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January 25, 2013

John Kerry: First White, Male Secretary of State in 16 Years

by Jeff Seldin

If confirmed as expected, John Kerry will be the first white male U.S. Secretary of State in about 16 years.  So what, if anything, does that mean? 

For the first time in almost a decade, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were using the term, "mister," to address a prospective Secretary of State.  

And at least online, it's been causing buzz.  

Jezebel.com - a website aimed at women - recently posted a piece asking satirically, “Is America Ready for a White, Male Secretary of State?”  

After all, the last time a white male had the job was 1997. The Secretary of State was Warren Christopher.  

The jokes mean something, says Professor Robert Thompson speaking via Skype. "These types of jokes, these kinds of questions, are an indication of a lot of little things but one of them is where we would like to be compared to where we are now," he stated.

​​Years of diplomatic leadership from Madeleine Albright ... Colin Powell ... Condoleezza Rice ... and Hillary Clinton have left a mark.

Daniel Serwer, with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says the impact is subtle, but real nonetheless. "Frankly, it encourages more staff who are black, who are women and that certainly has been a dramatic impact in the 16 years in the State Department," Serwer said.

None of that seemed to be on the minds of senators at Thursday's confirmation hearing -- like long-time Kerry friend John McCain, who praised Kerry's "personal qualities."

So, does it matter what the top U.S. diplomat looks like?  Whether it's a man or a woman?  Whether he wears pants or she wears a skirt?  Maybe not.

In the end, it comes down to being tough, says George Mason University Professor Toni-Michelle Travis via Skype. "I think Kerry brings that a certain experience," she said. "A a certain aggressiveness that says we're not weak in any way."

Something that -- in U.S. diplomatic circles -- no longer appears to be relegated to white males.

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