State Department to Appoint New Envoy for Global Racial Justice

The appointment comes as the department grapples with correcting its own spotted record on diversity and inclusion.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
U.S. State Department
U.S. State Department
The U.S. State Department is seen in Washington on Jan. 26, 2017. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The U.S. State Department is expected to announce a new envoy for racial justice in the coming days, a post that is aimed at empowering marginalized racial and ethnic communities around the world.

Desirée Cormier Smith, currently a senior advisor in the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, is expected to be appointed to the newly created Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice post, according to multiple U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The Biden administration has stated that advancing racial equity and justice is a key foreign-policy priority, even as the State Department grapples with long-standing and systemic diversity and inclusion issues within its own ranks.

Several State Department officials who spoke to Foreign Policy about the matter on condition of anonymity said they welcomed the move but added it was up to top administration officials to ensure the incoming special representative would be empowered in the job. “We just need to make sure this new envoy has the backing and resources to be able to succeed, and that’ll be up to [U.S. Secretary of State Antony] Blinken and others at the top,” said one of the officials.

The U.S. State Department is expected to announce a new envoy for racial justice in the coming days, a post that is aimed at empowering marginalized racial and ethnic communities around the world.

Desirée Cormier Smith, currently a senior advisor in the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, is expected to be appointed to the newly created Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice post, according to multiple U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The Biden administration has stated that advancing racial equity and justice is a key foreign-policy priority, even as the State Department grapples with long-standing and systemic diversity and inclusion issues within its own ranks.

Several State Department officials who spoke to Foreign Policy about the matter on condition of anonymity said they welcomed the move but added it was up to top administration officials to ensure the incoming special representative would be empowered in the job. “We just need to make sure this new envoy has the backing and resources to be able to succeed, and that’ll be up to [U.S. Secretary of State Antony] Blinken and others at the top,” said one of the officials.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the matter, saying the department had no personnel announcements to make at this time. The State Department has been criticized in the past for establishing special envoy posts to tackle specific foreign-policy challenges, only to have those envoys struggle to do their jobs because of inadequate staffing or funding as well as unclear mandates.

The creation of this new post comes after Biden signed an executive order mandating that every federal agency produce a so-called Equity Action Plan to advance racial equity across the government. Several months after taking office, the Biden administration appointed Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, a senior career diplomat, to be the first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer at the State Department to help tackle the department’s long-standing laggard record on diversity and inclusion.

Following on Abercrombie-Winstanley’s appointment, Blinken announced in April a plan to create the new Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice position as part of the department’s Equity Action Plan. “We know that embedding equity across our foreign affairs work will raise the visibility of racial and other inequities globally and generate better-informed foreign policies to decrease barriers to equity and equality worldwide,” he said at the time.

Cormier Smith is a former career foreign service officer and was a senior director at the Albright Stonebridge Group consulting firm before joining the Biden administration. She has spoken and written publicly about racial justice issues in her role at the State Department, including the Biden administration’s support last year for establishing a Permanent Forum of People of African Descent (PFPAD) at the United Nations.

“I have no illusions that PFPAD alone can solve the myriad challenges that continue to face Black people in America and around the world,” Cormier Smith wrote in an oped for TheGrio news website in March. “But I know that accountability, equity, and representation take us closer to a world where people of African descent get the recognition and human rights they have always deserved.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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