Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio

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Two of the three GOP front-runners in this presidential election cycle are Latinos. Yet, it seems like nobody is talking about this.

Contrast this with the sustained attention to the fact that Barack Obama is the first black president of the U.S., or the media buzz around Hillary Clinton’s potentially becoming the first woman president. Why this difference?

One possibility is that while most Latinos in the U.S. are from Mexico and Central America, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz hail from a Cuban background. Hence their potential nomination would not be a victory vis-à-vis the Latino population in the U.S. as such. However, this is hard to sustain in light of the fact that Barack Obama’s father was from Kenya, whereas most African Americans are not recent immigrants from East Africa.

A second possible argument would claim that Obama and Clinton have done much to campaign for and improve the lot of African Americans and women respectively. On the other hand, Cruz and Rubio have not done this for the Latino population in America. Most importantly in this regard, neither candidate is pushing for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

This is a bad argument for many reasons. Surely, whether or not Cruz and Rubio are Latinos does not depend on what their political views are. Indeed, Hillary Clinton would not cease to be a woman if she changed her views on abortion.

More importantly, whether or not we should celebrate a person’s being the first of their relevant group to receive a position or award should not depend on what they are perceived as having done for the group in question. For instance, in 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. This is a cause for celebration.

Why? Because women have been historically underrepresented in the field, owing in part to discrimination as well as unjust social institutions. Mirzakhani’s winning the Fields Medal is thus worthy of celebration because it’s potentially a sign of improving social and professional conditions for women in mathematics, as well as the result of a person’s overcoming a variety of hurdles in pursuit of her achievements. We should celebrate this event regardless of what Mirzakhani’s social or political views are (within reason) and what she is seen to have done for other women in mathematics.

Therefore, the lack of attention to Cruz and Rubio qua Latino candidates – as well as the general lack of attention to the fact that this year’s GOP field is comparatively very diverse – might point to a troubling double standard on behalf of the media. It’s hard to allay the cynical worry that the media, being generally in favor of Democratic candidates, only care and talk about diversity when it promotes certain political ends.

None of this is to defend the GOP as a political party. But even if we think that the Republican candidates are much worse than the Democrats, we should celebrate the fact that Rubio and Cruz are doing as well as they are. That is, if we genuinely care about diversity as such.

Hrishikesh Joshi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, in the Department of Philosophy, focusing primarily in ethics and political philosophy.

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