When It Comes To Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Old Habits Are Hard To Break


Watching the video of an Ohio police officer releasing his K-9 on a defenseless Black man on his knees, hands up, after a questionable traffic stop, I thought to myself: old habits are hard to break. Despite body cameras, arrests and convictions for police misconduct, and eye-watering settlements, this outlaw behavior continues to plague cities across America.

I have similar feelings over the rush to embrace a raceless America with the dismantling of affirmative action and the growing rebuke of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

As Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in a blistering dissent: “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”

With the direction we’re headed, race is only going to become a bigger issue in our country. Yes, progress has been made over the last 60 years. But the data tells us there remains a great distance to go. America’s reluctance to fully face up to its legacy of racism is disheartening and destructive to the body politic. Why turn the clock back now?

For far too many, the browning of America is something to fear, and with it, losing their place in the kinked chain of economic and social opportunity.

We know what’s going to happen. Blacks and other people of color are going to bring up the rear. We have already seen the impact of so-called color-blind admissions practices at colleges and universities — although preferences for legacies and families of wealthy donors have largely remained intact to the benefit of mostly White people.

Nine states have banned race as a consideration in college admissions since 1996, and the University of Michigan and the University of California-Berkeley have seen dramatic drops in Black and Indigenous populations, the most disadvantaged in this country.

Declining Black enrollments will likely be replicated across higher education after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions in June. Those who have privilege dating back to preschool will claim many more admission spots in freshman classes, and people of color, anchored mostly in deficient public schools, will fight for the scraps. Just like it used to be. It’s just the nature of things in a society where race still matters.

Despite it all, this country has managed great triumphs over race, racism, and sexism — from music, to sports, to culture, to science. That’s why taking a step back now on DEI is so dangerous: it threatens our collective progress as a nation.

In the wake of the racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd, it seemed the country was turning a corner. Multi-racial protests and demands for equity abounded. Corporations pledged anew to diversify their companies, suppliers, and leadership. Captains of capital promised more inclusiveness in its distribution.

Yet, only 8 percent of C-suite executives in this country are Black despite representing 12 percent of the total population, according to a Washington Post analysis in 2021. This disparity is even larger when you consider only CEOs. Among Fortune 500 companies only eight CEOs are Black and in the history of the Fortune 500, nearly 70 years, only 25 CEOs out of 1,800 have been Black. Old habits are hard to break.

When it comes to securing capital to build businesses and wealth, the performance is embarrassing. Black entrepreneurs garner less than 2% of all VC dollars each year, while Black women snag less than 1%, according to data from Crunchbase.

There is a reason why companies have been pushed to embrace DEI. Because without it, change would be even more glacial or nonexistent. But the pushback on these efforts, fueled by government, is determined. And we have seen that kind of government-sanctioned exclusion before.

Following the recent Supreme Court decision, the House of Representatives passed a defense policy bill that included eliminating the Pentagon’s DEI programs and a group of Republican attorneys general recently warned America’s largest corporations of “serious legal consequences” for DEI efforts.

In a startlingly frank piece in Forbes, Shaun Harper wrote about some of the reasons he believes DEI efforts are facing a revolt. From fear of white men losing their place in society to liberals overplaying their hand in calling out racism, the article only underscores how race is likely to be elevated in the weeks and months to come, including in the 2024 elections.

I believe fair-minded people will be up in arms as the data rolls in, spurring renewed motivation to end how race is lived in America. At least that is my hope. But old habits are hard to break.