A photo featuring the Speaker of the House has recently gone viral, and for good reason. Paul Ryan's selfie with Republican Capitol Hill interns is the whitest selfie you'll see all day.
The photo's lack of diversity is worth highlighting for a number of reasons, but I want to focus on two in particular. The first is that it's not just Hill interns who are predominantly white — only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers are people of color, according to a report from the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies. The second is that this photo more than likely speaks to the intersections of race and class, and it's important to recognize that.
A lot of people, including other politicians, have called out Ryan and the GOP for having such little diversity among their interns, but Congress as a whole isn't much better. Consider that 79.8 percent of the House and a whopping 94 percent of the Senate is white — and that's without making distinctions along party lines. Of course, it is worth noting that 89 percent of registered Republicans are white as of 2012, but people of color certainly don't make up anywhere near 11 percent of the interns in that photo.
Where are the Republican interns of color, then? Another thing that is important to think about in answering this question is that the majority of internships on Capitol Hill are unpaid. White prospective interns are already privileged because of their whiteness, but it's another thing altogether to be able to afford to do an unpaid internship in the first place. So for low-income students of color who might want an internship on Capitol Hill, they have at least two things working against them, and that doesn't even take into consideration that personal connections often have a role to play in intern selections, too.
That's not to say that there are no interns of color on the Hill; Democratic lawmakers who criticized Ryan pointed out that they've managed to do a better job.
Diversity can't just be a buzzword; it requires intentional efforts to make these internships accessible to people other than white students who can afford to take them. It's fun to laugh at Ryan's ridiculous selfie, as he doesn't seem to notice that something is amiss, but we should simultaneously recognize the systemic reasons behind his staff's overwhelming whiteness.