With the second of the two major party conventions drawing to a close, the contrast between the two spectacles couldn’t be more stark.
The Democratic National Convention was diversity theater at its finest. Every pan of the camera showed a sea of faces of all colors, ethnicities, ages, orientations, living with a variety of disabilities. Sure, many of them were weeping or Bern-lessly protesting with tape over their mouths, but they were in the room and they took the stage, and talked about the issues that mattered to them.
Last week at the Republican National Convention, finding a person of color to interview from the convention floor became a blood sport among the media in the room. And not one high profile politician of color chose to speak. “There were more Trumps who spoke than Hispanics,” harrumphed Stuart Stevens, a chief strategist for the Mitt Romney campaign to NBC News.
It was a fairly visible failure of the party to attract more people of color into the fold, one of the big takeaways from the Romney campaign’s post-mortem. “The odds are that the Trumps are going to vote for him anyways. He needs Hispanics…It’s an odd way to win an election. You have to have a broader appeal than people like yourself.”
But diversity is more than winning a contest. It’s about finding creative solutions to real problems and giving everyone a shot at meaningful work and a meaningful life. And the business case for a diverse government – with actual community involvement -has long been a painful question mark in a country that was founded by an all-white, all-male committee, many of whom owned human beings.
I asked John Maeda, start-up adviser, technologist, design partner for Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers and the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, what he thought about the optics of the two conventions.
“It makes me think of that photo taken by Paul Ryan and by Audra Jackson of congressional interns,” he says. The Republican interns, mostly white, the Democrats, richly diverse. “The answers aren’t in either photo, but one question becomes obvious: ‘Is this an issue?’” That simple yes or no question should be followed by a more thoughtful one, he says. “If so, why?”
Maeda makes his own case by quoting his former boss and mentor at MIT, Nicholas Negroponte who told him, “Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions.”
This, says Maeda, embodies everything he believes. “When you have people who come from different backgrounds together, then the outcome is something that is difficult to expect. By all parties involved. And an unexpected outcome lies at the basis of what creativity is all about.”
So, what would an unexpected outcome for America be?
Regardless of how this strange election season unfolds, Maeda believes that the conversation about diversity is valuable. “Some will answer ‘yes’ and some will say ‘no,’” he says about whether a diverse convention, government – or business – matters and why. And some simply won’t have an opinion. Collect those thoughts, put them in a matrix, and take a good, non-judgmental look at the picture that emerges. “Talking about the various combinations [of what people believe] can open formative conversations,” he says.
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