Problems with DEI

This post is part of a series of posts on Questioning DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Please see the link for an introduction, a disclaimer, and a list of the initial posts in this series.

One problem with DEI is that it categorizes people into groups. This is evident from the definition of diversity with its emphasis on race, ethnicity, gender, etc. (See What is DEI?) I believe that government should treat people as individuals as much as possible. In slavery, government categorized people into groups with one group being enslaved by another group. In the Jim Crow era, government categorized people into groups and enforced racial segregation. DEI repeats this fundamental error of emphasizing group identity.

The purpose of group identity in DEI is to categorize people as oppressed or oppressor. This is evident from the references to “systemic oppression” in the definition of equity and “power differences” in the definition of inclusion. (See What is DEI?)

Categorizing people as oppressed or oppressor is problematic because we all have in us a bit of the oppressor and a bit of the oppressed. Neither is desirable. Each of us should strive to minimize both aspects in our individual personas, as well as in society.

Categorizing people as oppressed or oppressor is especially problematic when it is based on immutable characteristics such as race and not on individual behavior. There is not enough room in the concept of DEI for personal agency.

Another problem with DEI is that it is about equality of outcomes. This is evident from the graphic about equality vs. equity from the National League of Cities. (See What is DEI?) “Equity” as used in the DEI movement means equality of outcomes.

“Antiracism” is a term that refers to similar themes as DEI. Ibram X. Kendi, author of the 2019 book How to Be an Antiracist, proposes an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to enforce equality of outcomes (source).

I don’t believe in equality of outcomes. I believe in equality of opportunity and equality before the law, neither of which will result in equality of outcomes. Some people will be more successful than others. Some people will stay out of jail while others will not. Personal agency is important in life, and it is largely lacking from DEI.

Another problem with DEI is that it has effectively become a religion. I don’t mean this in the sense of a religious denomination, or that it is concerned with the afterlife, or that it proposes a deity or deities to worship (although the letters DEI remind one of the Latin root of deity). I mean this in the sense of a broad social movement that feels like a religious movement. A close analogy is the Second Great Awakening in U.S. history from roughly 1790 to 1840. Others have also made this point, as I discussed in an earlier post: Great Awakenings.

“Woke” is a term that refers to similar themes as DEI and antiracism. John McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at Columbia University, says that the DEI movement is not like a religion, it is a religion. Dr. McWhorter is a New York Times columnist. He is black. Last month he published Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. Zaid Jilani reviewed this book in the New York Times on 10/26/2021: John McWhorter Argues That Antiracism Has Become a Religion of the Left.

An aspect of DEI that is especially problematic is that it leads to orthodoxy that does not tolerate dissent. DEI claims that it “fosters a diversity of thought, ideas, perspectives, and values” (see What is DEI?), but this is often not true. DEI leads to call-out culture and cancel culture. (The links are about two diverse black women.) As in a religion, heterodox thinkers and heretics are excommunicated. People lose their jobs. This aspect of DEI is particularly troubling if we allow DEI dogma to infuse government.

Finally, I question if DEI works. DEI may, in fact, be counterproductive to the goal of living together more cooperatively. Instead of bringing us together, DEI may be driving us apart.

See this podcast by Jane Coaston at the New York Times on 8/11/2021: Are Workplace Diversity Programs Doing More Harm Than Good?

Employers everywhere are deploying D.E.I. programs to be less racist. But do they even work?

There is a transcript at the link.

This podcast is noteworthy for asking those questions. It is noteworthy because of who Jane Coaston is. I am an old, white, straight man who lives in rural America far from the centers of power. She is in many ways my opposite: a young, black, queer person who lives in urban America near the centers of power. She lives in Washington, D.C., and hosts a major podcast (The Argument) for the New York Times.

Jane Coaston and I do have a few things in common according to this article in the Washington Post on 4/12/2021: D.C.’s rising libertarian star, with her ‘healthy skepticism of state power,’ secures an influential podcast. We are both happily married. We both tend libertarian. We are both inclined to think about people, including ourselves, primarily as individuals rather than according to their group identities. And we both question if DEI works. In her podcast, Ms. Coaston concludes: maybe, maybe not. I conclude: not.

There are profound problems with DEI. Is there a better way? Yes! See the next post: Alternative to DEI.

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1 Response to Problems with DEI

  1. Larry Wyckoff Wyckoff says:

    I too believe in “equity of Opportunity”, but not “Equity of Outcome”… Never thought of DEI as a religion, But, as I ponder the subject it is definitely becoming a “drink the Koo-aid” moment…


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