Not Good Enough Yet: US Can Improve Minority Representation

I voted in the most recent US midterm elections. As an immigrant coming to the US well into my thirties in 2004, I was born in Kenya, a nation that President Donald Trump described as a “shit-hole” country.

His supporters probably wouldn’t understand my African accent if I tried to tell them that some African nations are ahead of America in putting women and minorities in positions of power and that many male chauvinists are kicked out of office almost as soon as they are suspected of misconduct against women.

It wasn’t until 2016 that I got an interest to vote even if I had no idea who most of the candidates on the full ticket were. I had just become a US citizen and was excited to vote — at least for the president — both during the primaries and the general election.

I am pleased Americans made history in the midterm elections by electing for the first time Muslim women to Congress.  Both elected on Democratic Party tickets, Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, 36, and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, 42, are setting precedents. Omar’s triumph has particularly fascinated immigrants because as a Kenya-born Somali former refugee, she has faced harder circumstances than most African immigrants.

To an immigrant in this country, that is an incredible feat and renews my faith in this nation as I had questioned whether even the most liberal of Americans may harbor the racist attitudes spewed on camera and in rallies.

A record 117 women have already won House seats, breaking the current session’s record of 84 women. Florida and Georgia have contested races. In Tennessee, Republicans have voted in their first female senator, Marsha Blackburn.

While this is largely read as a record-breaking vote in favor of minorities, it is far behind the trend set in other nations, including in Africa, where the young nations are still struggling to put democratic structures in place.

Half of Ethiopia’s cabinet is female. By contrast, only about one in five members of the 116th US Congress will be women when it is sworn in next year. Only 17 of the women will be Republicans.

Despite reports of America’s diminishing prestige among its traditional trade partners and political allies since Trump came to office in 2017,  the world watches every step our leadership makes. The US is still regarded an important trendsetter, a nation undergoing a short-lived political nightmare.

Thanks to US dominance in global media networks, many nations bet on America to show the way in different aspects of political life. So interested is the world in local American politics, in the lead-up to the recent midterm elections, data from us-bookies.com, a Denmark-based aggregator of online gambling sites, indicated that people across the world wagered three million dollars to predict which party would win the House and the Congress.

Some election practices in the US mimic practices in an underdeveloped nation. The state of North Dakota implemented a discriminatory voter ID law to take away the opportunity to vote for thousands of Native American United States citizens. Similar voter suppression was experienced in Georgia, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

Although a recent study reveals that the voter suppression efforts don’t have as a huge impact on electoral outcomes as widely feared, research by ThinkProgress and the Washington Post have shown that the impacts disproportionately hurt minority voters likely to support a Democratic candidate.

To be sure, in spite of the reported electoral malpractices, the American society cannot compare with nations at the mercy of authoritarian regimes in some parts of the world. At least here a vote will count, and in places where voter suppression is suspected, there is legal recourse.

In an African nation, openly LGBT candidates wouldn’t get the kind of support their American colleagues enjoyed during the midterm elections. For example, Sharice Davids is not only the first Native American woman elected to Congress, but she is the first openly LGBT member of Congress from Kansas as well. With two governorships and at least nine Congress seats going to gay candidates, it is little wonder the national polls have been hailed as a “rainbow wave.”

Still, I expect even more of my adopted nation.

Americans in all parties need to vote for candidates of high moral caliber; that includes those who do not make public racial or misogynist slurs. We send the wrong signal to the rest of the world when we reward with our votes candidates who cavort with racists and xenophobes at both grassroots and national levels.

Before I came to this country, I saw no point in queuing for hours on end in my native Kenya to cast a vote in elections whose results were predetermined. But now I stay informed because I know my vote will be counted, and I will vote again in 2020 and beyond.

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