A 2020 podcast episode with Desirée Cormier Smith resurfaced after the U.S. State Department appointed her on Friday to serve as the Special Representative for Racial Justice and Equity for the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor last week. During the podcast episode, Smith accused many white U.S. Foreign Service employees of lacking “humility” and even of being overly “protective” of the U.S.
In an Oct. 24 interview on the “Black Diplomats” podcast Smith joined podcast host Terrell J. Starr and fellow guest Travis Adkins for an episode titled “Trump’s White Supremacist Foreign Policy.” The episode description reads, “What does having a White Supremacist in Chief mean for American relations with the countries in Africa?” and states that the trio “also discuss the advantages of diversity in the diplomatic corps from an insiders perspective, and what it’s going to take to repair the damage done by Tump’s shallow posturing.”
During the interview, Smith said it is important for the State Department to hire more non-white employees.
“Not only is it important to have that perspective because we see the weaknesses of America and the myriad ways that America falls short of its promises,” Smith said, “But we also come with a certain humility that I would say a lot of white foreign service officers lack.
Smith, who describes herself as a “Black activist,” worked in the State Department from 2009 to 2015. She then worked as a Senior Policy Advisor for Africa, Europe, and Eurasia for the Open Society Foundations, which is funded by the left-wing political megadonor George Soros. Smith returned to the State Department in January of 2021.
“We know that America isn’t perfect, it’s never been perfect for us, it’s never been this sort of shining city on a hill for us people or our ancestors, right,” Smith said of non-white foreign service officers. “But the promise of America is that we’re trying to gradually move towards that.
“I think that is the critical difference in this moment,” Smith continued. “When it feels like we have a leader who is actively trying to prevent us from making that progress, to put it mildly, to put it nicely — in many ways he’s actively regressing us, right — pushing us back towards the good old days of segregation, as someone in his party recently said in the Senate.”
Smith went on to describe a conversation she had with a black Foreign Service colleague in which they discussed the differences between white and black Foreign Service officers. She said one particular difference was manifest in how black and white Foreign Service officers handled non-immigrant visas.
“We were joking that it seemed like a lot of our white colleagues approached the visa applicants with so much, almost like ownership over these visas,” Smith said. “And, you know, they were so protective of the United States and they didn’t want anybody who could sully, you know, the image of the United States or anything like that in, because it was like this perfect shining city on the hill.”
By contrast, Smith said she and her black former colleague “approached it with so much more empathy.” She said in one encounter, she met a woman who was trying to obtain a visa to visit Disneyland with her family.
“If you are a white foreign service officer, coming from a very wealthy background, two-parent household, never knew what it meant to struggle or have to save for a trip to Disneyland, you might automatically assume that there’s no way this woman is going to use this visa properly,” Smith said. “She only wants to use this tourist visa so that she can cross the border and set up an illegal life in America. And it’s that kind of lens, that kind of empathy that black foreign service officers — and not all of us, because let’s be clear, not all skin folk are kinfolk, right — but some of us, because of our lived experiences, we just have a greater understanding and appreciation for experiences outside of the U.S.”
In a March op-ed for The Grio, Smith said she and her team on the State Department’s Bureau of International Organizations, “worked relentlessly” to elect Justin Hansford to the United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent. Hansford is a prominent scholar of critical race theory, a controversial theory that considers racism not just an individual issue, but one that is present throughout society and reinforced by legal systems and policies.