Last week, a news story appeared on The Associated Press (AP) wire, stating that all of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s new hires on her leadership team are white. The hirings were befuddling to many of her supporters, especially those of color, as Gregoire has always vowed that diversity is of the utmost importance to her.
According to the AP story, Gregoire’s recent hirings are part of an ongoing trend. According to the 2010 Census, people of color now make up 27 percent of Washington state’s population. In contrast, Gregoire’s senior staff is completely white. Her cabinet consists of two persons of color out of 26.
Additionally, the AP reports that only 18 percent of state employees, as a whole, are persons of color.
Among managers, only 16 percent are persons of color. Minority hires have flagged this year, from 18 percent to 16 percent.
The AP pointed out that in 2004, former Gov. Gary Locke had seven cabinet members that were persons of color, out of 27 members.
At the beginning of this year, faced with a severe budget deficit, Gregoire consolidated the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise, and the commissions on African American affairs, Hispanic affairs, and Asian Pacific American affairs into one office, called the Office of Civil Rights.
In an editorial, we wrote that consolidation would result in the needs of many ethnic and racial communities being overlooked. Today, we are equally as worried about Gregoire’s recent hirings. Who will speak for the communities of color?
An easy argument that some make is that rather than hiring people just because of their race, it’s better to hire people because of their qualifications — if all the people happen to be white, well, they are still the best people for the job.
We agree with the idea of hiring the best qualified, but the thing is, there are actually many persons of color who have impressive qualifications. Hiring more people of color, a percentage that would accurately reflect the ethnic diversity in our state, would be for the betterment of its citizens.
Additionally, in addition to hired staff, Gregoire should also look at her appointments, which are a good way to integrate diverse voices. There is currently no person of color who is a Supreme Court Justice in Washington state.
Despite the best of intentions, it’s often hard for an outsider to understand the issues that are affecting the East African, Sikh, or Cambodian communities, to name a few examples. We need different types of people who come from overlooked communities and will advocate for those people who need the most help. ♦