Kerry Washington for the Win

Towards the end of the October 5th episode of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” CNN contributor Will Cain and actress Kerry Washington, two of the panelists at the boomerang-esque table, entered into a dynamic give-and-take over the upcoming affirmative action case to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. To set the scene: After Cain equates affirmative action to racial discrimination, he then traces a line to diversity. Washington deftly reminds him that affirmative action arose in large part as a way of ensuring everyone got a fair shot at success, regardless of their background (racially, economically, etc.). Cain then challenges her to define diversity, insisting that she has defined it “very narrowly.” Adding geography, gender, religion and sexual orientation to the mix—the melting pot, if I may—Washington draws a multifaceted, perfectly American picture of diversity. Plus, Cain decides to include test scores and grades to her list, which she accepts. But, and here’s where it gets interesting: Cain, in what seems to be the movement du jour, offers a zinging punch line: “But you just expanded it [diversity] to such a degree that it’s now meaningless…”

What?! This, to me, seems like proof that we’ve lost the middle ground here. First, Cain maintains that Washington’s very valid point was too narrow. When she expounds, offering what I would imagine are well agreed upon definitions of diversity, now suddenly it’s meaningless. I can barely wrap my head around this, but I’ll say this: Washington offered a poised, thoughtful response and it was certainly no zinger. “This is important to me…to say well now you’ve opened it up to the point where it gets really complicated and maybe seemingly meaningless to you doesn’t acknowledge the fact that this is important and it’s worth the extra effort…to figure it out.” I concur.

(As of posting, this episode is not yet available to view on HBO’s website. When it’s available, I’ll be sure to post it. It’s worth watching Washington in action.)

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