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
“You held discussions and town halls. As the paint dries, Juneteenth receives recognition, and Confederate statues are destroyed, remember that this is just the beginning.
You ask people of color and Black employees to share their suffering and experiences that were repeatedly dismissed and ignored. There is trauma, mental illness, stolen dreams, nightmares, and whispers that travel around the world in household effects. This isn’t the case just for Foreign Service members that are people of color, but the entire organization.
As employees that are people of color come forward and speak their truth, have you provided paid counseling/ therapy and tangible resources to continue these conversations? You ask my fellow colleagues to do the work for you once again.
Related post: You ask, what is it like to be Black in America? A former @StateDept employee tells her story
Honored to be part of the Juneteenth commemoration to highlight our collective solidarity at an inflection point in our nation’s history. Together, we can promote cultural change, to ensure all @StateDept employees succeed – in an inclusive & unbiased work environment.
— Carol Z. Perez (@StateDG) June 19, 2020
""How is it that I have a shared trauma with someone that started their State Department career before I was born? "
— Diplopundit TEST/TRACE/ISOLATE (@Diplopundit) July 7, 2020
"Dear State Department, you have failed so many people, myself included. You have a responsibility to create change. And the rest of us are waiting to see how you respond.[…] Let’s see if you have what it takes."https://t.co/B06R3NpyN5
— Diplopundit TEST/TRACE/ISOLATE (@Diplopundit) July 7, 2020
From Ambassador Charles Ray, Former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and Cambodia
Via WIDA/Diplomatic Diary:
The young woman asked why I was coming to Hawaii. “I’m attending a conference,” I answered. More questions followed: Where was I coming from? What kind of work did I do? Where was I born? This interrogation, which was far from over, is familiar to many visitors to the United States going through immigration every day.
This border agent at the Honolulu airport, however, was firing a barrage of questions at an American citizen holding a diplomatic passport with the notation, “The bearer of this passport is the U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia.” I had been a Foreign Service officer since 1982, and as an African-American, mistreatment by border agents was no novelty to me. Although I was welcomed home on many occasions, I also encountered disrespect and rudeness much too often. Still, I was completely unprepared for what came next in my interaction with the young woman in Hawaii. As she proceeded to stamp my passport, I inquired politely why she had asked so many questions whose answers she could see in the passport. “I just wanted to make sure you spoke English,” she said suspiciously and sent me on my way. No apology. No “Welcome home,” either.
Read in full here.
"Anti-black racism is real in the U.S. but it's also in Canada, (…) and we have work to do in our system as well," Trudeau said following the death of George Floyd.
— Globalnews.ca (@globalnews) May 29, 2020
Racism continues to be prevalent in our societies.
We must raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behaviour. We urgently need to dismantle racist structures and reform racist institutions.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) May 29, 2020
On behalf of the entire @_AfricanUnion family, I condemn in the strongest terms the murder of #GeorgeFloyd at the hands of law enforcement officers in the United States of America. See my full statement here: https://t.co/LslbVFrWHN
— Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) May 29, 2020
The racist and fascist approach that led to the death of George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis as a result of torture has not only deeply saddened all of us, but it has also become one of the most painful manifestations of the unjust order we stand against across the world.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) May 28, 2020
"I can't breathe." pic.twitter.com/UXHgXMT0lk
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) May 30, 2020
From Chinese state media.
(Object of endless complaints / suggestions / lessons from US officials and reporters over the years, about importance of freely critical press.) https://t.co/G1xmCoVmSd
— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) June 1, 2020
Some don't think #BlackLivesMatter.
To those of us who do: it is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 30, 2020
❗ #American #police commit high-profile crimes all too often. Against this backdrop, #Washington refuses to expand its humanitarian commitments in international #law every year. #US authorities should meticulously investigate the murder of #GeorgeFloyd. https://t.co/zx5rFh6qoB pic.twitter.com/jm4dHL07AZ
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) May 30, 2020
Demonstrations against police brutality are popping up in cities across the world.
In London, hundreds of protesters marched to the US embassy today to protest George Floyd’s death (📷: AP) pic.twitter.com/sqlSxfmjgR
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) May 31, 2020
Around 100 people demonstrated outside the US embassy in Dublin today, demanding justice for George Floyd. A peaceful protest was also held outside the official residence of the US ambassador, Deerfield, in the Phoenix Park.https://t.co/cr2mzxfNBi
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 31, 2020
Protests held outside United States Embassy and US Ambassador's residence in Dublin over death of George Floydhttps://t.co/tHrgJbtWsX
— Irish Daily Mirror (@IrishMirror) May 31, 2020
WATCH: Protesters gather outside the US embassy in Berlin to demand justice for George Floyd. pic.twitter.com/gKPlfFfv6s
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 30, 2020
Over 1000 protest in Denmark over the death of black American George Floyd https://t.co/79NSEDPeFD
— The Local Denmark (@TheLocalDenmark) May 31, 2020
Justice for George Floyd. US Embassy, Mexico City. pic.twitter.com/SLraGkNYO9
— Madeleine Wattenbarger (@madeleinewhat) May 30, 2020
Watch: Protesters gathered across Canada today in solidarity with those calling for justice for George Floyd in the United States. https://t.co/SEGCVRjYfF
— CTV News Vancouver (@CTVVancouver) May 31, 2020
LIVE from Christie Pitts Park in Toronto. The crowd gathers to protest the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and George Floyd. pic.twitter.com/g0kEwOvEDp
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) May 30, 2020
— Newshub Breaking (@NewshubBreaking) June 1, 2020
TPM reports that the State Department spokesperson argued on Twitter that “The assertion that @StateDept is ‘racist’ is disgusting and false—a brazen attempt to create division for domestic political gain,” an apparent reaction to a letter from House Democrats and a CNN editorial arguing that a senior department official had improperly worked to remove anti-racism rhetoric from a UN document.
.@StateDept hires and empowers those who represent diversity of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation and opinion to advance US Foreign Policy.
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) September 16, 2018
Now, Ms. Nauert claimed that “State is among the most diverse of government agencies, employing a workforce from every part of America and every region of the globe.” First, it’s really nice to see that local employees from around the globe are considered employees when necessary but not really when it comes to EEO regulations (see Baloun v. Kerry: U.S. Equal Employment Protection Do Not Cover Foreign Employees of U.S. Embassies). Second, the official word is (since it’s from the spox) that the State Department is among the most diverse of government agencies. Yo, is it? Really, really, really?
CRS report dated May 2018 states that “senior officials at the Department of State, some Members of Congress, and others have long maintained that the demographic makeup of the Foreign Service is not sufficiently representative of the American people with respect to race, gender, socioeconomic background, and regional origin.” That report also notes that Secretary Pompeo has not commented on former Secretary Tillerson’s diversity-related priorities or indicated what diversity-related priorities he may pursue.110
CRS report R45168 dated August 2018 on State Ops and FY2019 Budget and Appropriations notes the following about diversity at State:
Former Secretary Tillerson prioritized efforts to promote diversity in the Foreign Service.16 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who replaced Tillerson in April 2018, has commented that “the State Department’s work force must be diverse … in every sense of the word” and indicated that he will be engaged on diversity matters.17
The Human Resources funding category within D&CP provides funding for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs and Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs fellowship programs to promote greater diversity in the Foreign Service, as authorized by Section 47 of the Department of State Basic Authorities Act (P.L. 84-885). While Congress required the State Department to expand the number of fellows participating in the Rangel and Pickering programs by 10 apiece pursuant to Section 706 of the Department of State Authorities Act, 2017 (P.L. 114-323), it has provided the department the discretion to fund these programs at levels it deems appropriate from monies appropriated for Human Resources. The House and Senate committee bills would continue to provide such discretion. The House committee report indicates support for department efforts to increase diversity in hiring, including through the Rangel and Pickering programs. It also encourages the Secretary of State to explore more opportunities to further the goal of increasing workforce diversity.18 The Senate committee report recommends the continued expansion of the department’s workforce diversity programs and directs that qualified graduates of the Rangel and Pickering programs shall be inducted into the Foreign Service.19
Take a look at the agency’s diversity stats as of June 30, 2018 below (the original document is available here via state.gov).
Posted: 4:09 am ET
On February 21, USDOJ indicted former FSO William Patrick Syring for hate crime and threatening employees of the Arab American Institute. Below is the DOJ statement:
The Justice Department today charged William Patrick Syring, 60, from Arlington, Virginia, to four counts of threatening employees of the Arab American Institute (AAI) because of their race and national origin, three counts of threatening AAI employees because of their efforts to encourage Arab Americans to participate in political and civic life in the United States, and seven counts of transmitting threats to AAI employees in interstate commerce. A summons was issued for Syring to appear in federal court in Washington, D.C. AAI is a Washington D.C. based private non-profit organization whose purpose is to encourage the direct participation of Arab Americans in political and civic life in the United States.
Each charge of threatening AAI employees because of their race and national origin and because of their advocacy on behalf of AAI provides for a sentence of no greater than one year in prison, one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $100,000. Each charge of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
According to court documents, Syring previously pleaded guilty to threatening AAI employees through e-mails and voicemails sent in 2006. Syring was sentenced on July 11, 2008 to 12 months of imprisonment followed by three years of post-release supervision, 100 hours of community service, and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
Following termination of his supervised release, Syring resumed communications with AAI employees, sending AAI employees over 350 e-mails from March 2012 to January 2018. Several of the e-mails Syring sent to AAI employees during this time period contained true threats using language similar to that which formed the basis of his prior conviction.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Civil Rights Division Senior Legal Counsel Mark Blumberg and Trial Attorney Nick Reddick.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
As noted in the current indictment, Syring was previously charged in 2006 for similar threats in four emails and three voicemails. The current indictment alleged he sent 350 e-mails from March 2012 to January 2018.
He retired from the State Department in July 2007 and he pleaded guilty in that previous case in June 2008. See an excerpt from the 2008 DOJ statement:
W. Patrick Syring, a former foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Washington, D.C., to federal civil rights charges for threatening employees of the Arab American Institute (AAI) because of their race and national origin. Syring is scheduled to be sentenced on June 30, 2008.
During his guilty plea hearing, Syring admitted that he sent a series of threatening email and voicemail communications to six employees of AAI in July 2006, that he intended to interfere with his victims’ employment, and that he sought to intimidate the victims because of their race as Arab- Americans and their national origin as Lebanese-Americans. AAI is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes Arab-American participation in the U.S. electoral system. In addition to pleading guilty to violating a federal civil rights statute that prohibits race- or national origin-based interference with employment, Syring pleaded guilty to a felony count of sending threatening communications in interstate commerce. Syring faces a maximum sentence of six years imprisonment.
According to the indictment, Syring sent four emails and three voicemails to AAI employees from approximately July 17 to 29, 2006. An additional email condemned AAI for a fatal shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in July 2006 that was committed by a lone gunman who had no affiliation with AAI.
A career foreign service officer and a resident of Arlington, Va., Syring retired from the US Department of State in July 2007.
Posted: 2:01 pm EDT
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This report is over a year old but still an interesting look into the workforce of the State Department. Thanks A!
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