Throughout United States’ history, the standard representation of our country’s citizens have been white men. While there has always been a need for diversity and inclusion in our government, minorities have not been welcomed with open arms in positions of mainstream political power.
In Minnesota, we've seen progress in diversifying our governing bodies, and while that is important to take note of, we also need to understand that these elected officials may not always represent the entirety of the minority communities they come from.
Elected officials like Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, and Keith Ellison, D-Minn, show the importance of having diversity in our government. Not only does the election of minority leaders afford underrepresented citizens a chance to have their voice heard, but Omar, Ellison and other leaders have become role models who inspire young people to become active in their community.
However, simply electing a small number of minority leaders should not be where our fight for equal representation stops. The issues we face in society are much more complex than that which those in charge face — issues that simply cannot be represented by one figure, despite how bright their beacon of hope may shine.
Sometimes, it's difficult to approach those who may not share our experiences or those who do not look like us, making it easy for us to hold misconceptions and assumptions about others. There should be a better understanding that one person of color may not represent the entirety of their community, whether the issue is politically related or not.
It can be easy for their presence to serve as a start to combating inequality and championing diversity and inclusion, but without effective outreach and encouraging as many minority voices as possible, total inclusion and equal representation may truly never occur.
So what is the solution to understanding and providing minority communities the opportunity to be heard, understood and represented? Let them speak for themselves. Avoid tokenizing political leaders and instead use them as a resource for guidance.
But we cannot stop there. If you are willing to listen to their experiences, then understand and seek out others. Not only would this have lasting effects on policy making but it also encourages understanding and empathy — two characteristics that create better human beings and more inclusive and strong communities. We should all be listening to each other, not just a select few.
With the 2018 midterm elections fast approaching, Minnesotans and our fellow Americans will have to make some tough decisions at the polls. This election may be the most important in recent memory, in a time of disagreement and polarity. As November draws near, we will have the opportunity to once again vote for inclusion, hoping to work closer to equal representation for all Americans. This is our time to shape our community and we must make sure we do not squander it.