Tillerson denounces hate in State Department speech

U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson gives an opening statement during the ASEAN-U.S. Ministerial meeting of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila, Philippines August 6, 2017.

Erik De Castro

Secretary Rex Tillerson railed against hate and those who promote bigotry as he delivered an impassioned speech at the State Department on Friday. He also committed to reinvigorating State's efforts to seek out diverse talent in an effort to strengthen the department in line with America's founding principles. 

"It's simply important to say, although I think it's well-understood and embraced, I'm certain, by everyone in this room, we all know hate is not an American value. Nowhere is it an American value," Tillerson said.

Tillerson was speaking to a group of State Department interns and fellows, including those from special minority recruiting programs. He said that everyone in the room must be thinking about race relations and diversity in the wake of the violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville.

"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 damage the very country that they proclaim to love," Tillerson said. "Racism is evil. It is antithetical to America's values, it is antithetical to the American idea."

Tillerson quoted Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address calling on Americans to "bind up" the country's wounds. He struck an assertive yet conciliatory tone.

The secretary's words were in sharp contrast to President Trump's. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump blamed "both sides" -- the violent white supremacists and the counter-protestors -- for the violence in Charlottesville. Mr. Trump also said there were "fine people" present at the rally, while Tillerson said that hate speech poisons public discourse, damages the country and is unacceptable in any form.

"We must pursue reconciliation, understanding and respect regardless of skin color, ethnicity or religious or political views," Tillerson said. "One of America's defining characteristics is the promise of opportunity for advancement regardless of your skin color, how much money your parents make or where you came from."

Citing a diversity gap at the State Department, Tillerson committed to redoubling efforts to solve the problem at all levels. For all open ambassadorships, Tillerson said he will require at least one candidate to be a diversity candidate. He also wants to seek out talent "not just from the Ivy League" and that the department also needs to reach out to high school students in Texas, Michigan and Georgia.

The department is undergoing a major restructuring under Tillerson and he promised the young, potential State Department employees that the hiring freeze there is temporary. Tillerson claimed that only about 12 percent of senior foreign service officers are non-white, and in addition to reaching out to African Americans, he said that the department can do more to draw in Hispanics. Tillerson said he has seen just how important diversity is in bringing differing perspectives to the table that he would otherwise be unaware of.

"So whether it is African American, Latino, Hispanic, women, LGBT come with experiences I do not know. This enriches the quality if our work," Tillerson said.

Tillerson, who recently teared up as he spoke about how grateful he is for his wife, also pressed the importance of cherishing and maintaining personal integrity.

"You are born with a clean slate of personal integrity. No one can take it from you, only you can relinquish it," he said. Once it is given up -- by cheating the system for personal gain – "it is very, very difficult to regain it."