By Sharonne Navas
When I first heard ?Office of DEI,? I?m going to be honest, I had to ask someone what that meant. Sadly, I realized that something as important as Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity had become yet *another* cup of alphabet soup.
Here?s my problem with ?DEI? as an acronym ? Words. Matter.
We are supposed to be talking about including people who have been historically oppressed, exploited, and excluded in making decisions about things that affect our lives. What a cute acronym for something SO fundamental to justice.
Is diversity about rainbows? Or about not being racist to Black and Brown folks?
The shorthanding of racial and social justice principles into easy-to-digest, catchphrases for corporate, philanthropic, and non-profit institutions has diluted the core messages of our movements, further tokenized people of color, and made it even harder for us to know who to trust.
Let?s start with diversity. Prioritizing diversity assumes Whiteness as the bar with which to measure other people. If your organization is 80% White, it?s not diverse; but at 20% White, it?s so diverse! It centers Whiteness: ?diversity is good for everyone? including and especially White people. It?ll enrich your experiences and produce the best ideas in your workplace ? diversity is about you!
I often hear from managers and directors, ?We have a staff that is 100% white. How do we get more diverse staff or applicants??
The reality is that if you have an office that is 100% white, chances are that your hiring process, your organization culture, and your implicit bias leans toward whiteness. Diversity isn?t a checklist of how many people of color applied to your job. Diversity is how many people of color, LGBTQIA, or differently abled, feel *respected* within your organizational culture during, through, and post hiring process and after the honeymoon is over.
In mainstream conversations about diversity, we leave out justice. Yes, you should want diversity because the staff potluck will have pork dumplings AND pupusas. But really you should want diversity because people of color have been left out of decision-making, are owed power, and have exclusive knowledge on how to best serve people who have been historically underserved.
Google search ?diversity? = so. many. rainbows.
Oh. My. God. Equity. Like a good friend of mine once said, ?Equity has become the Avocado Toast of social justice.? Equity has been so thoroughly co-opted that it?s lost almost all of it?s meaning. There is Racial Equity. Social Equity. I even heard someone talk about Celebration Equity. WHAT IS THAT?!
But plot twist: equity is not easy.
Equity runs exactly counter to power hierarchies: some people get more, and some get less, but in the typically opposite direction. For instance, in our capitalist economic system, a few people have a majority of the resources, while the majority of the people fight between few resources. So when some people get more in this system it typically means Jeff Bezos makes $300,000 per minute instead of his usual $200,000. Equity though, means people who have the least get enough to thrive, and people who have enough don?t get more than their fair share. To use a metaphor, why would a kid who is full get the last sandwich, when a starving child obviously needs it more?
If your business, foundation, or organization says they want equity, then that exclusively means helping folks suffering under systems and histories of power hierarchies. It absolutely does not mean providing universal services.
Now inclusion. Inclusion is most often used to tokenize and is truly the lowest standard of racial justice. It is ?We are going to talk to more than one but less than 5 people of color about this conversation, we are going to bring some food we think they?ll like because of some messed up stereotype, and we are going to ask them what they *really* need to thrive ? BUT we are not going to listen to them, we are going to do what makes us comfortable, and then we will cry that we are not racist when called out.?
Instead why not support people of color that are leading, decision-making, and directing strategies and solutions, support with real monetary resources. Just because there?s one Woman of Color as your program lead, who is micro-managed by her White boss and actually has no decision making power does not mean you are practicing racial justice.
Yes you should hire people of color. But when they leave you ? because they will ? don?t blame them for leaving. Ask yourself if your organizational culture is so emotionally and psychologically violent towards a person of color that the only choice was to leave?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are three distinct principles, that are all gravely misunderstood by many people. Grouping them together in fun acronyms to sprinkle around like ?I?m not racist? candy, is harmful to the actual work of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Just to be clear, I love that people and organizations are actively pursuing diversity, equity, and inclusion, having hard conversations, and shifting power meaningfully. Please use whatever acronyms make your heart happy.
But for the folks who continue to perpetuate racism and gaslight people of color, while profiting off featuring DEI on their website ? seriously ? stop.