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raceAhead: The 116th Congress Is the Most Diverse in History

January 3, 2019, 5:43 PM UTC

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.

On Point

A different kind of border wall makes the newsSome five million women reportedly joined hands to form a “women’s wall” to protest gender inequality in India. The human chain was formed yesterday in the Indian state of Kerala, and spanned some 385 miles. "The excitement was palpable," one participant DM’d Buzzfeed News. "Everyone truly felt like they were part of a special moment in the history of our tiny wonderful state." The pictures on social media show an ebullient and intergenerational crowd, with plenty of men in the mix. Enjoy.Buzzfeed

Brazil's new president begins his term with a direct assault on civil rights
Jair Bolsonaro, who has identified himself in the past as proud of his homophobic ideas, began his term with an executive order removing LGBTQ considerations from his human rights ministry, and has eliminated crucial land set-asides for Indigenous people and the “Quilombolas," who are descendants of once-enslaved people. The market in Brazil responded favorably to the spectacle.
US News

A list of summer internships for future curators and culture professionals of color
Tyree Boyd-Pates is a historian, curator, and speaker who presents black culture and history, and specializes in making the material relevant and accessible to millennial audiences. He’s a lively presence on Twitter, and has done the world a service with this important thread. “Often times, we talk about the issue of access to museums,” he says, citing the lack of representation in museum work. “So here's a thread of job opportunities/internships to share with Black/POC students and emerging professionals who want to one day work in museums.” What follows is a list of internships around the country, some of them paid. Please share with the young curators of color in your world. If you’ve got more to add, join the thread below.

Serena Williams will be the face of Bumble’s upcoming ad campaign
Bumble offers apps for people to find dates, friends, or business connections, but this year for the Super Bowl, the company is taking a stand for women. “The Ball is in Her Court,” builds on the Bumble strategy of requiring women to make the first move if a mixed-gender match is to happen. “Society has taught us as women to kind of sit back and not necessarily be the first one to speak up. We want to take that and flip the story,” Williams said in a statement. The campaign will take place on a variety of platforms, but the company has not confirmed whether or not it will be a television spot.


The Woke Leader

The soft skills you’ll need to succeed in 2019
While hard technical know-how is still important, these skills derived from LinkedIn’s annual “Top Skills” list show that the human side of work is very much in demand. They are, no coincidence, hallmarks of inclusive leadership as well, with orientations toward creativity, persuasion, collaboration, and adaptability in high demand. “An adaptable mind is an essential tool for navigating today’s ever-changing world,” reports Fortune’s own creative problem-solver, Rachel King. “[Y]esterday’s solutions won’t solve tomorrow’s problems.”

The magical place where people learn to agree to disagree and sometimes even change their damn minds
It lives on Reddit, and it is not a place, it’s a subreddit called Change My View. While it sounds like a challenge, it’s actually turned a request for debate into a promise of a better world. The forum, founded in 2013 by a teenage musician in Scotland named Kal Turnbull, has become a place where people debate the merits of even the most controversial political positions. “What might be more startling than the forum’s general tone of calm, reasonable disagreement is the fact that so many of its contributors seem to change their minds, even on flash-point subjects such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and gun control.” Click through for the background and common sense rules that seem to have eluded every other part of the internet, my God, why is this so hard?
The Atlantic

On nature, race, and the Japanese in the Midwest
Please block out a few minutes to read and share this eye-opening and poignant essay from Kenji Kuramitsu, an author and a Master of Divinity student at McCormick Theological Seminary and an MSW candidate at the University of Chicago. It's about the little-known history of formerly incarcerated Japanese people, released from WWII prison camps, and relocated to the Midwest. At the time, it was a grotesquely convenient solution, one wrought with racial tension. But this story is also about his own family’s history in Chicago and beyond. “Our families’ debuts were designed as convenient stopgaps, shielding white renters on the South and West sides from the black tenants whose bodies represented the plummeting of property values, the ‘changing of the neighborhood,’ the beginning of the end,” he writes. So begins a complex tale of family, war, and racism, and, in a terrible twist, unequal access to the natural world.
Asian American Writers' Workshop


One thing is clear to me: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.
Congresswoman Barbara Jordan