It has been three years since America’s so-called racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The aftermath of the summer of protests in 2020, and the continued wave of social unrest in the face of subsequent police brutality and White vigilante cases, saw companies, institutions and organizations making promises of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
But the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, warned the Black community to “beware of false promises.” In his book, “Message to the Blackman in America,” He writes, “The government only wants to pacify her once slaves with fancy false promises that she knows she cannot fulfill without the loss of friendship and bloodshed among her own people. But there is nothing like a good future in these rosy promises for the so-called Negroes.”
Rise of the chief diversity officer
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions, including chief diversity officers (CDOs), increased by 123 percent after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. According to a November 2022 article by consulting group McKinsey & Co., the rate of new CDO hires in 2021 was nearly triple the rate of hires in the previous 16 months. A little over half of Fortune 500 companies now have a CDO or equivalent role, and 60 percent appointed their first diversity leader since May 2020.
Studies and experts say diverse companies are more likely to see higher profits and revenues with teams making better decisions. Even so, “the 50 most valuable public companies” are still struggling to actually “include” Black employees in executive positions, according to a December 2021 analysis by The Washington Post titled, “The striking race gap in corporate America.”
According to the analysis, only eight percent of C-level executives, that is, “chief” executives in an area of expertise, are Black. At the time the analysis was published, at least eight of the 50 companies listed no Black executives, and 14 declined to share the racial composition of their top executives. Though 32 of the companies had a Black chief diversity officer, the CDO was only included in top leadership at 13 companies.
A February report by LinkedIn found that though the CDO role was the fastest-growing C-level position in 2020 and 2021, hiring trends declined between 2021 and 2022, even while the other nine fastest-growing roles continued to have some measure of growth.
A December 2022 article by Essence magazine analyzed how tech companies are defunding diversity pledges made following the murder of George Floyd and how the promises have “primarily fallen flat,” with many Black and Brown workers being laid off, instead.
Another problem recognized by experts is the short tenure and high turnover rate for CDOs, largely due to companies either hiring people with no experience, just to fill the role, companies not supporting employees in the role or companies underpaying. Researchers with Harvard Business Review (HBR) interviewed over 40 CDOs in 2019 and 2021 and “found that overall, the CDOs we spoke with felt that attempts to combat racial injustice had largely been performative and had not fostered long-term organizational change.”
“CDOs reported that leadership lacked true strategic commitment and accountability, stymying real progress,” reads Harvard Business Review’s analysis. “Without systems to hold leaders accountable, CDOs expressed increased concern that their organizations’ vocal promises for achieving racial justice were failing to drive meaningful change.”
Backtracking in higher education
Another area where promises of diversity, equity and inclusion have failed is in higher education.
Janice Gassam Asare, an expert in DEI, wrote an article published in Forbes magazine titled, “Broken Promises: Why Higher Ed Is Backtracking On Their DEI Commitments,” where she opines how “many institutions are backtracking on their DEI pledges and promises.”
In 2022, Penn State University canceled the construction of the Center for Racial Justice, which caused over 400 faculty to sign a letter to the university voicing their disappointment at another item in the long list of broken promises. Meanwhile, at Princeton University, three DEI staff members have resigned since September 2021 due to the lack of support they received.
According to a “DEI Legislation Tracker” by The Chronicle of Higher Education, updated in June, 37 bills in 21 states have been introduced that would prohibit colleges from having DEI offices or staff, ban mandatory diversity training, prohibit institutions from using diversity statements in hiring and promotion or prohibit colleges from using race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in admissions or employment. Bills in Texas have final legislative approval. Bills in North Dakota, Tennessee and Florida have been signed into law by a governor.
The new Florida law prohibits the state’s public colleges from spending money on DEI programs, and from offering general education courses that “distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, … or is based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”
If the Texas bill is signed into law, the state’s public universities will have to dismantle their DEI offices, programs and training in the next six months.
“Who is creating institutional policies that everyone must adhere to? How are we enforcing and ensuring that equity is baked into the environment? What accountability measures can be put in place to reduce harm and hold individuals accountable for their actions? What specific strategies are in place to assess leadership, administration, faculty, staff and student commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice?” Ms. Asare questioned, in her article.
“It is obviously not enough to say you care about these things if you are consistently making efforts to defund, deconstruct and dismantle DEI efforts,” she concluded.
Symbols without substance
Amid the false promises of diversity, equity and inclusion, Juneteenth was made a federal holiday. The day, commemorates the day (June 19, 1865) when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas were told they were emancipated nearly two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed (January 1, 1863). It has been celebrated by Black communities across the country for years. Since it was made a federal holiday in 2021, it has been steadily commercialized by White companies who preach diversity as a marketing ploy. Black people have criticized companies for their performative Juneteenth marketing.
“Juneteenth is a day of remembrance for the end of enslavement in the U.S. It’s a symbol of freedom, a celebration of a true ‘Independence Day’ and a reckoning of the progress this country still needs when it comes to equality—or at least that’s what it should be. Instead, it feels like the holiday has become a trend that’s been hijacked by pop culture, a profit center for big business or just another day off for workers,” Olumidé Cole, the national director for Cultural Diversity & Inclusion at Power Home Remodeling, wrote in a June 15 article published on TheGrio.com.
“While the intentions behind your Kente cloth-branded products might be good, it feels like more of an exploitation of Black culture and history for the sake of some good PR. But Good intentions are not enough. Authentic action is what creates real impact,” he continues.
He urges companies to prioritize employee experiences over profit, to “educate” rather than “celebrate,” to give back to the community for the right reasons and to look inward and support Black communities 365 days a year.
When it comes to DEI efforts, reparations scholar and economist Sandy Darity commented to The Final Call via a Twitter message, “What would have been truly transformative is if these companies and corporations had put shoulder to the wheel to push Congress to adopt a comprehensive program of reparations for Black American descendants of U.S. slavery.”
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, National Representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, has warned Black people about being bamboozled over symbols with no substance. Rather than being continuously fooled over symbols and false promises, Minister Farrakhan’s teacher, Elijah Muhammad, proposes a different solution for Black people: separate and do for self.
“We want some of this earth and its treasures of raw materials to build us an independent nation as you and other nations have done. We want to live in peace. It is impossible to get along with you in peace while you cannot even get along with each other in peace!” He writes in “Message to the Blackman,” speaking to the White powers of America.
“There is no solution to the problem between the slave-masters and their slaves other than the once slaves are going for self, for they have become a nation in a nation. One or the other must leave the other or suffer death,” he writes.
“It is the will of Allah (God) that the two be separated. Both books, the Bible and Holy Qur’an, prophesy of a separation between the two people. A temporary solution will only increase the trouble of finding a peaceful solution between the two people.”