Trending Topics

Elon Musk, Conservatives and Others Can Applaud the Death of DEI, But Was It Truly Beneficial for Black People?

DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives, have become a bad word (or properly speaking a bad acronym) amongst white people — specifically conservative Republicans. These various initiatives, e.g., training, hiring programs, and department creation, took place in government, for-profit, and nonprofit sectors.

What precipitated these were the murders of Black people in 2020, most notably Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Following those deaths came a collective rush of announcements and pronouncements from corporations and higher education institutions that not only did they abhor racial injustice, but also that they would join the fight for racial justice.

According to the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, companies made $340 billion in commitments to improve racial equity between May 2020 and October 2022. Sadly, it took the murders of Black people for that to happen. But according to Thomas, Johnson and Clark, this is because, “Black death precedes and is necessary for the enactment – often performatively – of institutional social justice efforts. Accordingly, policy and practice connected to [DEI], can be (re)designed as DIE—a state in which the efforts of justice do not take place until the principal ingredient of Black death has been added.”

DEI Initiatives
Colleagues at workspace (Stock photo –

Yet, the stench of racism that lingers long after Black death can’t overtake the potpourri of white backlash as a cleanser to make America great again. Attempts to teach people about Black history and the history of racism (in school or places of employment), increase the number of Black employees, or Black enrollment at universities were met with swift backlash from the white power structure.

In June of 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Emboldened by the win, the American Alliance for Equal Rights (who brought the suit) also sued to stop minority fellowships at law firms and is currently suing a venture capital fund that solely invests in Black women.

In July of 2023, thirteen Republican attorneys general sent a letter to Fortune 100 companies to revise their DEI policies following the high court’s ruling on affirmative action. America First Legal, a nonprofit backed by former Donald Trump adviser Stephen Miller, has filed scores of complaints about DEI policies at companies such as Kellogg’s, Nordstrom, IBM, and Activision Blizzard.

As a result, corporations have adjusted.

According to Reuters, JPMorgan Chase, Yum! Brands, American Airlines, Lowe’s, and BlackRock have altered language in their DEI policies after being threatened with legal action. The communication platform Zoom replaced its DEI department with consultants. Meta, Tesla, DoorDash, Lyft, Home Depot, Wayfair, and X were among major corporations making steep cuts in 2023, slashing the size of their DEI teams by 50 percent or more.

Universities have also changed course as a result of conservative elected officials.

In Texas and Utah, governors Greg Abbott and Spencer Cox, respectively, prohibited DEI programs throughout state universities. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned universities from spending any money on DEI programming. The University of Florida eliminated its DEI office to comply; eliciting a noted rebuke from alumnus and Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith.

It’s not enough that Black people have to die. But so too must DEI… at least according to Elon Musk. But voices like his are the only voice you hear.

Certainly, there are voices speaking on behalf of DEI. Some consultants. Others within the very corporations and universities who are being let go. To be clear, removing DEI and supplanting it with nothing is a problem.

However, equally salient of a problem is that conservative voices aren’t just drowning out DEI advocates. They’ve commandeered all discussions surrounding DEI, including a discussion about where DEI initiatives and efforts falls short.

Where DEI falls short is in its natural disposition to placate versus agitate.

Corporations and universities will charity and hire they’re way out of meaningful accountability with programs to hire more Black people, financial gifts to underfunded schools, contracting with an individual or organization to do anti-bias trainings, and add more Black faces to the C-Suite. In other words, some Black folks receive access they once didn’t have — those in the position to take advantage of them—while the corporation and university remain white institutional spaces, largely unchanged.

What DEI has extracted in the way of a concession is representation; a perception of systemic redress and organizational transformation that in reality lets institutions and the white power structure off the hook. Additionally, protests are quelled, anti-American sentiment is tempered and once again, the United States appears as the vanguard for tolerance, democracy and freedom.

Meanwhile systemic racism has yet to be remedied.

The existential question we ought to wrestle with answering isn’t how to save DEI. Rather, it what does DEI mean to whom Langston Hughes called the low-down folks; “the people who have their nip of gin on Saturday nights and aren’t too important, too well fed, or too learned to watch the lazy world go round?” We must confront question of what DEI means for those who whose backs, as Howard Thurman announced, are against the wall.

The NFL remains the NFL no matter how many Black entertainers perform at the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Black children continue to attend underfunded schools where their history isn’t taught, voting rights continue to be stripped away by the courts, poverty and pollution continue to plague the Black communities, medical malpractice continues to happen to Black women and the wealth gap remains in place and intact.

Ultimately, DEI isn’t to blame for that. The lack of substantive advancements to offer redress for past racism is the fault of the white institutional space itself and any Black person who believes [they] alone can fix it.

Sadly, this conversation isn’t had in the public square because conservative Republicans have gotten sucked all the air sucked out of the room. So much so that there’s little to no room for legitimate critiques of DEI that can strengthen true social, cultural, and intellectual movements meant to liberate us all.

There’s only room for a bogeyman to scare white people into action to sustain the inaction of the white power structure. White folks have a reason to stay woke after all. All that’s left for Black folks is the irony.

Back to top