Opinion | Diversity among diplomats will strengthen U.S. foreign policy


Leland Lazarus, a former US Foreign Service officer, is the associate director for national security at Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute of Public Policy.

Last year, the same week that President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met in Bali, a group of 10 Black foreign-policy professionals who specialize in understanding China gathered in Washington, DC, as part of African-American China Leadership Fellows Program. . I am lucky to be among them. Every day, we meet with leaders from Congress, the Departments of State and Defense, private companies, and think tanks. Our discussions included US strategy toward China, microchip export controls, situations in Taiwan and the State Department’s new China House stance.

In a field long dominated by White men, we is the majority in the room discussing the United States-China relationship and recommending how policy should be conducted. In the process, I realized that Black and Brown foreign policy professionals provide unique perspectives. Washington needs new perspectives at a crucial moment in diplomacy between the two superpowers.

As the United States and China compete for global leadership, each government is telling a story about itself that is meant to win the hearts and minds of the world. In the US narrative, race relations have always threatened to overshadow its image as a shining “city on a hill.”

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Since the nation’s founding, adversaries from the British in the Revolutionary War to the Nazis in World War II to the Soviet Union in the Cold War have exploited US racial tensions at home to undermine its credibility abroad. During the Vietnam War, “Hanoi Hannah” tried to persuade Black GIs to defect by pointing out US economic and racial inequalities.

For decades, China has sought to build unity in the Global South by comparing Western colonialism, imperialism and racial discrimination to its own suffering during the “century of shame.” Mao Zedong hosted Black leaders such as WEB Du Bois and even some members of the Black Panthers.

Every year, China releases its own report documenting US racial discrimination, even as the United States continues to call out China’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs and political dissidents. In 2020, China seized on the George Floyd protests to highlight what it considered US hypocrisy: China was condemned for suppressing the 2019 Hong Kong protests, months later, when it brutally treated Black protests Lives Matter across the country.

I was a Foreign Service officer in Barbados when Floyd’s killing sparked global protests for justice. During that time, Black and Brown diplomats were called to openly and honestly share the nation’s long struggle against racism and admit that we are a nation of contradictions, a home of hypocrisies. We also explained that Americans have always possessed the capacity to change, to right our wrongs, to bend with every ounce of our strength the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

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To encourage the wider world of US greatness, however, it is important to ensure that our representatives abroad look like people in the United States.

Black and Brown Americans are uniquely qualified to represent our country. Many of them grew up in bilingual households, which means the government can spend less time and resources training them in regional studies or language lessons. Many engage with diaspora communities, whose deep connections abroad serve as a foreign policy force multiplier. Biden acknowledged this at last year’s US-Africa Summit, announcing the creation of the Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.

Most importantly, the personal stories of Black and Brown reflect the story of America. When I served as an American diplomat in China, I gave presentations to Chinese citizens about my own family history — how my grandparents immigrated from Panama to the United States — and the challenges of being an Afro-Latino.

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The State Department works to recruit and retain people of color to represent the United States abroad — through the Pickering and Rangel programs. USAID also offers Payne Fellowships, and several departments actively recruit at historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic institutions, and other minority-serving schools.

To duplicate these efforts, agencies should reach out to youth of color even earlier in the career pipeline. There are many high schools and colleges students do not know that international careers are an option. Organizations such as the Fulbright Association, the World Affairs Council of America and Diversity Abroad seek to expose young people to the idea of ​​studying abroad.

Agencies and even political campaigns must also work closely with diverse professional groups to recruit and retain talent — including Black Professionals in International Affairs, the American Mandarin Society, the National Association for Black Engagement with Asia, the Black China Caucus and the Latinx China Network.

The United States can take advantage of its own diversity — by recognizing it as one of the greatest soft-power tools it can deploy in the global competition of ideas.


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