WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday condemned hate speech and bigotry as un-American and antithetical to the values on which the U.S. was founded and promotes abroad. He also lamented a lack of diversity in the U.S. diplomatic corps and pledged to increase minority hiring.
In his most extensive comments on race and diversity since last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the ensuing rhetorical fallout that has embroiled the country, Tillerson called racism "evil." He said freedom of speech is sacrosanct but that those who promote hate poison the public discourse and damage the country.
"Hate is not an American value," he told interns and young State Department staffers, including minorities involved in special recruiting programs. "We do not honor, nor do we promote or accept hate speech in any form and those who embrace it poison our public discourse and they damage the very country that they claim to love."
"Racism is evil," Tillerson said. "It is antithetical to America's values, it is antithetical to the American idea." He then quoted George Washington speaking to a synagogue about the dangers of discrimination and Abraham Lincoln speaking about the need to unite the nation.
Tillerson, who has been criticized by former diplomats and the foreign policy experts for maintaining a hiring freeze at the department that also affected minority recruiting, also pledged to diversify the overwhelmingly white and male ranks of the senior diplomatic corps.
He said it was unacceptable that only 12 percent of the senior foreign service is non-white and only one-third women. And, he stressed that the hiring freeze is only temporary and would be lifted with minority recruitment programs remaining in place and being bolstered.
"As the arm of the U.S. government representing America around the world, the U.S. State Department should be a clear display of America's values and our people, not just in our mission but in the composition of our work force," he said. "We have a great diversity gap in the State Department. We need a State Department that reflects the American people, reflects who we are. The State Department must redouble our efforts to increase diversity at the highest ranks of the department."
To that end, he said the department would expand minority recruiting and that he was requiring that at least one minority candidate be considered for every open ambassadorship.