Black journalists claim that White media has misrepresented the exodus of Black staffers from the president’s office.

By Tinashe Chingarande,
Special to the AFRO

News reports from White outlets questioned President Joe Biden’s commitment to diversity and said that the increase in Black staffers bidding adieu to the White House stems from a lack of support from superiors and a famine of promotion opportunities. 

However, those familiar with White House procedures contend that while rumblings in the nation’s highest office aren’t atypical, the quick turnover isn’t unusual at this point in one’s presidency. 

“This is part of the natural rhythm of the White House,” said April Ryan, White House correspondent for TheGrio and political commentator on CNN, in a phone interview with The AFRO. Ryan has been reporting on White House for over two decades. 

“A lot of these people —[reporters]— are new, and they didn’t do the due diligence to see that this is not necessarily what they think it is,” she said.

A May 31 report from Politico said that at least 21 Black staffers left the Biden-Harris administration late last year or are planning to leave soon. The departures have been so pronounced that one former and one current White House official said Black aides have termed them “Blaxit,” according to the report. 

The report also mentions that 14 percent of White House staffers identify as Black, according to a White House official and that many departures were on “good terms”, with some staffers leaving for graduate school, other cabinet departments, or to focus on their families.

Compared to the last three presidencies, Biden’s administration tied with former president Obama’s for the lowest turnover in the executive office and cabinet during the second term, according to June data from The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that conducts research in the social sciences.

Biden’s turnover currently sits at 15 percent, according to the data. This is considerably lower compared to recent former presidents— Donald Trump had a turnover rate of 35 percent and George W. Bush had 27 percent. 

Similar trends are reflected in cabinet departures during the second term. No one has left Biden’s cabinet so far while five people left Trump’s and one left Bush’s. Obama is the only other president with zero cabinet departures during the second term, according to Brookings’ data. 

Ryan argues that the sensationalization of “Blaxit” is because White mainstream media is hypersensitive towards “matters of race.” 

“This story to me right now just is what it is unless someone finds some massive tension for people to leave,” she said. “No one is questioning tension in some spaces, it’s just that it’s not everyone [who’s disgruntled].”

In a June 2 story Ryan penned for theGrio, a source said that movement in White House ranks would be “noticeable” as the Biden-Harris administration is said to be the most diverse in history. 

A former Black staffer for the Obama administration also said, under anonymity, that “…because you have more Black people you will have more Black staff leaving.” 

The staffer, however, mentioned that working for the White House came with challenges such as a lack of follow-up critiques and evaluations— something they didn’t receive until they began working in corporate America.

In the Politico report, former White House public engagement head Cedric Richmond said that staffers also left for higher compensation. Richmond is now a senior adviser at the Democratic National Committee. 

“The White House is not corporate America,” Ryan said in her phone interview with The AFRO. “You can’t go in there thinking you’ll make a million dollars.”

[Working in the White House] is a resume-builder,” she said. 

In a memo sent to the Biden-Harris executive office that theGrio exclusively obtained, Anne Filipic, assistant to the president and director of management and administration, said the Biden-Harris administration will “further invest both in the experience of current staff and ensure that the White House team continues to be representative of America.”

The memo also mentioned that the White House will launch its first-ever paid internship in September to build a pipeline of diverse public servants across the federal government.

When reflecting on how the exodus of Black staffers was covered by White mainstream media Ryan argues that there was no “clear understanding.”

“This is a typical transition [and] you have to come at it from all sides,” she said. 

Ryan added that when rumblings about the story began to surface about a month ago, theGrio intentionally chose not to cover the issue. 

However, when the White House memo was issued, the newspaper had no option but to greenlight the story. 

[You can’t] rely on what another report said,” said Ryan.

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!