Kip Whittington is a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State who has served in the Middle East and Latin America. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.
Below excerpted from War on the Rocks:
Professional Reflections: The U.S. Foreign Service of Today
I recall day one of my A-100 Foreign Service orientation class, a moment of true excitement and anxiety for any new Foreign Service officer preparing to embark on a journey to an unknown destination. For me, it was a career that would scratch the itch for public service and the fascination with foreign cultures, politics, and cuisine. But as I took a seat and searched the room, I noticed my class consisted of two black officers, including myself, out of 75 (my wife’s class had one, seven years prior). Weeks later, I was pleased to see the subsequent orientation class with substantially more people of color, but I soon learned the majority were hired through fellowship programs designed to increase diversity at the State Department. A monumental step, but I wondered: Why the glaring distinction with non-fellowship hires? It is such a stark one that minority officers are often assumed to be fellows, as if that is the only way racial and ethnic minorities can enter the field. The perception will likely not change soon, as only 7 percent of the U.S. Foreign Service is represented by employees who identify as black, a mere 1 percent increase since 2002.
In 2020, the U.S. diplomatic corps, regrettably, does not represent the true diversity and talent of the United States. And it shows.
It shows every time a visa applicant asks to speak to a “real American” at the interview window, as an Asian-American colleague experienced. The interviewee demanded he speak to a supervisor, looking over my colleague’s shoulder for the “pale, male, and Yale” American who surely must have been around the corner. My colleague granted the request, inviting the consul to the window. The consul was Afghan-American. I relished the satisfaction of imagining the applicant’s facial expression in that moment. But now, six years after the encounter, knowing only 6 percent of Foreign Service employees are of Asian descent, I ponder what assumptions remain about U.S. citizens in the minds of those we interact with abroad.
Currently serving foreign service officer Kip Whittington writes essay on issues of racism and diversity within the State Department https://t.co/2d155fcPEF
— Robbie Gramer (@RobbieGramer) July 31, 2020