Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday announced a new policy aimed at ensuring that minority candidates receive consideration for senior diplomatic posts.
"We have a great diversity gap in the State Department," Tillerson told State Department fellows and interns Friday morning. "To better understand our talent pool, I have directed the relevant committees to adopt a new procedure. Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate. Now they may not be ready, but we will know where the talent pool is."
That decision might silence some congressional critics, who faulted Tillerson for initially applying the department's hiring freeze to graduates of fellowship programs for minority candidates who would typically receive diplomatic assignments. But he wove it into a repudiation of the white nationalist ideology on display in Charlottesville, Va.
"We do not honor nor do we promote or accept hate speech, in any form, and those who embrace it poison our public discourse and they damage the very country that they claim to love," Tillerson said. "So we condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms. Racism is evil."
Tillerson noted that "only about 12 percent" of senior State Department staff are "non-white," a statistic he plans to change by identifying the most talented minority contenders and prioritizing them for the kind of guidance that would be provided to similarly-situated white candidates.
"A big part of developing our minority leadership is identifying qualified individuals five and ten years before they are ready to become senior leaders and managing and developing their career, as we do others, so that they are undergoing preparations for those senior roles over time," Tillerson said. "We need a more deliberate process to cultivate the abundance of minority talent we already have in the State Department."
The new interview procedure isn't unprecedented, and is analogous to the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to consider at least one minority candidate for head coaching and other senior positions. But it's a particularly notable break with the "alt-right" leaders who gathered in Charlottesville, after years of arguing that white people are being put at a disadvantage relative to lesser-qualified minorities.
"What Lincoln knew and that we are sadly reminded of today is that painful racial tensions are part of our experience as a nation," Tillerson said. "We too today should seek to bind up the wounds."
It was also a far cry from President Trump's remarks, as he had condemned the violence on "both sides" at the Charlottesville rally and declared his opposition to removing Confederate statues. "George Washington was a slave owner," Trump said. "So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?"
Tillerson took a more conciliatory tone, but he offered his own subtle defense of Washington even while attacking racism. "[Racism] is antithetical to the American idea," Tillerson said. "George Washington said in an address to the synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, that his vision for the country was a government which, and I quote, "to bigotry [gives] no sanction, to persecution, no assistance."