The political landscape in Florida has recently witnessed some significant developments that pose a serious challenge to efforts aimed at promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at public colleges and universities.
On November 8, 2023, the Florida Board of Governors put forth regulations aimed at restricting the use of state and federal funds for DEI programs. This decision aligns with the bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis in May 2023. The Board of Governors is expected to have a final vote on adopting the regulations at their meeting on January 24, 2024.
Among the language of the draft regulations that outlines what will be prohibited is as follows: “a state university or state university direct-support organization advocates for DEI when it engages in a program, policy or activity that:
(a) Advantages or disadvantages, or attempts to advantage or disadvantage an individual or group on the basis of color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation, to equalize or increase outcomes, participation or representation as compared to other individuals or groups;
(b) Promotes the position that a group or an individual’s action is inherently, unconsciously, or implicitly biased on the basis of color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation."
By implementing policies such as these that restrict DEI initiatives, Florida is effectively cementing advantages gained through a history of discrimination. The implications of such actions extend far beyond the borders of Florida, as other states may be influenced by this precedent, hindering their own advancements in DEI initiatives.
This is but one example of a growing and vigorous resistance to initiatives aimed at the furtherance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have listed some of the pillars of resistance against DEI programs below:
Pillar of Resistance #1 – Limited Opportunity “Lottery” System of Qualified Applicants
In numerous industries, there exists an implicit lottery system where a small number of highly coveted positions are available, leading to intense competition among applicants. Regardless of qualifications or capabilities, individuals may find themselves overlooked simply due to the scarcity of available slots. This situation is not reflective of one's ability to adequately fulfill different roles but rather a systemic issue perpetuated by a lack of sufficient opportunities.
The limited number of highly desirable jobs intensifies misperceptions surrounding DEI initiatives. Some individuals mistakenly believe that the push for diversity aims to lower standards or compromise quality in hiring and promotion processes. This misunderstanding fuels opposition, as critics argue that merit should be the sole determinant rather than considering factors such as race, gender, or ethnicity.
Limited opportunities are often exacerbated by existing institutional barriers and ingrained practices within industries. These barriers perpetuate inequality by favoring traditional candidate profiles and excluding individuals from underrepresented groups. The resistance to change stems from a fear of disrupting the status quo, perpetuating opposition to DEI initiatives that seek to dismantle these barriers.
Addressing this opposition requires recognizing the systemic issues that hinder equal opportunity and fostering a dialogue that emphasizes the benefits of diverse perspectives and inclusivity at higher education institutions and in the workforce.
Pillar #2 - The Mass Marketing of Celebrity Lifestyles:
The mass marketing of celebrities, particularly Black celebrities, has inadvertently contributed to the opposition towards DEI initiatives. Attorney Antonio Moore referred to this concept as the “Decadent Veil” in a 2014 Huffington Post article. Moore wrote in reference to the concept that “despite a large section of the 14 million black households drowning in poverty and debt the stories of a few are told as if they represent those of millions, not thousands. It is this new veil of economics that has allowed for a broad swath of America to become not just desensitized to black poverty, but also hypnotized by black celebrity. How could we not? Our channels from ESPN to VH1 are filled with presentations of black Americans being paid a king's ransom to entertain. As black celebrity has been shown to millions of people, millions of times, the story of real lives has also been lost, and with it the engine that thrust forward the demand for social justice by the masses.”
By focusing on the success stories of a select few, the true extent of racial inequality is obscured behind the glamour and glitz of celebrity lifestyles. This creates an illusion that corrective justice and addressing disparate opportunities are no longer necessary, hindering progress in DEI efforts.
Pillar #3: The Tying Together of Immigration and Opposition to DEI Initiatives:
The intertwining of immigration with DEI has provided ammunition for those looking to undermine how many DEI initiatives that include people who recently arrived in the United States from other counties, leading to a growing public opinion narrative against DEI and even incentivizing lawmakers to advance policies aimed at dismantling it.
The 2016 presidential election saw Donald Trump successfully harness a forceful and aggressive anti-immigration fervor to propel him into the White House. This same tone and tenor have proven politically potent in the current 2024 Presidential election race. Consequently, associating opposition to DEI with being against an open borders type of immigration policy can wield considerable political influence among certain constituencies.
Another critique related to immigration is centered around the influx of individuals on H1-B visas, who are then classified as "minorities" to fulfill diversity metrics. This critique argues that this use of "DEI" takes away opportunities for American citizens more broadly and, more specifically, other native-born people of color who have historically experienced legalized oppression and marginalization in America.
The blending of immigration concerns with opposition to DEI initiatives has cultivated a narrative that undermines the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is crucial to recognize and address these concerns while advocating for the importance of DEI initiatives. By disentangling the immigration discourse from the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion, we can foster a more nuanced understanding of the benefits that diverse perspectives and backgrounds bring to our society as a whole.
It is crucial to recognize the wider implications of the dismantling of DEI initiatives at Florida public colleges and universities. The advancement of efforts to dismantle DEI raises concerns not only about the ability of higher education institutions to promote inclusivity, but also threatens other industries as it pertains to having mechanisms with the capacity to address historical inequalities faced by marginalized groups.
To truly understand the impact of policies like these, we must acknowledge the deep-seated historical context of discrimination and its far-reaching consequences. The racial wealth gaps we see today are not just the result of individual choices or mere happenstance; they are the product of a complex web of factors. Federal Housing Administration policies, slavery, Jim Crow laws, employment discrimination, and the denial of access to capital, among other systemic injustices, have contributed to the enduring disparities that we currently see.
Imagine starting a 26-mile marathon with a 13-mile disadvantage and then having policies enacted that prevent any effort to address or even study how this head start was gained. History matters today because the advantages accumulated from generations of past discrimination continue to manifest as intergenerational transfers of wealth.
These transfers subsidize college costs, enable car purchases, cover private school payments, support credit card bills, pay medical expenses, provide business start-up capital, facilitate homeownership, and fund other significant purchases. The vast disparity in wealth-building opportunities perpetuates economic inequality and limits the upward mobility of marginalized communities.
By understanding the pillars of resistance against DEI programs, we can effectively challenge the attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is crucial to recognize the deep-seated historical context of discrimination and its far-reaching consequences to work towards a more inclusive and just society for all.
Dr. Marcus Bright is an author and social impact professional.