Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared on Friday that hate is not an American value in his most extended remarks on racism and bigotry since last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville.
In a speech announcing a new effort to expand diversity at the State Department, Tillerson did not explicitly mention either Charlottesville or President Trump’s reactions to the presence of white supremacists and neo-Nazis there, but he said the events of the past week were on everyone’s mind.
“We do honor, protect and defend freedom of speech, First Amendment rights,” he said. “It’s what sets us apart from every other government regime in the world, in allowing people a right to expression. These are good things.
“But we do not honor, nor do we promote or accept hate speech in any form. And those who embrace it poison our public discourse and they damage the very country that they claim to love. So we condemn racism, bigotry in all its forms. Racism is evil; it is antithetical to America’s values. It’s antithetical to the American idea.”
Tillerson also reached into history, quoting both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln for their words condemning bigotry and the need to heal divisions.
“George Washington said in an address to the synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, that his vision for our country was, I quote, ‘a government which to bigotry gives no sanction; to persecution, no assistance.’ In his second inaugural address in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called on Americans to ‘bind up the nation’s wounds.’
“What Lincoln knew, and that we are sadly reminded today, that painful racial tensions are part of our experience as a nation. We too today should seek to bind up the wounds. We must pursue reconciliation, understanding and respect regardless of skin color, ethnicity or religious, or political views.”
Tillerson’s remarks on racial intolerance were part of a speech he made to students with fellowships and internships at the State Department. He announced a new initiative to increase diversity at the State Department, including the recruitment of minorities in colleges that are not Ivy League schools and an effort to get more minority ambassadors.
Tillerson noted that only 12 percent of senior Foreign Service officers are nonwhite, and a third are women
“We have a great diversity gap in the State Department,” he said. “We need a State Department that reflects the American people, reflects who we are.”
Since Tillerson arrived at the State Department six months ago, he has been looking at ways to reorganize and reform a huge bureaucracy that employs 75,000 people around the world. The diversity outreach he announced Friday is the first concrete step to come out of months of employee surveys and draft memos.
Tillerson said he has ordered that at least one minority candidate be included for every ambassador post that comes open. That will help target future leaders, he said, so their careers can be nurtured.
“We need a more deliberate process to cultivate the abundance of minority talent we already have in the State Department,” he said.
Tillerson said the State Department will step up recruitment of African Americans at historically black colleges and universities. Colleges in Miami and Chicago with large Hispanic populations will also be seeing State Department recruiters, he said. And he said the recruitment and promotion drive should include women and members of the LGBT community.
“This enriches the quality of our work,” he said. “We know we are a stronger organization when we embrace, incorporate diverse points of view into our work product.”
Tillerson also noted that many current diplomats and civil servants come to the State Department after completing military service, “So we know this is a rich talent pool from which to fish.”