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This is What #DiversityOnTheHill Looks Like

This is What #DiversityOnTheHill Looks Like

You may have come across Speaker Paul Ryan’s selfie with a bunch of Capitol Hill interns this past week. It shows a room filled to the brim with Caucasian faces smiling brightly as the Speaker snaps a picture, with his hands in the air like he’s about to deliver a major duaa (Islamic prayer).
While some played their version of “Where’s Waldo” with the Speaker’s selfie in an effort to find an intern of color, I sat back, troubled. I knew that selfie wasn’t an accurate description of what Capitol Hill looked like because my organization made sure of it.

I knew that selfie wasn’t an accurate description of what Capitol Hill looked like because my organization made sure of it.

I am media and public affairs intern for the Muslim Public Affairs Council and I work very closely with interns on Capitol Hill. MPAC, in partnership with the Islamic Scholarship Fund, created the Congressional Leadership Development Program (CLDP), which places young Muslims with passion for law and justice on the Hill.
The program was specifically created to get American Muslims in the doors of one of the most powerful places in the world. In its second year, students have been placed in the offices of Congressman Andre Carson (IN7-D), the second Muslim elected to Congress, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX18-D), and many more.
When I saw Speaker Ryan’s selfie, I knew it  wasn’t an accurate representation of what the future political leaders of the United States looked like. I especially didn’t want young adults from backgrounds of color to become discouraged. I want them to know that there is space for them to pursue their passions, especially in American politics.

When I saw Speaker Ryan’s selfie, I knew it  wasn’t an accurate representation of what the future political leaders of the United States looked like. I especially didn’t want young adults from backgrounds of color to become discouraged. I want them to know that there is space for them to pursue their passions, especially in American politics.

So my fellow interns along with our CLDP fellows at the Hill got to work. We thought, let’s show not only Congress, but the entire nation the growing diversity on the Hill, especially amongst its interns.
There had been talk of a counter selfie amongst other offices and caucuses on the Hill, including Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX30-D) where Omar Al-Hendy, a CLDP fellow interns, so we combined efforts, met on the East steps of the Capitol, and took this epic selfie.
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In response, major media outlets like CNN and USA Today, took note and started, what I believe, is an important conversation around privilege and diversity in America.
The truth is, it is a complete privilege to work — oftentimes unpaid — in an extremely expensive city. Systematically, people of color are less inclined to be able to afford an unpaid position. That’s why there is a disproportionate amount of white Americans that populate not only the Hill, but many other unpaid internships in The District.

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The truth is, it is a complete privilege to work — oftentimes unpaid — in an extremely expensive city. Systematically, people of color are less inclined to be able to afford an unpaid position. That’s why there is a disproportionate amount of white Americans that populate not only the Hill, but many other unpaid internships in The District.

However, that should not stop anyone from crafting their futures in lawmaking. Any time I come across someone who feels intimidated in pursuing their passion, especially in areas where there is a lack of diversity I remind them of my mantra: If you are not at the table, then you will be on the menu.
People of different backgrounds, religions, socioeconomic statuses, sexuality, etc. are making their way to some very important, very powerful tables. Don’t be discouraged to take a seat.
Written by Hiba Ahmad

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