Gender and race shouldn't define your politics

Gender and race shouldn't define your politics
© Getty

Rapper Kanye West made news in one of the most unexpected of ways recently by endorsing black conservatives and expressing love for President Donald Trump. West's personal idiosyncrasies aside, he makes a valid point others should learn from. 

Take journalist Gayle King. She saw a picture of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE and Republican leadership giving thumbs up, and said she felt excluded. I saw the same picture and I felt celebratory. I also felt a different kind of inclusion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Like nearly 90 percent of paycheck earners, I got an increase in my pay two months ago because Uncle Sam took less of my hard-earned dollars. That is the direct result of tax cuts and tax reform passed by this Congress under these leaders. That deserves a thumbs up.

These congressional leaders believe that our nation's prosperity grows as the private sector expands and government recedes. That is a perspective I share and am pleased that it now guides our national decision-making.

Certainly, I would welcome more women and people of color in Congress who espouse that philosophy, because I believe it leads to a more open society and more opportunities for everyone. However, we limit our thinking when we cannot see beyond the gender and race of our leaders.

You don't have to look like me to advocate for my good

In 1963, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, Congressional leadership of both parties looked like Republican leadership today, but no one doubts they were pursuing the benefit of every American in passing this landmark legislation.

Society frowns on profiling or jumping to conclusions about people by their looks, and for good reason. Too narrow a focus on gender and race can miss other types of valued diversity such as socio-economic background, experience, and philosophy.

It's possible for a woman of color like me to have more in common with the current mostly white, male Republican leaders (although there are a few women in high-level GOP positions) than Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Democrats will 'certainly' beat Trump in 2020 Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE (D-Calif.) or Representative Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Israel denies Omar and Tlaib entry after Trump tweet Democrats race across country to woo activists MORE (D-S.C.).

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE's (R-Wis.) father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all died of heart attacks in their 50s. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Democrats press for action on election security Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill MORE (R-Ky.) is in an interracial marriage. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump fires back at Graham over Iran criticism Majority of voters say federal officials staying at Trump hotels is a conflict of interest Trump names finalists for national security adviser MORE grew up as a Democrat, influenced by his immigrant grandfather. 

Chronic diseases run in my family. Family history is one of the strongest risk factors for common disease such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and psychiatric illnesses. Many Americans can understand Ryan's fear of dying early from an inherited chronic disease.

One-in-six newlyweds is married to someone outside of their race or ethnicity today. Millennials, as the most diverse generation so far, have embraced interracial dating and marriage. McConnell and his wife Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoThe Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao Trump awards Medal of Valor, civilian honors to responders in Dayton and El Paso shootings MORE are an example of an inspirational interracial Washington power couple.

These are the experiences and qualities that people connect with in their leaders and go beyond gender or race. This may explain why Nancy Pelosi is more unfavorable among women (50 percent) than Paul Ryan (46 percent).

Issues matter

Voters also care about the issues affecting their day-to-day lives and the wealth and security of our nation. Those can outweigh identity politics.

Black women overwhelmingly support progressive lawmakers and causes. Compared to white women, married women and Hispanic women, they made up a solid block of support in the Democratic base. Despite this, polling last year indicates that black women increasingly do not think the Democratic Party best represents their interests (dropping 11 percentage points in one year) and in separate polling nearly two-out-of-three blacks expressed frustration with being taken for granted by the Democratic Party.

When blacks think about casting their votes this fall, Morning Consult and Politico polling finds that economic issues are the leading issues on their minds. That's also true for all women and women who lean Democrat and Independent. Republican-leaning women have security top of mind followed by economic issues.

"Women's issues," don't make the top three or even top five issues for most women, except Democratic-leaning women. This suggests that women's thinking about politics goes beyond their gender.

The most effective advocates for the issues that women and people of color care about may not be the ones who share their skin color or gender. It’s about the best person for the job.

Welcoming women and people of color into politics

Even though voters care more about candidates' policy beliefs and experience, rather than race and gender, we all still have an interest in encouraging more women and minorities to run for office so that we have more and better candidates to choose from. 

The numbers of women in public office are low despite that Americans are open to women and people of color in even the highest levels in politics. More than nine-in-10 Americans would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who is a woman, black, Hispanic or Jewish.

Although a majority of Americans think women are just as capable of leading our nation as men, they point to unique challenges that hold women back from running for office. Just under half (47 percent) of women said female candidates are held to higher standards than men, compared with 28 percent of men who said so.

For example, sexist media coverage of Sarah Palin and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP struggles with retirement wave Overnight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE in 2008 reinforced for a large majority of potential female candidates the negative perceptions of the way women are treated in the politics.

Women in the public eye often face vile attacks from the media about their bodies, appearance, and sex — just look at the recent media treatment of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as an example — that are meant to distract from issues and discourage women from getting involved.

No matter what their politics are, women shouldn't have to defend themselves against this kind of objectification.  We can all help put a stop to this. Calling out sexist coverage or personal attacks against women, and engaging in constructive dialogue about issues will encourage more women and people of color to run for office.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of the day his children wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. That's a perspective that makes room for all people, regardless of how they look, but also welcomes a diversity of thought.

Patrice Lee Onwuka is a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Follow her on Twitter @PatricePinkFile.