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4 Ways Anti-Blackness Shows Up In DEI


The diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) space is supposed to be a place where practitioners, consultants, educators and other change agents unite around the common goal of eradicating the inequities that persist within society. While many enter the space with good intentions, we all engage in anti-blackness, oftentimes without realizing it. Anti-blackness is defined as “beliefs, attitudes, actions, practices, and behaviors of individuals and institutions that devalue, minimize, and marginalize the full participation of Black people.” Addressing the white dominant culture that allows oppression to persist will require us to recognize the myriad ways that we contribute to anti-blackness. Not enough conversation centers around how those of us hired to help eliminate workplace inequities are instrumental in perpetuating harm. This article highlights four ways that anti-blackness shows up in the DEI space.

1. Expertise. As of late, there have been increased discussions about how the majority of chief diversity officers (CDOs) in the United States are white. According to data from Zippia.com, 81% of CDOs in the U.S. in 2019 were white, compared to only 3% that were Black. When analyzing the racial and ethnic breakdown, Black people make up the smallest percentage of CDOs in the U.S. These disparities could be partially explained by the fact that Black people are less likely to be seen as experts, even when it comes to an area like diversity, equity, and inclusion. Disparities in our perceptions of expertise can be linked back to systemic barriers. Pew Research Center indicates that there are gaps in accessibility to information. Because of this, there are racial disparities in educational attainment, with Blacks and Hispanics less likely to hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree compared to their white counterparts. Aspiring CDOs who, on paper, lack the “educational qualifications” (whatever those are) to be considered for a CDO position may be less likely to be hired. Many of the people hired into corporations to lead DEI efforts are not Black. The phrase “nothing about us without us” is important to consider. Black professionals experience some of the most severe forms of marginalization and harm in the workplace. Why, then, are they the least likely to be hired into CDO roles where they would have a hand in changing workplace structures? These disparate figures could be attributed to our unconscious biases about Black people. Our inherent anti-blackness and the snap judgements we make about the perceived lack of knowledge, skills and expertise that Black people hold means that Black people are not even seen as experts of their own oppression. A 2023 McKinsey report examined “factors that contributed to significant, quantifiable, scalable, and sustainable DEI impact.” While the report included several different perspectives, Black authors were notably missing from the report. Black practitioners should never be excluded from the DEI conversation. DEI efforts will be ineffective if there is no focus on anti-racism and anti-blackness. Interrogate how CDOs and those leading your workplace’s DEI efforts are “vetted” and assess whether impossible and unrealistic expectations are being used to filter out Black candidates. Rethink what it takes to do DEI work and reconsider what your organization specifically needs to remedy issues of inequity.

2. Pay inequity. The same issues with pay equity that are seen within the modern workplace are replicated in the DEI space. Black speakers in general aren’t paid the same as their counterparts. Years ago, New York Times best-selling author Luvvie Ajayi discussed speaker pay disparities after discovering a white male counterpart was offered payment to speak at a conference that told her that there was no budget for speakers. In the DEI space, Black practitioners are frequently underpaid compared to their counterparts. Many corporations and institutions are unwilling to pay Black DEI practitioners their desired rates. Workplace equity consultant Natasha Bowman shared a recent experience with this. “I had someone reach out to me about conducting a keynote. I sent over my rate sheet. They actually didn’t want to pay me at all, rather they wanted me to pay to speak!” Pro-bono work is often expected from Black DEI practitioners. Creative executive and speaker Walter T. Geer III and DEI consultant Lisa Hurley have highlighted this disturbing trend of companies wanting and expecting free Black labor, along with the insistence that payments in exposure will suffice. Black DEI practitioners are often more likely to experience nickel-and-diming. When reflecting on this, equity strategist Tara Jaye Frank shared, “I’d spent considerable time with this potential client—talking about their challenges and the possible paths forward. We’d gone through multiple proposal iterations together. Ultimately, they wanted more [experience, time, energy] for less money.” It’s not just about bringing in Black practitioners to help with DEI efforts; practitioner pay should be tracked and monitored to ensure equity.

3. Deprioritizing Black issues. It seems there is growing fatigue among workplaces when it comes to what has been deemed as “Black issues.” Because it seems like anti-blackness dominated much of the public conversation following the murder of George Floyd, many companies are stepping back from a Black-centric focus, with some claiming that there has been “too much” focus on Black employees. No workplace will be able to remedy structures that perpetuate bias, racism, inequities and oppression if the most marginalized communities are not prioritized. Reverting back to a white-centered lens and encouraging DEI practitioners to divest from “Black issues” is highly problematic. There is a pervasive narrative that DEI trainings are ineffective. But what many fail to consider is how the presence of these trainings and the education offered by facilitators can make Black employees feel. There is a lack of attention put on how DEI interventions are impacting the most oppressed and marginalized employees, with many corporations defunding DEI. Rather than prioritizing racial equity and justice, a rebranding has taken place, with race-related issues falling under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility. Focusing on issues that affect Black employees only during affinity and heritage celebrations (e.g., Black History Month and Juneteenth) will not remedy the anti-blackness that persists in your workplace. Consider about how you are prioritizing Black experiences outside of cultural celebrations. Think about what policies, practices and programs are in place to specifically address anti-blackness and additional methods that could be implemented including continued education, accountability measures, and targeted advancement programs.

4. Aggregating all non-white employees. A common mistake that workplaces make is lumping all non-white employee data together. Non-white people, or people of the global majority (POGM) if we want to be accurate, consist of a multitude of communities. When workplace interventions are being designed, specificity is required to increase the effectiveness of the interventions. Assuming that the experiences of all POGM are the same erases and invalidates the unique challenges faced by different groups, and more specifically by the Black community. Even within the Black community, there is no monolithic experience. When introducing programs aimed at creating an anti-racist workplace, employees that experience the most workplace harm should be centered. Although POGM have similar and interconnected experiences, we must recognize that because of the unique histories of oppression, each community faces distinct challenges. Designing interventions with precision that are aimed at rectifying issues of inequity requires specificity and as much nuance as possible. What workplace trends are you noticing from different racial and ethnic groups? Intersectional data is imperative. Be intentional about disaggregating the data and assessing as much intersectional information as possible. Again, Blackness is not a monolith and holding multiple marginalized identities in addition to being Black can cause variations in experience. When disaggregating the data, assess how a multitude of issues may be impacting your Black employee population including but not limited to misogynoir, colorism, and internalized oppression. Ensure that your entire employee population is educated on these issues and are provided with the tools necessary to intervene when they arise.



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