The Heritage Foundation announced a new president this week. The New York Times reported on the appointment under the print headline: “After Year of Turmoil, Heritage Foundation Picks a President Seen as a Safe Choice.” That selection is Kay Cole James, a behind-the-scenes player in Republican and conservative policy circles.
If the new Heritage president had been a white male, the Times would likely have gone into bean-counting frenzy, tallying up all the other conservative think tanks headed by white males. But not only is James female, she is black. The Times buries this fact in its ninth paragraph, after characterizing James as a “safe choice.” A conservative organization opting for a black female as its “safety” candidate does not fit the Times’ narrative about regnant white supremacy and misogyny among the Right.
I am aware of only one liberal or left-wing think tank that has been headed by a black female, though perhaps there are others: the Center for Social Inclusion, a virtually unknown, tiny racial-advocacy organization founded in 2002 by Maya Wiley. New York mayor Bill de Blasio tapped Wiley to be his personal counsel upon taking the mayoralty; she accomplished nothing other than to erect useless and unused mobile-device charging centers throughout New York City as part of her theme of closing the largely imaginary “digital divide.” She has since left City Hall.
So, a black female head of any major think tank would seem to be notable, if you care about such things. Over the last several months, I have heard conversations among conservatives about whom Heritage might select for its next leader. James’ name frequently came up. Not once did anyone mention her race. It would be nice to think that the Times’ near silence on that front signals that the paper has finally dropped its obsession with identity politics, and is ready to join conservatives in color-blindness. Don’t hold your breath, however.