Sorry, but Tom Perez just doesn't get it. Look, I don't blame the guy for the all-white Democratic debate last night. I certainly don't blame him for minority candidates like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker not making it to the first primary. He's only the Democratic National Committee chairman. He can't rig primaries. (Seriously, the DNC chair cannot do this.) What bothers me is that Perez claimed Tuesday that he's "proud" of the Democratic primary race's "diversity and inclusion." I'm equally as proud of my washboard abs.

Perez is correct that last night's Democratic debate wasn't just an attack of white clones. There was a variety of white people present: Two women -- one moderate and sensible, the other fun and liberal; a gay Michael J. Fox circa Spin City; a Jewish socialist; another shouty old man, and some random billionaire who bought his own golden ticket. Yes, that's undeniably diverse. It's just not diverse in a way that reflects the Democratic electorate. The eventual nominee will be lucky to carry 40 percent of white voters, but Joe Biden -- it's gonna be Joe Biden -- will need to dominate at Barack Obama levels the black and Hispanic vote in order to deny Trump a second term.

Holding up the rainbow coalition of white people as an example of Democratic "diversity" only reinforces that white candidates have the luxury of difference. No race is identical. We are multitudes. There are minorities of all genders who are dull, who have big plans, who are gay, and who are even Jewish, Muslim, or some other non-Christian religion. One candidate from a specific minority group can't represent them all. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker could at least split the work. Poor Julian Castro and Andrew Yang probably pulled a muscle playing all those parts. This is why racists call Booker "lazy."

During the peak of her candidacy, when we dared to dream, Harris was still the only black woman on the stage with Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Marianne Williamson. There was so much diversity of white women we could afford to have one from the Fifth Dimension. Where was our crazy, psychic Miss Cleo candidate? It was tough for Harris as the only black woman because the media and voters expected her to be every black woman. "Kamala's a cop" caught fire in a way that it didn't for Klobuchar, who'd also worked as a prosecutor. Harris was the singular voice for a demographic that voted against Trump almost uniformly. How is this diversity? How is this even good politics?

I understand that minorities are literally a minority of the population. I didn't expect the Democratic primary to resemble a Funkadelic concert, but electorally speaking, most white people are Republicans. Trump won 62 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women. Even during the Blue Wave, 54 percent of white voters supported Republican candidates because they apparently don't like having health care. Meanwhile, 90 percent of black voters and 69 percent of Hispanic voters helped put the House back in Democratic hands.


It reminds me of how CEOS at hip tech companies will claim they don't have a "diversity" problem because they employ so many different types of white people. Look, one of the product managers is a white woman with a lot of tattoos. Trendy! Perez is also adopting the language companies like Facebook and Amazon use when called out on their dearth of minority employees. "We're not racist. We just have high standards."

Here's what Perez told CNN's John Berman:

We've set a remarkably inclusive and frankly low bar throughout the campaigns, John, and I'm proud of that and as a result of that we did have the most diverse field in American history and I'm proud of that. What we said every month was that the closer we got to Iowa we would do what we've always done, which is raise the bar.

"Raise the bar." I've heard it so often and it never fails to piss me off. Fellow DNC member Rep. Barbara Lee snatched the wig off this argument.

"I'm not a happy camper," Lee, D-Oakland, told The Chronicle's "It's All Political" podcast. "When you establish rules that become systemically discriminatory against people of color, then you've got to question your party and how they're making all these decisions. I don't like the message it's sending."

Lee questioned the polling standards for inclusion at the debates. She asked, "How many people of color get polled? How many low-income people get polled?" She's argued there's a "wealth gap, racial wealth gap" that's "huge" regarding who can contribute to campaigns. This is systemic bias, and I do expect the Democratic Party to examine its roots, not shrug and accept its results. The DNC or Perez can't control the bias, but it should actively confront it in the media and the donor base. Money certainly talks when you can blanket the airwaves with your campaign ads like Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.

Wealthy donors -- mostly white and male -- were willing to sink almost $80 million into Buttigieg's campaign, which has yet to connect with minority voters. He literally has no path unless winning Iowa magically transforms him into Beyonce. These donors are far more skeptical about the prospects of equally, if not more, qualified POC candidates.

We've also seen minority Democrats blamed for the lack of minorities in the race, but we've been force-fed a media diet of articles questioning whether anyone but a white man can defeat Trump. Minorities are the most vulnerable and at risk during another Trump administration. Don't fault us for our practicality. However, electability is to a degree subjective. Certain candidates were presented as more electable because of their performance in two early states -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- that are predominately white. That poses a barrier for candidates such as Harris, Castro, Booker, or Yang. If South Carolina and Nevada were the first states to vote and the states to have a majority of polling and media attention, we might not have to wear sunglasses looking at the stage.


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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