What Should Representation Look Like?

In the year 2040, America will be majority minority.

It’s almost hard to believe that this timeline of the far future is only a generation away. Many people wonder what it will look like. I, for one, am very curious how the world will present those new-majorities to themselves. The past will never be dead and buried but in this new world, America will be responsible for something it has never seen before. In this new world, America will have to acknowledge minorities and respect their bodies and souls as valid contributions to a country that has largely ignored or discredited them.

When I was in elementary school, our class put on a play based on U.S. history. We were given a script and a chance to audition for which historical figure we wanted to play. I, as a headstrong 8-year-old, knew exactly which role I wanted. From the minute I was given the script, I wanted to be Abraham Lincoln. As I auditioned for the part in front of a group of teachers, I envisioned myself wearing the prominent hat and fake beard while reciting the gettysburg address. After reciting the five sentences outlined in the script, the teachers gave me mostly positive feedback. I felt confident that I secured the role and would soon be taking the hat home and showing my family the coolest prop.

The next day they announced the roles. I was not chosen to be Abraham Lincoln. I would not be wearing the hat or the fake beard. I would not be reciting “Four score and seven years…” in front of my family and peers. Instead, I was cast as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the time, I didn’t understand my role in the decision. Dr. King was a part that I didn’t audition for. It was a role that I didn’t think about, let alone want. But I knew I would act my ass off. To this day, I can still recite those two sentences noting his non-violent methods in the struggle for equal rights.

I had no problem playing Dr. King. It was indeed an honor. Looking back, I can’t begin to imagine how even the most progressive crowds in the nineties would’ve reacted to a black Abraham Lincoln and a white Martin Luther King.

This early example of representation is seared into my memory. I find myself thinking about it from time to time as if it were a summer camp crush. I couldn’t discern it then but my role in that small school play was chosen for me before I even auditioned. In life as a minority, your individual fate is tied to something larger than yourself.

In the very same decade, on the other side of the country, then-Senator Barack Obama enveloped these emotions in a public address at the Cambridge Public Library on the campus of Harvard.

“My individual salvation will come from a collective salvation. My true sense of self will come from community.” -BO

At the time, Barack didn’t know that he would eventually become the first African-American president in the history of the United States. But he did seem to understand the weight of feeling validated through community. Seeing Obama hold the office of commander in chief left many optimistic that one day, another African-American could hold the same office. By becoming a first, you blaze a trail that others can follow. You bring hope to your community and change the mentality about what is possible.

By the year 2040, representation will matter more than ever. Role models that look like you give you a chance to see yourself in their shoes. They make you believe that something is possible and not unusual. The new-majority will need to see themselves in positions of leadership. They will need to see themselves on trustee boards and as CEOs. Eventually, we will run out of ‘firsts’. In our lifetime, we will most likely live to see the first African-American woman to be elected President. We will see the first immigrant President of an Ivy League school. And we will probably witness the first African-American to own an NFL franchise.

At this rate of change, diversity is inevitable regardless of the rank or position. But will the same country that has seen centuries of a racial and gender wage gap be willing to accept this diversity as more than a charitable act and actually vindicate this progress? Who knows?

All I know is that somewhere in America, there’s an elementary schools casting the role of Barack Obama in a school play about U.S. History.