Skip to main content

Do diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts focus “too much” on Black people? This question, or an iteration of it, has been asked ad nauseam on LinkedIn as of late.

Is there too much of an emphasis on Black employees specifically? This inquiry deserves further analysis.

 

DEI as a field/industry saw a sharp rise in interest following the murder of George Floyd. CNBC reported in January of 2020 that demand for diversity and inclusion professionals was expected to rise. Prior to 2020, the #MeToo movement had led to more discussions about gender equity and the ways that misuse of power manifests.

Then came the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd; the focus became racism, anti-blackness and the specific harms that the Black community has faced. Within the last two years, we’ve seen companies pledge millions and billions of dollars to combat racial injustice and systemic racism.

Despite the exorbitant donations that have been doled out by corporations, Black employees and other racially marginalized employees continue to experience exclusion, harm and trauma at the hands of organizations and institutions.

DEI has evolved and morphed a lot over the past decades. An interest in diversity education grew in the 1960s following the civil rights movement. The movement started as a way to advocate for justice and equality for African Americans.

In 1964, the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone who belonged to a protected class. Many organizations adopted diversity education as a way to avoid litigation.

Over the years, when you look at what diversity education has focused on, there hasn’t ever really been a specific and explicit focus on Black employees and their unique experiences until George Floyd.

Prior to George Floyd, Black people were viewed as part of the subgroup of people of color. Some argue that DEI efforts that focus on Black people do not take into consideration other communities that experience marginalization. But when you peel back the layers and examine every marginalized community, those who are Black or have Black proximity within those marginalized communities experience the most severe forms of subjugation.

Within every culture and society in the world, Blackness, Black-adjacency, or Black proximity leads to adverse outcomes. Indigenous Australians (formerly called Aboriginal) experience some of the harshest forms of racism and discrimination in Australia. Indigenous Australians are darker skinned and have a phenotype that is closer to African.

An article published earlier this year found that disabled Indigenous Australians experience racial-ableism on a systemic level. Similar outcomes were found for Latin Americans. A majority of U.S. Latinos feel like skin color impacts life experiences, indicates a 2021 Pew Research Center report. Outside of the U.S., a wealth of evidence suggests that Afro-Latinx and darker-skinned Latinx people in Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Latin America, experience systemic bias within their families, schools, communities and professional lives.

In India, the caste system is a 3000-year-old social hierarchy that is still used in parts of the country today. Within this stratification system, there are four main categories which signify a person’s social class. There is a fifth caste, which was labeled as “the untouchables,” because “their occupations and ways of life typically brought them in contact with such impurities.”

Although India outlawed caste discrimination, remnants of it still remain today and those in the “higher castes” often experience more privilege. Although skin color is not always indicative of a person’s specific level within the caste system, research indicates that specific patterns were found when examining skin pigmentation and caste; those with lighter skin tones tended to be in upper castes and those with darker skin tones in lower castes. Some have pointed to caste bias as the reason why there is disdain for darker skin tones in India.

Outside of India, in many other East Asian countries, darker skin is associated with “working in the field and…rural poverty,” wrote Ana Salvá in a 2019 article for The Diplomat. In many Asian and African countries, skin-bleaching and whitening creams are extremely popular. Afro-Palestinians also face harsher discrimination due to their nationality and race.

Nisreen Salem discussed the discrimination she experienced as an Afro-Palestinian from Egypt in an interview earlier this year. Salem shares that she was mocked because of her hair and skin color. Within any marginalized community you can name, individuals that are Black or have Black proximity experience the most severe forms of harm. Black transgender and gender non-conforming folks experience some of the highest levels of discrimination within the LGBTQIA+ community.

If you examine life outcomes for mothers, Black women in the United States have higher maternal mortality rates than their counterparts. Even when studying the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, African Americans had some of the worst outcomes compared to their Asian, Indigenous, Latino, Pacific Islander and white counterparts in the U.S.

As this article highlights, Black people globally experience the most severe forms of oppression. Any DEI interventions that are created must be designed with the most vulnerable community in mind. DEI practitioners should think about adopting the triage method that Amira Barger discussed in a recent article. Within healthcare and medicine, the triage method focuses on providing aid to the patients with the most severe injuries first.

When have DEI efforts ever focused exclusively on Black people? When DEI strategies are developed, they should be designed with the most harmed employees in mind. Developing interventions, for example, aimed at attracting and retaining Black employees, will benefit all employees.

Focusing on the most marginalized community does not mean focus and attention is being “taken away” from other marginalized communities. The supposition that DEI efforts are focused “too much” on Black people neglects the fact that Black people exist within every marginalized community.

Within these communities, whether it is the disabled community, the LGBTQIA+ community, the neurodivergent community, and so many others, Black people experience the most harm.

DEI efforts must focus on interventions that are justice-oriented and liberatory for the most harmed and oppressed employees; interventions that are designed with these goals in mind will benefit every single employee directly and indirectly.

DEI is not a zero-sum game. A win for the most oppressed community benefits all other oppressed groups because all of our oppressions are interconnected.

This article was originally published in Forbes in September 2022.

Leave a Reply