Memo To GOP: It’s Hard to Love Diversity When You Don’t Live It

Republicans are having a wee bit of trouble reinventing themselves as a minority-friendly party.  One reason is that prominent Republicans keep doing and saying things that don’t seem, well, very friendly.  Consider the recent remarks of Republican Congressman Don Young from Alaska:

My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.

Ouch.  Not too friendly.  Charles Blow picked up on this gaffe in an interesting article in Saturday’s New York Times.  Blow argues that one important reason for the continuing incidence of insensitive remarks from Republican officials is that many of them just don’t have much experience with diversity, given the areas they represent.  Blow calls this the GOP’s “proximity problem” and points out:

Too many House Republican districts are isolated in naturally homogeneous areas or gerrymandered ghettos, so elected officials there rarely hear — or see — the great and growing diversity of this country and the infusion of energy and ideas and art with which it enriches us. These districts produce representatives unaccountable to the confluence. And this will likely be the case for the next decade.

Blow’s got a point.  It’s hard to love diversity—or even act like you do, which appears to the GOP’s current strategy—when you’re not living it.  And many GOP elected officials are not living it.  Consider these data from Ron Brownstein of The National Journal:

The chart shows just how common it is for GOP representatives to come from heavily white districts: 112 come from districts with under 20 percent minorities (compared to just 31 among Democrats) and another 62 come from districts with 20-30 percent minorities.  So the typical GOP House member is a white male (88 percent of the Republican caucus) who comes from an overwhelmingly white district.

This is not a recipe for a diversity friendly party.  As Blow points out:

With the exception of a few districts, a map of the areas in this country with the fewest minorities looks strikingly similar to a map of the areas from which Congressional Republicans hail.

Yep.  That’s their problem.  Their greatest political strength today is their ability to dominate heavily white areas.  But that very same strength is a serious liability when it comes to changing the party’s image and making it seem friendly and open to minorities.  As Representative Young’s remarks demonstrate, it will take more than a reform-oriented report or two from national Republicans to overcome these “facts on the ground”.