Former first lady Michelle Obama confessed Tuesday that she used to feel embarrassed by the lack of diversity in Congress every year when she attended her husband’s State of the Union address , at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.
Interviewed by TV producer Shonda Rhimes, Obama spoke about a “standard of ethics” under her husband’s administration and how it feels like “things are pretty wide open” now. Speaking about diversity, Obama said, “We should be working actively to mix it up, so we’re getting a real broad range of perspectives on every issue. Shoot, I would see that in Congress.” Obama said Congress not only suffers a lack of new ideas but a lack of racial diversity. She recalled being on Capitol Hill for the State of the Union address and noticing the lack of diversity in the chamber.
She explained, “At the State of the Union address … when you are in the room what you can see is this real dichotomy. It’s a feeling of color almost. On one side of the room is literally gray and white. Literally, that is the color palette on one side of the room. On the other side of the room, there are yellows and blues and whites and greens. Physically, there’s a difference in color, in the tone, because on one side all men, all white, on the other side some woman, some people of color.”
She continued, “I look at that, and I go, no wonder. No wonder we struggle, no wonder people don’t trust politics. We’re not even noticing what these rooms look like.”
She added, “If people haven’t had the experience of being other and out, and you are trying to fix the problem of those folks, it’s hard to come up with the right answer when you haven’t lived it.”
The former first lady said the leadership potential of the next generation gives her hope despite the messages they’re being faced with.
“They are more open, in ways. I think they are less tolerant of obvious inequities. I think that this generation will look at what is happening now in the world and they will say, ‘This doesn’t feel right because this wasn’t what I was taught,'” she said.
According to the Congressional Research Service there are 26 Republican women and 16 Republican minorities serving in either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
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