This Intern Selfie Is So Important

For all the flack selfies catch, these lens-pointed-inward pics can also be a catalyst for important social change — or, at the very least, a way to further the dialogue surrounding the need for it. A prime example? The photos posted under the "Dem Intern Selfie" hashtag on Instagram by Democratic Capitol Hill interns in response to House Speaker Paul Ryan's selfie with Republican Capitol Hill interns published earlier this week — the latter of which was widely criticized for its alarming lack of diversity.

It all started on July 17, when Ryan posted the now infamous photo to his Instagram account, captioning it, "I think this sets a record for the most number of #CapitolHill interns in a single selfie." However, the backlash that surfaced when the collective internet caught wind of the composition of the image was fast and swift. While Ryan was focused on the number of faces in the group shot, the public reproach that soon followed was due to what was glaringly absent: People of color. Of the more than 100 interns in the picture, nearly every single one is white. To find the few exceptions, you have to pour over the image, "Where's Waldo"-style.

As disheartening as the lack of diversity in Ryan's photo of the Republican Capitol Hill interns is (and to be fair, the interns themselves are not at fault here), there is a silver lining to this story: The reactionary selfie from the Democratic Capitol Hill interns, which has since spawned its own hashtag, "Dem Intern Selfie." Organized by intern Audra Jackson of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's office, this group selfie serves as a stark contrast to Ryan's. Row after row of eager young faces smile proudly in Jackson's selfie, showcasing a diverse and vibrant intern pool. It goes without saying this selfie is a much more accurate representation of the American people, and one which Capitol Hill should strive to emulate across the board.

Ryan's homogeneous selfie is sadly indicative of the reality of Capitol Hill's race problem. According to a December 2015 study released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, there is empirical evidence that a lack of racial diversity plagues Congress, particularly in the U.S. Senate. "Although people of color make up over 36 percent of the U.S. population and over 28 percent of the citizen voting-age population, they represent only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers," explains the study. With 79.8 percent of the House and 94 percent of the Senate white, it's painfully clear Congress has a lot of work to do. And seeing how Congressional decisions affect every single American, it's problematic to say the least that such a narrow scope of the actual American public is represented.

The good news is that interns like Audra Jackson and her many peers who posed for the Dem Intern Selfie suggest that change, although slow, could be on the horizon. If even a small cross-section of these interns go on to represent the country as members of Congress, it will inject a much-needed dose of diversity into a body of our federal government that is long overdue for it. There is a need for systemic change in the country if we have any hope of having a government that is truly of the people, for the people, and by the people. And if a couple of selfies help spark that change, so be it.

Images: Courtesy of Congressman Paul D. Tonko, Imani Gunn, Congressional Hispanic Caucus/Instagram