Say What You Mean

The danger of equating DEI with Black

Following the events of 2020, the corporate world vowed to make significant strides in prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, leading to a surge in discussions around more equitable workplaces. Unfortunately, these conversations have shifted in recent months, with many state legislatures, colleges, and, yes, those corporate organizations now scaling back their newly formed DEI programs. Not surprisingly this has ushered in a new concerning trend – the interchangeability of “DEI” with “Black.”

We saw this most recently when Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott came under fire following a tragic bridge incident last month, with one X (Twitter) user referring to him as “Baltimore’s DEI mayor” – a wildly inaccurate statement. While he and his comms team did a brilliant job of flipping it on its head in an interview he did with Joy Reid, I’m left wondering why it was necessary in the first place.  

Calling out individuals who use terms like DEI, woke, and critical race theory (CRT) as thinly veiled dog whistles for "Black" is crucial for so many reasons. By associating these terms with Blackness, people aren’t just perpetuating negative stereotypes, they're also diminishing the significance of social awareness and activism. Over time, this playbook tactic undermines the efforts of folks advocating for racial justice and, instead, contributes to a culture of intolerance and discrimination. By allowing this narrative to go unchecked, we risk normalizing racist language and ideologies. 

Language plays a powerful role in shaping perceptions and attitudes – it’s our bread and butter. But when these progressive terms are used to covertly express racist sentiments, as communicators, we have to confront them head-on. We can help promote a culture of accountability and allyship by addressing them in real-time and educating others about their harmful implications. Reclaiming the narrative around initiatives like DEI and CRT, and reframing them within their proper context, encourages more inclusive discussion that promotes understanding and celebrates diversity.

This conversation reminds me of the complications some people have with using the term “BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous, and people of color). While the catch-all isn’t inherently bad, we all know that in some contexts it can water down the actual meaning or take focus away from specific groups within the acronym. It may be our job to be concise in our writing, but I think this trend has made it clear how important it is to say “Black” when that’s what we mean and reserve acronyms for their intended purpose. 

The Takeaway

I love my people’s ability to turn any dark, painful subject into something to smile about but the reality is no laughing matter. As communicators, we have to nip this narrative in the bud by adopting a more nuanced approach to how we all speak about DEI and similiar solutions. 

Find opportunities to challenge this trend of substituting meaningful initiatives for underhand microaggressions. Let’s celebrate how these initiatives have changed our way of living for the better and continue to call out anyone who tries to minimize their value. Respectfully. 

As always, I want to thank you for reading and sharing Create for Change! The next issue drops on April 11, so help spread the word.