Past group photos of White House interns under President Donald Trump have drawn criticism for showing a group of overwhelmingly white young people. This summer, the White House didn’t make much progress on diversity — they just didn’t release the photo.
A group picture with President Donald Trump showed the summer 2017 class was very white and very male. In the fall 2017 picture, observers pointed out one of the interns seemed to be making a white power gesture. (He denied it.) And the spring 2018 class was, again, very white (although with more female interns represented).
The White House appears not to be in a hurry to put out its summer 2018 intern picture, but Vox obtained a copy.
The photo of 128 summer interns surrounding President Trump gives an overall impression of a sea of white faces, with those who appear to be people of color dramatically outnumbered. That’s despite the fact that almost half of millennials in the United States are minorities.
The White House’s summer internship program this year ran from May 30 to August 10, and the photo, which has appeared on at least one now-former intern’s Instagram account, has yet to be released. Last year, members of the media were invited into the summer 2017 photo op, with the Associated Press capturing video of the picture being taken. This year, the spring 2018 class picture was distributed by the White House as one of its photos of the week.
But the summer internship program has been over for two and a half weeks, and the White House has yet to distribute it, as its photo of the week or otherwise. The White House did not immediately return a request for comment on the photo, its release, and the diversity of its intern class.
Instead of fixing its diversity problem, the White House would rather just keep it under wraps
Earlier this month, Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, was stumped in an appearance on ABC’s This Week when host Jonathan Karl asked her to name a high-level black person serving on Trump’s White House staff now that Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who was fired in December, is out.
Trump’s Cabinet is the whitest, most male-dominated group since Ronald Reagan’s. There were seven women and 10 people of color in President Barack Obama’s first 22-member Cabinet; in Trump’s 24-member cabinet, there were four women and four people of color, according to Business Insider.
Conway first pointed to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who Karl pointed out isn’t on White House staff. She then arrived at Ja’Ron Smith, special assistant to the president for domestic policy. He doesn’t work in the West Wing, though, and there are no black staffers listed as making the $179,700 maximum annual salary for White House employees.
Staff photos suggest that the diversity problem starts at the bottom: Vice President Mike Pence’s photo in January with the fall 2017 White House page class did not have a single person of color. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was criticized in 2016 when he tweeted out a picture and a group of interns that was, again, heavily white.
You can draw a line between the lack of diversity among interns and the lack of diversity in the White House and, more broadly, among Republican leadership. Internships are part of the pipeline to higher positions in the GOP, and if people of color aren’t getting them, it’s harder for them to advance. That’s how you end up with all-white, all-male groups holding federal government health care debates or discussing family separation and immigration.
A lack of staff diversity isn’t only a Republican problem: a 2017 study found that most Senate Democratic staffers are white (and mostly women).
Trump has low approval ratings among millennials and nonwhites, and the White House internship program requires participants to be committed to the Trump administration’s mission. So, it’s likely the pool of applicants the White House is pulling from isn’t a particularly diverse one in the first place.
Trump also has a history of making racist remarks: earlier this year, for example, he referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as “shithole countries,” and last week he sent out a tweet echoing white nationalist propaganda about South African farmers. He said both sides were to blame for racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.
But rather than grapple with why it consistently fails to attract nonwhite interns, the White House apparently decided to keep the picture to itself.