If Mia Love says her race and gender don't matter, then maybe it shouldn't matter to us. But if that's the case, maybe we should also stop celebrating her victory as the first black female Republican elected to the U.S. Congress.
"We aren't interested in dividing Americans based on gender, race, [or] social status," the tea partyer said in her acceptance speech Tuesday night just moments after acknowledging her own historic victory regarding her race and gender. "Many people said Utah would never elect a black, Republican, LDS woman to Congress," she told the jubilant crowd. "And guess what ... we were the first to do it."
Love, who lost the same race two years ago but this time was victorious after spending seven times the amount of money as her opponent, was born in Brooklyn to Haitian immigrants and later converted to Mormonism. Her life has created the frame of her political career, Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley contends, as she has championed the Republican ideals of "self-reliance and hard work," most notably in the speech she delivered at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Akin to her 2012 convention speech, Love's belief that race and gender — particularly her race and gender — do not matter is one that she has spoken about before. "Utah isn't concerned about my race, isn't concerned about my gender.... We are trying to create equal opportunity. ... We deserve to be seen as equal Americans," she told Luke Russert in 2012.
But can she really have it both ways?
Touted as the "Obama of the Republican Party," Love is using the philosophy of "blindness" to assert her vision of equality: She believes that "not seeing" race or gender is the way to "creat[ing] equal opportunity" for all Americans." Yet this blindness is precisely the logic used to overlook racial and gender inequities that exist in America. Women of color, like Love, face the harshest income inequality in America. The "War on Women" is real, and it is affecting women of color the most.
"I wasn't elected because of the color of my skin, I wasn't elected because of my gender," Love said in a CNN interview Wednesday. "I was elected because of the solutions that I put at the table because I promised I would run a positive issues-oriented campaign and that's what resonated."
The demographics of her district are an important factor, of course. Her electorate, she acknowledges, has "very few black residents," but come January, Love will be a U.S. Congresswoman whose votes affect all Americans. When that time comes, she may want to rethink her own "blind" thinking.
The GOP has a long track record of issues with both black and female voters, a problem that has also historically been reflected in their Congressional makeup. In the 113th Congress, only 19 of 82 women are Republican in the House of Representatives; four of 20 female senators are Republicans. There are 16 black women in the House, all Democrats.
Given that Congress historically has seen relatively few female elected officials in its chambers, and even fewer women of color, it is undeniable that Love's race and gender are significant, and more so because she is a tea party Republican. That Love continues to deny the importance of both suggests that she does not want to shoulder the responsibility of having to talk about either race or gender with her GOP colleagues. And if she refuses to talk about either, then maybe we should do the same.