raceAhead: The 116th Congress Is the Most Diverse in History
The 116th Congress, which is being sworn in today, will include a record number of women from a wide array of backgrounds. There are 102 women being sworn into the House today and 35% are new. Of the 25 Senators being sworn in, five are new to the role. (And for those doing the math, the Senate is now one-quarter female.)
Elle has a wonderful feature and pictorial on 27 of the House newbies here.
It all kicks off at 1 p.m. Eastern Time with the Senate ceremony, which you can watch on C-Span, followed by the House swearing-in at 3 p.m. While the Senate procedure is formal and held before a silent gallery, expect a semi-raucous event on the House side: Visitors are allowed to cheer.
And I expect they will. The party has already begun on Twitter.
Palestinian American Rep-elect Rashida Tlaib, a progressive who may be better known for her promise to bring her bullhorn with her to Congress, will be wearing a traditional ankle-length tunic called a thobe during her ceremony. A solidarity hashtag, #TweetYourThobe, was started by professor and fiction writer Susan Muaddi Darraj to celebrate and educate.
“I was raised in a Palestinian American family that celebrated the strength of women,” Darraj told The Institute for Middle East Understanding. “Seeing Rashida Tlaib wear her thobe today is a powerful affirmation of that strength.”
Minnesota’s Rep-elect Ilhan Omar came to the U.S. with her family from a refugee camp in Kenya some twenty-three years ago. She tweeted a picture of herself arriving to her new job on Capitol Hill, walking with her clearly delighted father through the same DC-area airport where they entered the country for the first time.
Omar will be allowed to wear the hijab when she’s sworn in, which will require amending House rules to allow religious headwear. When a story with her photo and a quote from a conservative pastor saying “The floor is going to look like an Islamic republic,” was posted to her timeline, she clapped back. “Well sir, the floor of Congress is going to look like America… And you’re gonna have to just deal.”
She also identifies as a “Mom, Refugee, Intersectional Feminist, 2017 Top Angler of the Governor’s Fishing Opener,” on her profile page. Now that’s what I call inclusive.
But the real party is happening offline.
Congresswoman-Elect Deb Haaland from New Mexico, one of two Native American women heading to Capitol Hill today, has already announced a majority-minority staff. Two-thirds are from New Mexico, 60% are women, and a scan of the list indicates that several are enrolled Tribal members. There’s also LGBTQ representation and her chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, lists single working mom among her many strengths. “I know how difficult it was for me to imagine a Native American woman in Congress because it was something I had never seen before,” says Haaland in her statement.
Republican women are vastly underrepresented in this new Congress, so there is important work still be done there. But for a political era in which the longing for white, male leadership has become a dangerous form of nostalgia, this more diverse set of legislators is a solid start.
And the result of a lot of hard work.
Editor’s Note: Rashida Tlaib was mistakenly identified as Pakistani American. This essay has now been corrected to identify her as Palestinian American.
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