White men in politics - who needs us?

I am a white man working in progressive politics in Brazil, a country in which 63% of elected representatives in Congress are white men – a group that makes up just 22% of the population.

Looking around the world, the huge overrepresentation of this one group in Brazilian politics is hardly unusual. In the US, white men make up 78% of members of Congress, and they comprise 60% of elected representatives in the European Parliament. In countless other countries, both developing and developed, political inequalities along race and gender lines are visible at all branches and levels of government.

Representative democracy is intended to allow citizens to elect the people who best represent them – but the truth is that not all candidates stand an equal chance.

Even when the pool of candidates is diverse enough to reflect the population in a balanced way, an elite group of candidates are typically the only ones with real chances of winning. What puts would-be elected representatives in this group? Their wealth, their higher levels of formal education, the endorsements of local or national media players and businesspeople, and the support they get from already established politicians. It’s not by chance that so many white men running for office turn up in this cohort along with their many competitive advantages: time and again, their race and gender is a factor in their unequal access to resources such as these.

It’s not hard to trace the impact of political inequalities on so many other inequalities we see around the world, and the political failures to devise effective solutions to them. Even the best prepared and most well-meaning white male politician will never get close to fully appreciating hardships faced by women, people of colour and ethnic minorities, or understanding their needs. If we are serious about building governments and policies that serve everyone and prioritise the most disadvantaged, we must build ways to increase diversity among policy-makers.

Read Pedro Telles’ full blog post on the need for diverse voices in political representation at ActBuildChange.org


Pedro Telles is a 2018-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at the International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics. He tweets at @pedrotelles.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, the International Inequalities Institute, or the London School of Economics and Political Science.