‘Gumbo diplomacy’: Biden’s ambassador to United Nations brings ‘lagniappe’ to the world stage

Alex Woodward
·3-min read

Joe Biden’s pick to serve as his US ambassador to the United Nations, a position that has been effectively removed from Donald Trump’s cabinet, spun the “all politics is personal” mantra into what she calls “gumbo diplomacy.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Louisiana native and career diplomat who worked under Barack Obama’s administration alongside the former vice president, said in remarks from Delaware on Tuesday that she would often invite people to help make the dish when she was working abroad, injecting a few Louisiana-centric terms into her aphorisms, as Mr Biden laughed in the background.

“I’d invite people from different backgrounds and beliefs to make a roux and chop onions for the holy trinity and make homemade gumbo,” she said.

(The holy trinity: onion, bell pepper and celery.)

“It was my way of breaking down barriers, connecting with people and starting to see each other on a human level – a bit of ‘lagniappe’ is what we say in Louisiana,” she said.

(Lagniappe: typically meaning “a little something extra.”)

“That’s the charge in front of us today,” she said. “The challenges we face – a global pandemic, a global economy, a global climate change crisis, mass migration and extreme poverty, social justice – are unrelenting and interconnected, but they’re not unresolvable if America is leading the way.”

Ms Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black, grew up in segregated Baker, Louisiana, which she had previously described as a town “in which the KKK regularly would come on weekends and burn a cross in somebody's yard."

“My parents had very little back in Louisiana where I grew up, but they gave me and my siblings everything they had, and I know how proud they would be of this day,” she said on Tuesday.

She attended Louisiana State University at the same time as white supremacist and Klan leader David Duke.

Under former president Obama, she served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs from 2013 to 2017.

She left the department in 2017 amid the Trump administration’s purge of senior State Department officials.

After Mr Biden introduced her on Tuesday, she announced that “America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”

Ms Thomas-Greenfield has advocated for replenishing the foreign service ranks, which have been gutted under the Trump administration, and for rehabilitating the state department following US alienation abroad.

Mr Biden has repeatedly pledged to repair relationships between the White House and world leaders, and to restore the nation’s strained relationship with the UN under the current administration, which has plowed through its “America First” agenda and effectively removed the ambassadorship position from the cabinet.

She also mentioned former UN ambassador Ed Perkins, another Louisiana native who served under George HW Bush and Bill Clinton.

“He told me constantly, ‘don’t undersell yourself’ and would always lift me up,” she said. “He passed away last week, but I know he’s here today.”

Ms Thomas-Greenfield is among several cabinet-level appointees who must be confirmed in the currently Republican-controlled US Senate before entering office.

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