Race and Policy: America’s Standing in the World
The murder of George Floyd iin 2020 catalyzed an anti-racism protest movement that echoed around the world. Global protests, mostly in support of Black Lives Matter, lasted for months and were reignited this year after increased attacks on Asian Americans and other communities of color. This panel discussed the direct relationship between race, racism, and U.S. policy; the role of protests and the media in prompting discourse about that relationship; and how racism at home affects U.S. credibility abroad.
LINDSAY: Hello, everyone. I'm Jim Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the ninth annual Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. Today's event is jointly presented by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Global Access Pipeline, and the International Career Advancement Program. America's ethnic and racial makeup has changed dramatically in recent decades. The ethnic and racial makeup of America's foreign policy community, however, has not. The composition of the U.S. foreign policy community is not likely to change significantly without a concerted effort to identify talented members of underrepresented groups, expose them to career possibilities in foreign policy, and actively recruit them for positions. We hold the Annual Conference on Diversity in International Affairs to help make that happen. We want to celebrate America's diversity in the fact that we as a country have ties to virtually every country around the globe, which is a great strength and a complex and ever-changing world. You want to lift talented voices, the unique perspectives that are not being heard, and make them part of the foreign policy debate. We urge all of you to follow up after today's session and tomorrow's sessions by learning more about how you can help play a role in international affairs.
Two outstanding organizations that share the Council's commitment to diversifying the foreign policy community are our partners for this conference, the Global Access Pipeline (GAP) and the International Career Advancement Program (ICAP). Both GAP and ICAP have been with us from the start of this conference. For those of you new to GAP, it is a collaborative network of organizations forming a pipeline for underrepresented groups in the United States, from elementary school to senior leadership positions. ICAP as a professional development and leadership program for highly promising mid-career professionals in international affairs in the United States. I want to thank the GAP and ICAP leadership teams for their work on this conference and in the broader field of international affairs. I want to specifically thank Rita Amir, Ivan Carpio, Nima Patel Edwards, and Lilly Lopez McGee. We all owe a special debt of thanks and gratitude to Tom Rowe, who oversees both GAP and ICAP and who has been a leading voice in the field. I also want to thank my colleagues here at the Council on Foreign Relations Meetings Program and Events team for their work in planning this virtual event, especially want to say thanks to Nancy Bodurtha, Stacey LaFollette, Teagan Judd, Sarah Shah, and Krista Wessel. I also want to give a shout-out to my colleagues Jan Mowder Hughes and Shira Schwartz, who were instrumental in making the conference happen. Without further ado, I'll turn things over to Reena Ninan who will moderate today's session. I know you will enjoy it. Have a great day.
NINAN: Jim, thank you so much, so grateful to be here to have this conversation. And so grateful to the Council on Foreign Relations for having this conversation. It's an important one. It's not an easy one. And I'm glad that we have the panelists that we do because not only have they covered foreign policy and been in the space extensively, they've also been personally affected in many ways as well. We've got Karen Attiah, who's the global opinions editor at the Washington Post. We also have Congressman Andy Kim, who is the U.S. representative from New Jersey, Democratic Representative and Keith Richburg, who is the director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. And Keith, if his name sounds familiar, you've probably read his byline many times in the Washington Post. We are grateful all of you can join us. Keith, I want to turn to you and I just want to make sure that you guys, you can't see me yet. Is that correct?
RICHBURG: Right. I can see you.
NINAN: You can see. Okay, Okay, perfect. I want to start with you, Keith, because I want to thank you. It's 4:00 a.m. where you're at in Hong Kong. Thank you for staying up to be taking this conversation. I want to ask you, since you're in Hong Kong, it's really fascinating to watch how the Chinese government has taken the Black Lives Matter movement and sort of this awakening of race in America and placed it repeatedly over and over on the front pages. How is that really affecting how foreign policy, U.S. foreign policy is perceived abroad?
RICHBURG: It's a great question. And by the way, thanks to the Council for doing this. So that's why I thought it was worth getting up at four in the morning because this is such an important topic to be discussing at the moment. But you know, I've seen this I've been involved in foreign affairs issues for you know, going back over three decades and you know, every time there is a problem of race in the United States and it explodes, whether it's Rodney King or the George Floyd murder, you know, our rivals, our enemies try to take advantage of it. And that's definitely what we saw here in China. You know, right after the first Black Lives Matter movement protest started after the George Floyd murder, the Foreign Ministry spokesman put on Twitter just the words "I can't breathe." And that basically the Chinese kind of propaganda machine started comparing the protests going on in the United States to the protests that had been happening in Hong Kong a year earlier. They recycled an old tweet from Nancy Pelosi saying that the protests in Hong Kong were a beautiful sight to behold. And so they kind of juxtapose that over, you know, some scenes of vandalism in the United States saying, a beautiful sight to behold, you might recall during that first meeting that the Secretary of State had with his Chinese counterparts in Alaska, you know, they the Chinese opening statement was basically a long harangue, saying, you know, get your own house in order, black people are being slaughtered in the United States, you've got Black Lives Matter protests. So it's, it makes it more difficult, I think, for the U.S. to criticize the human rights record of others, when they can turn around and say, clean up your own house first before you criticize us. So you know, America's "race problem," and I will call it that, has always been kind of a sore point for the U.S. when they are trying to promote human rights around the world, people always can throw that back. And so that's the, it's been a constant problem, you can go back to the civil rights, movement, etc. when the Soviet Union during the Cold War used to use the Jim Crow laws, treatment of black people as a propaganda tool. And it's happening again now.
NINAN: Congressman, you have extensive experience as well with what it's like to be in the system and to face discrimination. You were an advisor at the State Department and you made the very brave step of speaking about it publicly. And you tweeted about this. I'm going to read the tweet because I think it speaks to the moment it says, "I'll never forget the feeling when I learned that my own government questioned my loyalty before Congress. I worked in diplomacy at the State Department, I once received a letter banning me from working on Korea issues just because of my last name." What was your response? How was that experience?
KIM: Yeah, well, thank you, Reena. And thank you everyone for joining up. And I'm going to stop complaining about my Zoom schedule, when I hear what Keith is doing waking up at 4:00 a.m. in Hong Kong. So look, you know, I worked at the State Department as a career person, career officer, and worked on Iraq and Afghanistan issues, served out in Afghanistan had top secret security clearance. And then one day I just showed up at Foggy Bottom, and there was a white envelope on my keyboard one morning, I opened it and it was a letter telling me that I was banned from working on issues related to Korea. And I was so confused because I wasn't even trying to work on issues related to Korea, I was not applying for any jobs. It was just a proactive and preemptive letter just kind of warning me and telling me not to do this. And I just I found it really hurtful. It really, it felt really painful. I still like feel it inside me right now. Because it just felt like this experience I've felt other times in my life, where it just feels like I'm being told I'm not 100% American, you know, it's telling me, you can work on these other issues. But when it comes to your ancestral homeland, and you know, I was born in America, I don't even speak Korean very well. You know, it's just this feeling like, if I were to work on Korea, my government worries that I might not actually represent America, you know, that they worry that I might not be able to do my job, simply because of that connection. And that's a hurtful feeling. You know, that questioning of my loyalty and questioning of whether or not I can do my job and be American? And, frankly, made me question whether or not I could stay at the State Department. I questioned whether or not I could find my, you know, whether I could envision a career moving up the ladder and getting a job on the seventh floor as an advisor one day. It made me question if I could do that if I had this black stain on my record. And I know so many number of other Asian Americans that experienced that and others.
So, you know, it's something that now I'm on the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress, and I'm trying to change but when it gets to it fundamentally, is this true question of like, does America think that our diversity is a strength rather than a threat and a concern? And if so, what are we going to do about that? Especially at a place at the State Department, which is literally our face to the rest of the world? And that's why I just feel like it's something we absolutely need to confront.
NINAN: I want to get to the what do we do about it in a moment, I want to turn though Karen to you. The media play an important role in how foreign policy is examined. I know you've been influential in getting different voices into the Washington Post and into the papers. What has your experience been like? And over the past few years—I know you got Jamal Khashoggi to write for the paper—what have you seen? Have you seen a change and what gives you the most concern at this point?
ATTIAH: Thanks for this; thanks for this conversation. And thanks to CFR for having me. I think you know, already from what has already been discussed a lot of what I think we're trying to grapple with, and frankly, trying to correct, are our issues of representation and very fundamental, I think, to the American promise and the American ideal that everybody has a voice in how their society should be, should be shaped. And so the animating ethos behind Google opinions, which was started back in 2016, or so was just this idea to what congressman was talking about, which is basically, that it's a strength, that you have a connection to your country, that you have a connection to your culture, and that you should have a voice and be heard about how you see things going on in your country and in your culture. And that's really what you know, in our little corner of resistance sometimes was what we were, we are trying to do is to give people who are from these countries to be able to speak about their own knowledge, instead of having it always be kind of filtered through kind of what out you know, called sometimes the interpreter class, I think, in Washington. Whether, you know, think tanks and analysts and correspondents, but again, this idea that is a universal human truth that the power of one's own story is how we construct truth and how we construct meaning. I think where, look, I mean, similar to, I get this question of representation, and media has a long way to go, we are actually further behind than we were perhaps two decades ago when it comes to diversity amongst the top ranks in in media, in journalism. And when it comes to Black, Latino, Asian American representation, frankly, it's pretty embarrassing where our where our industry is. So it's, and with the reckoning over George Floyd's death, it's that these issues are now much more in the forefront. But I think it comes back down to does our industry, is our industry willing to commit to having our ranks represent the direction of the country, that it's going in demographically, values wise, and I think, to present to the rest of the world as well, that we are capable of listening to the rest of the world, especially as we're making foreign policy decisions that literally are life and death matters for many people around the world. So I think for us, it's this idea that you know, drops in the bucket, but we hope that having these voices from around the world will at least give Americans a chance to broaden their imaginations about the rest of the world and in the hope that they can vote for, demand better policy if they're able to read and empathize with others who work from around the world.
NINAN: It's such a good point about also seeing the interpreters' looking glass and how they see the world and the importance of diversity. Congressman Kim, I want to talk to you a little bit about the rise of AAPI hate. And when you're talking about diversity in Congress, I mean, while this is really the most diverse Congress we've ever had in the history of our nation, there are still complex issues of race that Congress just doesn't understand. What have you learned at your time in Congress about the way we communicate with Congress, what works and what isn't working and getting through?
KIM: Well, one thing I learned is, you cannot make any assumptions that someone else will stand up and raise the issues that you care about and fight the fights that you want to see made. You know whether that was the work that I did, I was the only Asian American on the Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis last year. And, you know, I saw how important it was for us to have diversity on that committee to raise different issues of racial health disparities and other challenges when it's coming to our economy. And when it comes to just the last year, you know, I really, you know, just this narrative about what's happening with the violence and the discrimination. Yes, things are incredibly bad. I've not seen this level of fear and anxiety in the Asian American community during my lifetime. But will we recognize it? No. For those of us who are in the communities that the discrimination and the racism and frankly, the violence that we see, that preceded COVID, it'll be there after COVID.
This is not just some new phenomenon. And I think that that was really important to add to the conversation. I think I had literally members of Congress coming to me and telling me like, "Oh, I'm so sorry for what your community is going through right now. But look, the pandemic's almost over, it's going to get better." And I just find that to be very frustrating that these are, you know, members of Congress, that these are people that I work with that seem to not understand the root of, of these challenges for different communities. And that's why I took to talking very personally about the challenges that I experienced before COVID, at the State Department or my family, is to show how this is much deeper than that. And yes, we passed an important piece of legislation last week that the President decided addressing hate crimes facing the Asian American community, writ large, other communities. But we know that that single piece of legislation is not going to change everything, you know, it's not going to necessarily make, you know, all these Asian American grandmas that I talked to, who are fearful about going outside, it's not going to make them immediately feel like they're safe. So there are challenges that we face. And what I have really taken away is that, that we need to build a sustained attention and engagement to really address this. I want people to understand and care about the challenges that the Asian American community faces, not just one, there's something horrible on the front pages of newspapers about our community, or during the month of May in Heritage Month, you know, I want them to care about the Asian American community in June and July and August and September. And I want us to stand up against hate and all for not just that, which you know, is directed towards people that look like us. So those are some of the longer-term goals I'm trying to put into the work that I'm doing in Congress.
NINAN: And it's just so fascinating, your background about how you, what you experienced at the State Department, then going into your life in politics and trying to change that as well. Keith, I want to turn to you. I want to talk a little bit about a trip that President Obama actually took, I believe is back in 2009. When he came to China, you spoke a little bit about how present-day China, how they're really playing up these race issues in America. What was it like in 2009, covering President Obama, a Black man becoming president of the United States? How was that received?
RICHBURG: That's really interesting, because you know, during the entire campaign, the propaganda machine, meaning the state-run media, which follows the same official line, they consistently said that there was no way Obama was going to win against Hillary Clinton, because America is a racist country. That's kind of the you know, Chinese Communist Party line, America's deeply racist, they would never elect a Black man. And so therefore, Hillary Clinton was going to win. And then once Obama won the Democratic nomination, the party line became, well, John McCain is going to win because America is a very conservative country and it's also a very racist country, and there's no way they're going to elect the Black man. And then when Obama won, everything went silent for a couple of days, because they had to kind of figure out "what do we say now?" And then finally, Xinhua came out with the narrative that they all had to later on repeat saying, "well, Obama did win but you know, he went to Harvard, and he's actually only half Black so that shows the elite, they're still in charge in America. They made it a class issue. And so it was really interesting. They had an official narrative they like to keep out there is that America is a hopelessly racist country, it's a hopelessly divided country, that Black people are all being slaughtered in the streets or in being put in jail. And the Obama presidency kind of turned that around on its head.
And so that's that was actually quite fascinating. And that's why I think they, you know, the official propaganda machine is much more comfortable with the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter being protests in the street, because that's something they could get their heads around. And so you see, "we told you, it was a racist country," you know. And again, it's interesting going, listening to what the Congressman is saying to every time there is one of these, these anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S., that also becomes front page news, here in Asia, because they're basically saying, "hey, all of you people in Hong Kong who want to emigrate, look how bad it is in the West so you'd better stay here." And so you know. So that is, it's interesting how the propaganda affects but one more thing about the Obama trip, because I was traveling around Asia at the time and to China, you know, people pay attention to what happens in the United States. And when Obama was elected, all of a sudden, you started seeing these kind of hope and change candidates coming up all over the world. I mean, in Indonesia and elsewhere. You know, "hope and change" became kind of a slogan in many campaigns. Likewise, in 2016, when President Trump was elected, suddenly started seeing these populists popping up everywhere and kind of emulating the Trump style so you know, what, if I guess the whole point is in foreign policy, what happens in the U.S. matters, the rest of the world does pay attention. You know, when our president is talking about fake news, all of a sudden, you've got the dictators and authoritarians all talking about fake news all over the world too. So what happens matters? And so that's why we have to get this racial reckoning right. Because that could be something that would go around the world and be a real signal.
NINAN: Okay, part of the problem, though, that I've seen in my time abroad is, so often people of color don't see themselves as being of any sort of diplomatic caliber. There's an issue in the State Department with retention, how do you change that perception? How do you get people of color to see I mean, we heard directly from Congressman Kim, his ethnicity was a liability, it was viewed as a liability. How do we change that?
RICHBURG: Yeah, personally, I think it's one step at a time, but you have to do it by having people who you know, who are diverse, you know, diverse backgrounds there to serve as mentors for others. If you can look up and you see people there look like you, then you know, then you could think I can do that job. Look, I joined the Washington Post way back in 1980, when I graduated from college, but there was a Black city editor and a Black assistant managing editor, and I could say, "wow, there are people here who look like me." So that's part of the thing. And I think you have to go even younger, you have to go into high schools, and talk to young people and let them know that this foreign policy space is a space for them, and again, so it's mentorship, it's seeing people who look like you there. And look, you're already seeing changes in the State Department. It's a big ocean liner to turn it around. But right now we've got, including right here in Hong Kong, you got a lot of diplomats who are here with a same sex partner, that's something you never would have imagined. Because a few years ago, being gay would have been something that might have gotten you kicked out. And all of a sudden, now we have that it's not a big deal. And so the State Department can change, it can become more open and diverse. And I think that's, as others have said, that's really one of America's secret weapons is our diversity in the fact that we have people who are from different cultures. And it's really fun when you go to an embassy Fourth of July party and you see all kinds of colors and all kinds of faces, and you say that's America.
NINAN: And I have to say, personally, you know, my I started my career at the Washington Post TV set during the Iraq war. Seeing you in Paris, your byline made me realize, you know what is possible for a woman of color like me to one day be abroad, and I ended up going to the Middle East. So thank you. Karen, I want to let you have the last word, I want to look at a study that I keep coming back to I'm so fascinated by the study, and I quote it all everywhere. It's from the Truman Center, and it looked at the lack of diversity at the State Department. And it found in 2002, Black women represented 2%. In 2017, fifteen years later, that number change to 3%. That was even before Trump that they were looking at. Secretary Blinken has named his first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley who I've heard wonderful things about from inside the State Department because she has worked and been ambassador in the State Department. And she's looking to transform the place. What does she need to do there?
ATTIAH: Yeah, this is a really fascinating and, and frankly, I think tragic situation for black women who are were interested in foreign policy, actually, me myself, before I joined the journalism world, I was a Fulbright Scholar, so had some ties to the State Department and kind of got a little bit of the inner workings and the challenges to advancement there. And I would say I learned kind of very early on, the pipeline to get to positions within foreign policy, the State Department, I think I read that a sixty percent or so of those who work in top levels of foreign policy have an advanced degree, many of them have an Ivy League degree, I was privileged enough to be able to go to Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, but I realized that even being able to get your foot in the door is such a huge barrier. And I think some of that is very, very similar to even journalism, frankly, which is very much dominated by those who have advanced degrees, by those who have the mentors and the guides in high school. And if they are able to go in college, you can tell them and say hey, you actually are pretty good at languages have you thought about maybe signing up to do programs that could help track you into the State Department. Whereas I think a lot of people even in the neighborhoods that I grew up in here in Texas, are more likely to be tracked into signing up for the military. That's their form of foreign policy experience.
So I think you know, what needs to happen and you're reading about this topic is you know, basically looking at a hiring spree that the talent is out there. But it is a cultural change. And a lot of these institutions, it comes down to a cultural change. Back to what was already said before that America has a lot of soft power. And part of our stories, the world is the story of this melting pot experiment where people from different walks of life, different colors, those who are descendants of enslaved people can serve and represent proudly, this grand experiment. So I think, I think a lot of what needs to happen is a huge rethink, in not only in recruitment, but what just what message they want to send and not just for optics, but within so when somebody walks in, they're not thinking whether or not their connections to a country or tests of loyalty, people will try to pronounce their name correctly in the door. These things, I think, and also, again, just starting from maybe perhaps programs, even from the high school level, even from the college level, where that it can be shown to kids that you can represent your country abroad in more ways than just signing up for military service, but that you can help build bridges and be a diplomat.
NINAN: That's so great, because I don't think that's heard enough Karen, you’re the point that you're trying to make about that. I want to thank all of you for your experiences and for sharing it with us. And I know we've got a ton of questions from our participants, I want to turn it over. But I also want to say as much as we talked about how difficult it's been, I've never had as much hope as I have in this moment, particularly in the words coming out of Secretary Blinken saying the need for more diverse lived experiences, and it sure feels like there's more to this. So I want to turn it over. At this time, I want to invite participants to join the conversation, I want to remind everyone this is on the record. And as a reminder, there's also a virtual networking happy hour that's going to follow this and we'll have that information in the chat. I also want to thank very much for putting together this panel of Sara Shah, who has been just a force at CFR who's leaving for new opportunity. I want to thank you, Sarah, for helping to organize this discussion. And I know you're going to shine where you go next. I'm going to turn it over to our operator, Sara.
STAFF: We will take the first question from Maryum Saifee.
Q: Thank you, Sara. My question, I'm Maryum Saifee, I'm with the State Department and actually worked on the report that Reena mentioned the Truman Center report on building a more just and equitable State Department. My question is for Representative Kim, firstly, thank you for your courage and sharing your experience. That's something that the culture of the department, we usually are kind of hardwired to keep our heads down and not talk about, you know, adversity. And so I think your story is emblematic of many State Department employees of color, myself included, who face some of this racism both in the department and abroad. One thing that's been a challenge in the department in advancing diversity work is the lack of disaggregated data collection. So we're often told that our stories of racism are anecdotal or sort of bad luck, rather than systemic because we just don't have the data. So how do you see disaggregated data collection is a mechanism for transparency and accountability, and frankly, an antidote to some of the gaslighting. Thank you.
KIM: Yeah, no, thank you. First of all, appreciate your comments there. And I know after I, you know, talk publicly about my experience, I did have a lot of people that are currently at State Department or formerly at State Department or other parts of national security come and told me that they had similar issues and similar experiences, you're right that the culture there doesn't lend itself to one of speaking out on this. I remember when this happened to me, I went to higher ups and told him I want to try to appeal this. And I was told that there's no way for me to appeal this unless I was actually seeking a job to work on Korea issues. And I tried to just say, "I don't want this to stay on my record." And I was told by a number of people more senior than me, to just let it go to not talk about it. Since I'm not looking for a job in Korea issues. They were like just don't make waves. And that was really, really rough and again, didn't make me feel make me feel like people understood why it was that I was protesting this. It wasn't just about deal to get a job. It was about, you know, respect. And, you know, when it comes to trying to understand this on a broader level, you know, I've had conversations with Secretary Blinken and the deputy secretary about this, I look forward to speaking to the chief diversity officer. We are trying to get a better sense of just the totality of the problem. Whether it's, it's with what I'm talking about there or just the bigger issues when it comes to recruitment, retention, and promotion. You know, we're having a lot trouble understanding, you know, just where exactly, the traumas lie, and they're trying to get that kind of data.
So I hear you on that front, we are trying to be more data driven, and really try to understand the scope of it. So we can push back against these claims that these are just simply anecdotal. We know that it's not, we know that it's more systemic. And, but trying to get that data to be able to do it, and then try to then understand how this day the data in itself, the transparency is not going to fix it on its own. It's a matter of what steps that we can take and how we have metrics to be able to fix that. So I don't have a specific answer to your question but know that I am working to get that data that I have assurances that we will get it in a fuller form and be able to tackle this in a much more substantive way. And I'm going to hold the Biden administration to that.
NINAN: Right, Sara? Can we have the next question, please?
STAFF: Sure, we will take the next question from the written Q&A, we have a written submission from a Anisa Antonio, who asks, and I believe this goes beyond the State Department, is representation truly enough? Can we go beyond that to develop systems of support that guarantee the voices of people of color will evolve into real systemic change addressing under representation in every level of the government?
ATTIAH: I'm happy to take a crack at that. Is representation truly enough? I believe it's not. I think that representation is a step, is a tool is utterly necessary. But what we are talking about is even beyond just diversity. What we're talking about is, frankly, the willingness to share power, to share resources, to build environments that are not just, you know, not just diverse, but frankly, actively anti-racist. And I think that sometimes the, there's, there's been a lot of sound and fury and hiring of DEI officials and consultants. And then you know, where we are asked, and those of us who are, you know, frankly, have probably tons of stories of not feeling or not feeling seen or not being heard or are asked, you know, well, how do we change this? And a lot of times, I start to ask, that's the question to those who created the institutions, as James Baldwin said, you know, how long are we supposed to wait for your progress, as he said to a white reporter, actually back in the 60s. So I would love to see, you know, more questions and forms to those, you know, who do hold the power, would you help hold the purse strings, hold the hiring decisions as to what the holdup is. And I think that things are changing, again, demographics, I can social media, frankly, has played a huge role in making these things visible. Because you know, as a member of the media, we're realizing that we are not as much of the gatekeepers as we used to, used to be, and that, particularly people of color, those who've been marginalized, have found ways to find community and make their voices heard. So I do think that things are changing. But I think ultimately, what a lot of us a lot of people are asking for is for America, in particular, to basically live up to its promises, and that it's not enough to have, you know, people of color around the table if they don't have power, if they don't have decision-making power, if they don't have the ability to be able to mentor and bring and bring people up because ultimately at the end of the day, whether journalism, whether it's policy, whether it's science, it makes for better policy, better journalism, better science. And I'm wishing for the day that we didn't have to have numbers, the biggest business case, that it is just the status quo.
NINAN: Great point, Karen. You know, accountability is so important, having a mechanism for that, but also having data collection, being able to get those points. We're not there yet, not to have it, but it's really important. You raise a great perspective. Sara, would you mind giving us the next question please?
STAFF: Sure. We will take the next live question from Danielle Obisie-Orlu.
Q: Hi, thank you. My name is Danielle Obisie-Orlu, I am from the University of Pittsburgh. And my question is to all of the panelists. As an American-Nigerian who grew up in South Africa, I hold my experiences and connections to different countries and cultures around the world to be one of my core strengths when engaging in discussions on diplomacy transatlantic and foreign policy and human rights advocacy, quite simply because of the diversity of thought that my experiences bring to those rooms. Upon hearing what Representative Kim has said, how does someone who considers themselves a third culture kid, but who has goals to work in diplomacy and with the United Nations as an American citizen, remain hopeful? And what steps can I take when my background presents itself as a liability? Thank you.
NINAN: Keith, do you want to take a crack at that one?
RICHBURG: Wow, yeah, I was going to say I think your background is fantastic. It's not a liability, it's a strength. I really, I really do believe that, you know, I've, I've just gotten involved in this new organization that's just an ad-hoc group of it's called the African American China Leadership Forum. And it's for people like myself, or in the China space to serve as mentors for young people, either in government or business or in my case, media to help them along. But my mentee, the person I'm meant to mentor for is a fantastic young journalist working in Taiwan, she speaks Chinese, her mother is Vietnamese immigrant and her father is a Nigerian immigrant and she grew up in Texas. And I said, wow, that's the exact perfect background, that's the American story, two immigrants met in the U.S. got married, you know, produced her, this is fantastic. That's a fantastic story. In fact, I'm trying to encourage her to write a book about that, you know, about her life as a go to Vietnam and beat that side of the family, then go to Nigeria, meet the other side of the family. I mean, again, you know, I'm sorry that even the word liability came up in that because again, that's what makes America so unique. So you know, it's a melting pot country, but it's more and more becoming a blended country. I think about two censuses ago, they finally started putting mixed race as a category and the census, because that's one of the fastest growing categories in the U.S. And I read somewhere that the, you know, by 2050, basically, America is going to be a majority-minority country, or there's going to be no majority in the U.S. So again people like the last questioner, or the person I mentor, that's, that's America. That's the face of America. That's the future of America. So I think, really, I really think those are those are strengths, not, you know, something to be cherished.
KIM: You know, if you don't mind, I'd love to just jump in real quick here. And, Danielle, thank you for raising what you said, and I want you to know that I loved my time at the State Department. I love my time in government service, I would not have tried to continue to work in Congress and these other efforts had I not enjoyed my experience. I hope to have an ability to serve my country for the rest of my life. So I don't want you to take my story that I shared as anything that says that I had a bad time or that it was, you know, that these are things that will make me reconsider this, if I had to start again. I raised these as things that we need to fix, that issues that we need to shed light on and work deliberately to change and improve. But I want you to know that I found it's such a rewarding experience. And what I will say is, if this is something that you're interested in, stay in touch with me and others, you know, like I would not have had the career that I had, if I didn't have good mentors and others looking out for me. And you know, while there is a systemic problem that we need to address, about how we engage and recruit and promote and retain and, and work with, there are good people there that are that helped lift me up and gave me those chances and gave me those connections. And if I can be that to you or to others, or if there's others that can step up to help you and help you explore what is possible. I want you to explore that. So I'm excited for you and your background, I agree with Keith is extraordinary. And I cannot wait to see what you do.
NINAN: Congressman Kim that on that topic, you know, Karen mentioned the importance also of mentorship. How do you change that, you know, the perception of someone like her saying, you know, I don't think that I might be qualified, I'm not sure. How do you get to those people to say, yeah, you actually are qualified and you should give it a shot?
KIM: Yeah, I mean, I think that that's something where we need to do better at. And Keith kind of mentioned this before, but like, we need to be going out to the rest of America. I think that State Department employees, ambassadors, assistants, others, they need to be going out and engaging in the American community and having those types of connections and conversations, finding ways that we can really identify people that we think should be stepping up into government office. I know for me on the elected office side. I started an organization called In Our Hands that is actively trying to identify and recruit young Asian Americans to get engaged and run for office, and not just wait around for them to raise their hand. But a lot of times, people of color, and I'll speak for the Asian American community, a lot of times, we don't really know that this is possible. I as a son of immigrants growing up in Burlington County, New Jersey, never thought that I could become a United States diplomat. That was not in the realm of possible jobs for me when I was growing up. And that was something only that I kind of came to later. And certainly elected office is not something I thought that I could hold. So what we need to do is, is strategically engage and widen the net of who it is that we're talking to, and expand their understanding of what is possible, and utilizing the diversity that we already have, and others to then multiply, use that as a multiplier effect. And then that's something that I just don't see us doing, at the level that we need to certainly not at the State Department or elsewhere. And I think that that would be a much better thing for us to do in terms of recruitment. But it also just be a much better thing for us to do to just spur this debate and conversation more broadly with the American people about what this foreign policy mean to you? And be able to bring that to people's schools and their living rooms, not just in the Beltway, and not just at summits or in capitals around the world. But foreign policy starts at home. I see it in my district with people in my district. They're the ones whose sons and daughters along the Afghanistan and, and their sons and daughters are the ones that are they're worried about the jobs that they'll get. So we wouldn't be stronger for it just a broaden dialogue write large.
NINAN: Policy starts at home. It's a good line. Sara, if you wouldn't mind, we'll take the next question.
STAFF: Sure. But before I do, Karen, and Keith, did you want to jump in on that?
RICHBURG: Go ahead, Karen.
ATTIAH: Yeah, I would just say super quickly as someone who is, I'm the daughter, Texas raised, a daughter of Guinean immigrants. And again, my first ambition was I wanted to be, I wanted to be a diplomat and working more formally, the diplomacy space, particularly with Africa. I would say just very quickly that these things are recycled. When I first came to Washington in maybe 2009-2010, there was a huge push and impetus particularly for those of us who are from the African diaspora that, you know, from, from State Department from groups that were active in Washington, that the fact that we were sort of bridge builders, connectors was a plus. And, and I found many groups, many organizations, diaspora, African women's networks, we're helping each other with opportunities, forums, dinners, all of that. So I think part of it is also to certain extent on us, those of us who are interested in these things to come together, but there's Facebook, Clubhouse, and also on us to build these communities of support for each other and frankly, kind of strategize, I think about how to support one another because it's not just enough to be once or even in the room. It's also about, we haven't talked about this at all. It's also about how to stay. How to stay in the room. We haven't talked about burnout; we haven't talked about the amount of people who—I have a lot of friends who do work in the foreign policy space—who are the toll on sometimes the mental health to be the only one. So I think that a large part of this is to kind of know each other who we are and to kind of get that particularly I think for women, particularly for women, that that support group, so that not only like once we get there, we stay there, and we can actually survive there. So sermon over.
NINAN: That's a great sermon, and you're right, retentions a huge problem. Keith, I want to let you weigh in as well.
RICHBURG: Yeah, just a quick, just a quick note, you know, you know, I'm from Detroit, Michigan, I grew up there. But you know, I always was fascinated by international relations, I studied in university, but I didn't have a passport until I was 21 years old. I mean, to me, going to Canada was going overseas, you didn't need a passport for that and so one of just one practical thing I think that could be done is what if there were more money going into schools to allow younger people in high school to get an experience going overseas, like I never had. You know, to be able to actually expose them at an earlier age. And when I went to when I first went to the Washington Post, I knew I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, but I was competing with a lot of other people who had spent summers in Europe or had traveled around Asia, or went backpacking around India, and as I thought Toronto was a foreign country. So, again, I was coming into it not ever having had that kind of experience that so many other kids had had. So that's one thing that practically could be done is to open up more exchange programs to get every young person should have some kind of overseas experience and then language experience, but especially communities of color where they may not have that advantage. They may not have families that take vacations overseas or let them travel.
NINAN: Great point, Keith. It really is. Sara, I think we can take another question.
STAFF: Sure. I'll take another written question. This comes from Leland Smith, who asks, I am a private sector attorney that works with a lot of senior officials and foreign governments. And we have thankfully, but only recently taken an all-in approach to leadership and celebrating diversity. The foreign offices and countries we deal with do have varying levels of diversity. So my question is, to what extent can the private sector help drive the celebration of diversity? Or will it also require government-driven top-down policymaking?
NINAN: That's a great question. How important is it to get corporate buy-in to this as you're trying to change an institution that desperately needs to be changed quickly? Congressman Kim, you want to take that?
KIM: Yeah, I'll give some reflections. I mean, you know, that question about what is possible that I raised earlier. I mean, I think that doesn't just extend only to government work and public sector. And I think trying to understand, you know, what that means, in terms of private sector in different industries is certainly important. And what when we see the nexus between that, and government, we know that there is a lot of cross pollination, a lot of movement between, you know, mid to senior level positions, in particular, between the private sector and government. And that is something that as well, that, you know, we can look for, but I do think it sets a tone, you know, I do think that again, it sets that idea of what is possible. And, you know, for me, as a young, Asian American grown up when I was thinking about what career path to choose, you know, kind of to Keith's point, you know, I turned to kind of look and see, you know, whether or not, you know, there are people with my background, or some of those experiences there. And I thought, you know, we use a phrase earlier that I think Reena that you kind of pulled it from either Tony Blinken or someone else, but about just like the lived experience, and really trying to broaden that element. I certainly think that that is a goal that should be embraced both in terms of the public sector and the private sector. So where that nexus is, I'm intrigued by that's a really interesting point. And I'm kind of curious to see, you know, what we can do to kind of leverage that to strengthen. And again, not necessarily even just here at home, in the U.S., but as this person asking the question, saying about, you know, other countries and governments too, I think that would be an important step.
NINAN: Keith I want to get you to weigh in on that, because you're abroad in Hong Kong, you know, they talk about China as well, the importance of business relationships, you see all of that behind the curtain there? How important is it to get corporate buy-in when you're talking about something like changing an institution like the State Department?
RICHBURG: Well, I think it's, I think it's crucially important to get corporate buy-in when especially because you know, what it is with you in Hong Kong here, for example, you know, the U.S. consulate here is one pillar, but the American Chamber of Commerce here is also pretty strong and pretty powerful as well. And so, you know, people are going to be looking at the American Chamber as much as they're going to be looking at the consulate here, and that's all over the world, I mean, people, business is almost going to become a separate pillar of U.S. policy abroad, and the probably the biggest export in this part of the world was probably Hollywood, at least before the pandemic when they were making movies. So that sort of diversity in the ranks of corporate America is important too, and having their buy-in as well, that, you know, and again, there's going to be a lot more, there probably is some, but there could be more synergy between corporate America, people going back and forth between corporate America and the State Department, for example. But, again, I mean, corporate America has to do a little bit, especially in the international space, has to do a little bit better job as well, fostering diversity, you know. If I can go to the Bank of America and Citibank here, I don't see a lot of diversity in some of these jobs as well. So that's, that's another issue of media. The ranks of the media not are not terribly diverse as well. And then I heard Karen speaking about the issue there at the Washington Post, I mentioned, I'm from Detroit 1967, we had what was then the worst riot in American history, and then the Kerner Commission by Lyndon Johnson came out and said, one of the major problems that sparked that 1967 Riot was the lack of diversity in the media. And here we are now all these years later, still talking about the lack of diversity in the media. So all sectors have to do it. Media, corporate America, Hollywood, you know, the State Department, they all have to kind of be pushing for the same goal of increasing diversity.
NINAN: In Hollywood, I can't get over I don't know. Total aside, but the John Cena apology in Chinese, you know, over calling Taiwan a country? You know, it was I just couldn't believe it. It was pretty remarkable to watch. Karen, did you want to weigh in on this as well?
ATTIAH: Yeah. I mean, I think I have two like concrete examples. I mean, for my experience with the private sector, I mean, to think back-to-back to what he said, I mean, I think that providing opportunities for students to get international experience sponsoring trips abroad to learn just to learn about other countries. I think for me, again, it was my first chance to study in Spain back when I was in college, it really made me want to explore more in the world. But for so many, particularly for those of us who are third culture, kids who, who hear that the only way to make it in America is if we become lawyers or doctors and just foreign policy is not something that is encouraged, really, I think that could help. And also, from, you know, I used to cover it and do some work with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is an arm of U.S. policy that works with developing countries to try to formulate compacts for development projects. And often, that was in conjunction with private sector. And I remember projects from GE, in Ghana, that they were working on trying to fix the issues of electrification and power supply, energy supplies. So I could imagine that again, another reason why maybe corporations like GE, or others that are working abroad, as well could find first of all ways to diversify the ranks of those types of international or global projects. But then also, again, I could see these corporations sponsoring trips for kids who are interested in electrical engineering, to go and do projects in other countries and learn not only to represent America, but I think we have to understand that we have a lot to learn from the world. I think the way I think the pandemic maybe in some ways has shown that I think in America, we have a lot to learn. And there's a lot that can inform our domestic and foreign policy by what we learn from other countries and other cultures and communities. So I think that the private sector again, not only diversifies and not only diversifies their international and global operations, so that those abroad can see that. But if they get more involved with people from a young age and getting them that international experience that only helps add to the pool that our foreign policy, journalism, national security apparatuses can draw from.
NINAN: While they're young. Absolutely right. Sara, I think we've got a couple more minutes. Maybe we can squeeze in one quick question, if you don't mind?
STAFF: Sure. So we'll take the last question from the written question queue. And it's from Alyssa Taylor, who asks, and this is for Karen, but it can apply to the whole panel. I know Karen talked about how elitism is widely seen in journalism. I can imagine that the same is seen in foreign policy as well. How can students who do not attend these prestigious institutions or have connections get their foot in the door?
NINAN: It's such a great question, Karen, the Ivy League pool that goes directly into some of these major media institutions. Talk a little bit about that.
ATTIAH: I have so much to say, for what I will do to try to keep it short. First of all, there's active efforts and I can say this for the Washington Post to expand outside of that and to recognize and to reach out to, whether it's journalism students at Howard University in our backyard, to those who are who demonstrate a knowledge and a passion for, for writing and for telling stories and who have unique perspectives. And I think, you know, there is a lot of work being done to try to expand our imaginations about who needs to be heard. And what I would say is advice. I mean, frankly, I didn't, in terms of like the journalism kind of route I didn't do the kind of traditional, like internships and I wasn't on the college paper. I didn't think I wanted to be a journalist. I think my advice would be, and this might be heresy to Keith's ears, but I will say it anyway. But I think it's journalism you learn on the job it's a craft, I'm still learning. I still have editors and colleagues who are like, yeah, you need to fix how to do this lead or net graph, but I think for me, my experience before was to find a subject community issue that you're really passionate about. And with social media, with blogs, I think for me like I wasn't I felt outside of the system, I felt very, not a part of it. But I tweeted a lot. And I found those, those circles of people who are tweeting about Africa policy, and I just kind of like butt my way into those conversations. I mean, obviously, now that space is so crowded, but I think what it is, is that when people ask me, How do I, how do I get started? I just say, just start writing, start writing, start putting yourself out there, I think, particularly for women and women of color. I know this is kind of addressed a little before, but I would say pitch put yourself out there, frankly, the divide with women and men in terms of who pitches you feels, I think, you know, I'm in my experience, I think we women sometimes tend to be like, oh, well, it's not perfect, I shouldn't submit. Men don't have that insecurity issue. But I would say right, find what really like engages you that the journalism you will learn you will have mentors, and that's why this is so important. But I was always told to find a place where you can be that kind of expert and have like a bit of a niche, find with that to what sets you apart. But at the basis of it, it should be this passion and strive to tell the stories. And I believe, I hope, I hope that our institutions are catching up with the fact that, frankly, those who are outside of the quote unquote elite circles need to be like they are the complete, our job is to serve them, not the other way around. So I think we're trying, we're getting there. It's a work in progress. But I was just saying, put yourself out there, pitch, write blog tweets, and talk to people, read as much as you can, be things cannot be, and travel as you can. And practice journalism. It's a craft. It's a practice.
NINAN: Okay, I know we were talking about exporting democracy around the world. But exporting journalism is equally important. You are from a journalism Institute, they're in Hong Kong, I'm going let you weigh in. We only got about a minute left.
RICHBURG: I'm going to agree with everything Karen said, I didn't study journalism either. Even though I'm teaching journalism now. I studied politics and international relations. But contrary to Karen, I learned it on working for the school newspaper, which was the Michigan Daily. And I should say, by the way, I went to University of Michigan. So when I showed up at the Washington Post, I was the only pretty much the only one in my row or on my floor, who went to a public university, everybody else, but that, you know, Ivy League schools, or California, Stanford or something. So I had to look around. And fortunately, we had Len Downey, who went to Ohio State who was the editor. So we were the two public school guys. But, you know, again, I mean, diversity means a lot of things. And it means partly just looking beyond the, you know, East Coast, Ivy League schools and the West Coast schools and looking at schools, like University of Michigan, where I went and other and other places as well. But again, it's absolutely right. It's just get out there, get that experience and do it. Karen was absolutely right. You know, when I, when I got hired, there were quite a few, you know, African American, Latino journalists around me, and most of them ended up leaving early after only a few years, because they felt frustrated that they weren't moving up faster. And you know, because again, I mean it with women as well, I think there's somewhat of a reluctance to put yourself out. And I've heard it over and over again, I don't think I'm ready for that job yet. Whereas a lot of other people know, they're not ready for the job, but they have that bravado when they apply for it anyway. So that's what we have to, that's what mentors can do. Just say you are ready for it, get out there, apply for it.
NINAN: Just do it. I love it. I want to thank all of you, Karen Attiah, Keith Richburg, where it's 5:00 a.m. in Hong Kong, you've got up early at 3:30. Thank you so much. And Congressman, thank you guys, for being candid for sharing your personal experiences. It doesn't happen unless we're open about what we've endured and gone through and what needs to change. And on a happier note, as we are still virtual without a happy hour at about 5:15 I'm going to remind you guys as well, the audio and the transcript of this entire event will be available at CFR.org if you'd like to check it out. And we hope to see all of you at the virtual happy hour at 5:15. The link is posted in the chat box below. I want to thank all of you for joining us and for having the interest in this topic and big thanks to CFR for hosting this and seeing the importance and having these discussions. Thank you guys.