In our country, privilege for one often means oppression for another. The anti-racism movement recognizes this reality, making the movement a target for politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who last week signed into law a bill that prevents public universities from using federal or state funds for programs of “diversity, equity and inclusion”. .
This is a departure from the relatively positive reception that diversity efforts have enjoyed over the past two decades. In fact, diversity initiatives were accepted because they kept quiet about white privilege. However, the rise of an anti-racism movement broke that silence, and now even diversity efforts pose a threat to America’s racial hierarchy.
The value of diversity was never more forcefully heralded than after the 2003 Supreme Court case on race in college admissions. In an opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court affirmed diversity as a compelling state interest that justified consideration of race in admissions processes. Sustained monitoring would ensure that consideration of race imparted as little harm as possible to “other innocent people competing for the benefit.” The term “innocent persons,” a quote from a 1978 affirmative action case, was code for whites.
In reality, there are no legitimate claims of innocence for those who profit from white supremacy. Racial inequality in education is underpinned by artificial district lines, disparities in school finances, and student tracking that allow whites to accumulate a high-quality K-12 education and access elite colleges and universities.
Rather than set the government’s sights on addressing such inequities, the Supreme Court affirmed diversity as a way to improve learning in predominantly white institutions of higher education. The “diversity” banner worked, allowing colleges and universities to consider those who lose out due to race without having to name the winners.
However, the tug-of-war of race and racism has become increasingly clear in the last 20 years, and has come into sharp focus after the murder of George Floyd during the COVID-19 pandemic. The visibility of anti-racism education has increased as schools, corporations, and other organizations have pledged to counter racial injustice.
In a landscape of deepening racial responsibility, the adoption of terms like “equity” and “inclusion” along with diversity pushes beyond demographic representation or positive workplace and classroom dynamics, forcing us all to ask ourselves: What have people of color been denied than white people? They have received? What would it be like to insist that marginalized communities finally have enough resources and opportunities to thrive? How could power be shared more fairly with the racially excluded in our democracy? What are the obligations of whites as we move toward a more racially just society?
For a moment, Americans seemed ready for a more substantive and outspoken commitment to race that anti-racism education demanded, and that diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives might finally involve. Unfortunately, the moment was short-lived. By December 2021, at least 54 bills had been introduced or adopted at the state level that sought to control how race and American history (as well as sex and gender) could be taught in American schools.
Florida has been a prime example. Last year, Florida passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which prohibits public schools from teaching concepts like white privilege, prohibits diversity and inclusion training required in business, and outlaws instruction that could force students to feeling responsibility, guilt or anguish for benefits incurred on racial grounds. injustices, now and in the past.
Earlier this year, the governor characterized a leaked draft of the College Board’s new AP course in African-American studies as “indoctrination.” It is no coincidence that the criticized draft included critical race theory, black feminism and Black Lives Matter, topics that go beyond demographic representation to raise substantive questions about power and who benefits from it.
The backlash against anti-racism initiatives is a fight to avoid responsibility for the problem of race. Florida’s new law goes beyond criticizing ideas about race to silencing and censoring discourse about racial history to avoid accountability.
Bans on anti-racism education, diversity programs, or any other attempt to honestly address race in the United States work by denying marginalized groups opportunities to seek justice and ensuring that white Americans do not have to face the injustices that are brought against them. have kept in their names
Although Florida’s attack on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is the first, given the enduring appeal of white racial innocence, it certainly won’t be the last.
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