In my December 5 blog post titled "DEI, as we know it, must DIE," I expressed deep concern about the state of corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Since then, the Supreme Court has ruled against Affirmative Action, and my deep concerns have grown into sustained outrage about the muted calls for equity and equality from our nation’s corporate sector. It is beyond disheartening to witness how some white colleagues, even those who previously expressed concern and checked in on Black and Brown colleagues following the murder of George Floyd, have now quietly retreated to their office cubicles. No calls or check-ins. Additionally, treacherous politicians have transformed important issues like Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project into racist dog whistles, while their cries against "woke" culture intentionally foster fear, confusion and distrust.
So, today I want to post this reminder that Affirmative Action has never been about ability or qualifications. Affirmative Action was a policy that emerged in response to centuries—hundreds of years and multiple generations—of legal, race-based discrimination faced by the descendants of enslaved Africans. The new ruling, then, directly and intentionally aims to dismantle any measure of progress toward equality and educational access, which will undoubtedly have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, and especially Black women.
If you want to see just how quickly this shit can be dismantled, the same week the 'not-so Supreme Court' ruled to un-affirm Black folks, four Black women leading DEI efforts within Fortune 500 companies (Disney, Netflix, Warner Bros, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) have been fired or left their high-profile positions. Coincidence?
Despite the lofty promises made, corporate DEI efforts continue to fall short when it comes to equity, which I now call “the silent e.” Why? The “silent E” in DEI acknowledges that corporate DEI efforts have not addressed the systemic barriers and policies that have been designed to thwart equity. If you look closely, you can begin to see a troubling trend within the landscape of corporate DEI that is as insidious as it is dangerous: highly educated African American women, leaders who have been at the forefront of this work for decades, I believe, are gradually being replaced by white or Asian women. This shift mirrors and sustains our inequitable systems; it undermines the progress made by Black women even as they fight to protect and carve out a path for true equity.
So, to all the Black women still working in corporate DEI today, this moment demands unprecedented courage and resilience. The recent high-profile losses of power, from the C-suite to the Supreme Court, serve as ongoing attempts to keep Black women "in line," and, in some cases, completely take us out of line. We must respond with unyielding candor, relentlessly uplifting one another as we forge ahead, creating and preserving space for the progress we have achieved and the greatness that lies ahead.
I end with this-- the legacy of White Supremacy and anti-Black racism laid bare by the Affirmative Action ruling also limits access to educational opportunities for Asian, Hispanic, poor, and middle-class White individuals. It is time we stop actively participating in these Hunger Games in which only the already sated survive. We, the collective we, must continually challenge these systems that perpetuate inequity and forge a path towards a future where that silent “E” in DEI is truly centered-- a future that frees us all from the legacy of White Supremacy, once and for all.
Let us never forget the wisdom shared in the Combahee River Collective Statement from 1977: "If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression." #navigatingcourage.