On Jan. 2, Iowa City swore in its first openly gay black mayor, Bruce Teague. That same day, council member Mazahir Salih was selected to serve as mayor pro tem. Salih is the first Sudanese-American woman elected to hold public office in the United States. Iowa City also has a majority of women serving on the City Council.
Yet, Iowa City’s strides reveal the slow progress the rest of the state is making in terms of representation and diversity of our elected officials.
Iowa has only four people of color serving in the state House. There are none serving in the state Senate. Iowa never has had a person of color as governor or senator or as a representative in Congress. The lack of diversity is reflected at a local level, too. The vast majority of our cities and counties have had only white elected officials.
It’s not only racial diversity we lack. Liz Bennett is the only current state representative who identifies as LGBTQ. We lack diversity in regard to religion and disability. The only place Iowa is making improvements is in electing white women.
These disparities are part of the makeup of our state, which is 98 per-cent white. And the problems of representation run deep. We have huge racial gaps in our educational system and in the schools and school administrations that teach our children. People of color are incarcerated at higher rates and earn less on average than white people. It’s hard to address these problems and solve them without allowing people of color into the rooms of power where change happens.
People of color in Iowa are not yet allowed to live equal lives in this state. And this inequality is taking its toll on our neighbors and friends. We cannot be complacent and let this be all Iowa is. We have to do better. And we need to do better by supporting people of color who are running for office with our time, money and votes.
We also need to do better by examining the ways our lack of diversity has led to implicit bias in a state where so many of our cities are regularly included on lists of great places to live, yet also ranks as one of the worst states for black people to live.
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