Sharice Davids recently won the Democratic nomination for a House seat in Kansas. She has a remarkable story, and her accomplishment gives the everyday person with political aspirations hope of achieving those goals.
Davids was raised by a single mother who dedicated her life to military service for 20 years and, alongside her daughter, earned a degree later in life. Sharice is a lawyer who graduated from Cornell University, and a highly trained and accomplished mixed martial arts fighter.
She was one of 16 selected for the White House fellowship program from 2016-2017. She has lived on Native American reservations helping to build economic opportunities. Sharice has a great deal to be proud of, and has accomplished more than most to better the world around her. She also happens to be gay.
But you wouldn’t know any of her accomplishments if you followed the major headlines announcing her nomination. The Hill tweeted the headline, “Openly gay Dem wins House primary, would be first Native American woman elected to Congress.” CNN Politics announced her win writing, “An openly gay ex-MMA fighter may become the first Native American congresswoman.” Out Magazine titled their story, “Openly Gay Native American Wins Kansas Democratic Primary.”
While many news outlets did include Davids’s name in the headline, all of them described her sexuality and ethnicity. In a tweet, comedian Chelsea Handler proclaimed, “Sharice Davids, an openly gay Democrat won the House primary and could be the first Native American woman elected to Congress. Woman, Lesbian, Democrat, Native American. She is this administration’s biggest nightmare. Go, girl, go.”
This Is a Frequent Habit
The same thing happened with Maryland state House candidate Gabriel Acevero. He also came from a place many throughout our nation can identify with and be inspired by. His parents immigrated to the United States from Trinidad. Although he grew up in a lower-income household, he accomplished his dream of earning two degrees.
He is a union representative for the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization. Throughout college and into his professional career he has fought for his ideals. He also recently won his primary. However, the announcement of his accomplishment came without recognition of him as a person or a candidate.
The Washington Blade, similarly to other LGBT news organizations, headlined their story about it “Gay Afro-Latino Md. House candidate wins primary.” In the article they describe his potential victory this November, saying, “Acevero would be the first openly gay man of Afro-Latino descent elected to the General Assembly if he were to win in November.”
This trend in simply describing minority individuals by their various social categories is not new. In December 2017, The Hill chose to describe South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s rebuke of a claim that he was a “prop” featured alongside President Trump celebrating Trump’s tax bill, which Scott helped write, tweeting, “Black GOP senator tears into writer who called him a ‘prop’ at Trump’s tax bill celebration.”
The Worst Example Might Be Crystal Griner
Possibly the most egregious example of this style of media characterization was used against Crystal Griner, who saved the life of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and others in a 2017 politically motivated shooting. Griner, a special agent and a Capitol Police officer, was shot while protecting Scalise and others and taking down the gunman. Combined with the efforts of the other police officers protecting a charity baseball practice, she is credited for preventing a much more devastating loss of life.
Scalise tweeted after the attack saying, “David Bailey and Crystal Griner have been part of our family for years, and they are my heroes.” President Trump and the First Lady visited Griner and her wife in the hospital, bringing them flowers shortly after the attack. In July 2017, President Trump awarded Griner the Medal of Valor where she accepted the award on crutches, recovering from her injuries.
The media, however, fixated exclusively on the fact that Griner is a lesbian. Ana Marie Cox, a political writer, tweeted, “That’s right: a lesbian woman of color rescued a ballfield full of white GOP dudes.” Michelangelo Signorile of the Huffington Post wrote an article titled, “Rep. Steve Scalise’s Life Was Saved By A Black Queer Woman. Here’s Why That Matters,” and argues “If God saved the members of Congress, then God is a Black queer woman ― or is working through her. And they need to know that.”
Another article in the Huffington Post was titled, “Anti-LGBT Member Of Congress Shot; His And Other Lives Saved By African American Lesbian Officer.” ABC News more simply titled their account “Lesbian Police Officer Hailed a Hero After Virginia Shooting.” A few months after the event, Scalise spoke at the Values Voter Summit, a conservative event, and the Huffington Post reported, “Steve Scalise To Speak At Anti-Gay Group’s Forum Months After Lesbian Cop Saved His Life.”
This style of reporting obscures the individual inside the identity politics narrative he or she represents. Griner is a hero, but as far as the majority of the media was concerned, her only contribution to the story was her sexuality. It was useful in providing ironic contrast to their preferred narrative of accusing Republicans of being anti-LGBT and racist.
To the Left, it seems, what you represent is far more valuable than who you are as a person or what you have accomplished. These examples demonstrate a trend of exploiting the racial, ethnic, sex, and sexual orientation characteristics of the individual to promote a politicized idea of “diversity.” The Left is extremely fixated on the self-evident value of diversity represented through inherent characteristics rather than the diversity found in the human experience that those characteristics inspire.
While we may joke that an openly gay Native American woman has finally been recognized for her achievements to get the point across to the Left, it is not too far off from the reality of this practice. This is true for everyone mentioned above and who has ever found himself holding up the title of the “first” of any social category in any given field.
While it is clear, for example, that Davids is proud of her Native American heritage, she is not solely defined by that characteristic. She is an individual and an accomplished person, and her success is not valuable solely due to her ethnicity and the fact she happens to also be gay.
This Is Exploiting People for Trivial Political Point-Scoring
On the surface it often appears as though the Left enjoys opportunities to taunt Republicans with successful people of color or minority sexuality for the sake of proving a point. They assume Republicans or conservatives would be upset or offended by the success of this person because of the Left’s identity categories they happen to fit.
Announcing that a person is black or gay or a woman is assumed to be enough to both instigate a negative response from Republicans and rebuke their assumed bias. But in practice all it does is reduce an individual to a symbol or object useful only as a political tool to demonstrate an ideological point. At worst, it mocks the individual as somehow being successful only because of his or her given social characteristic.
In truth, it is ultimately a great insult to the individuality, ambition, struggle, and success of those who find themselves symbols of the resistance or plot twists in a larger political story. Behind these caricatures are real people with real lives who deserve to be celebrated on what they have achieved, not in spite of who they are but because of what they chose to do with their lives.
Identity politics is not defined by recognizing diverse backgrounds and life experiences for their unique contributions to society, but an active segregation of people into useful categories for political purposes. Despite their moral belief in celebrating the public success of specific minority groups, the consequences result in less dignity and respect for those they promote.
At the very least, each individual deserves to be called by his or her name. Moving forward, I hope the media chooses to give these accomplished people that basic respect in their reporting.