perspectives, has been neglected. While the topic of superficial diversity is frequently discussed, perhaps it is time that our community shifts its focus from electing individuals who represent our fundamental beliefs instead of our physical appearances. What Hawaii desperately needs is not to equalize gender and other superficial imbalances but an intellectually diverse legislative body, which can hold each other accountable and honestly question the merit of ideas. If we don’t place diversity of race or gender above skill in an airplane cockpit, why should we in our governments?