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The Quest for Justice: Shifting Power

Building a more diverse diplomatic core and acknowledging the U.S.' own history are key to increasing racial justice, argues Fletcher alumna Ambassador Harriet Elam Thomas (F80).

As the world reckons with racism, one truth is painfully clear: Dismantling it will require more than rhetoric. It will take sustained effort. 

The Quest for Justice” is a series in which Tufts professors and alumni describe some of the actions they would like to see to create a more fair and equitable future.


Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas: Build a More Humble, Diverse Diplomatic Corps

America has been the eight-hundred-pound gorilla for so long. Living between two oceans, we don’t have to speak a lot of other languages, and we are often unaware that everyone brings cultural baggage to the negotiating table.

The State Department should be far more proactive in recruiting into its corps potential career diplomats from groups other than the so-called majority in the U.S., so we include people of more varied backgrounds on our side of that table.

Ambassador Harriet Elam Thomas (F80)

Increasing the diversity in our diplomatic ranks is not the only way to promote cultural sensitivity. We need to have a deep and abiding knowledge of our own history, so that we can tell our story abroad—warts and all—and build genuine relationships with our counterparts.

We need to listen with empathy while individuals tell us what angers and frustrates them; to  show we are willing to consider other perspectives even if we don’t agree; to acknowledge when we make an error; and to engage with eye contact and sincerity, based not on some quid pro quo, but on common human interests and needs.

I am more optimistic now than when I lived through the civil rights movement. Many of my students seem comfortable with differences in race, gender identity, and religion, and I see all races and groups demonstrating together for one cause: to be respected for who we are as human beings.

But while we can set all kinds of goals, if we don’t take the steps to reach those goals, it will be the same thing we’ve seen throughout the history of our country: lip service. That is why the most important thing we can do is to be accountable for the words we state in our various declarations, and to learn something that is often difficult for us: how to carry ourselves with humility. —as told to Monica Jimenez

For the full article from the fourth installment of the Tufts Now series on the Quest for Justice, click here.