Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dilbert Edward Ignatious, Ruiner of Nations

 A relative recently asked my opinion about a speech going around about race and the church, and sharing my opinion opened a whole discussion about DEI and how, in their opinion, it's one strand of the woke rope that's currently strangling our nation to death. 

I get this a lot, for some reason.

It's not the first time a family event has devolved into a heated discussion of DEI or CRT or whatever letters are scaring people these days. In this case, it's the deep concern about what we used to call reverse racism, but what some people today are calling "the only real racism." It's the kind of fear-mongering that happens when people like Charlie Kirk say that they get scared for their lives when they see a Black pilot on their flight, because of their deeply held racism.

No, wait, sorry, I meant, because of their deeply held fears about the effects of DEI on society. Kirk is scared of Black pilots because of that, not the other thing. Apologies.

Whenever this discussion comes up, I'm usually certain that the person just doesn't know what DEI is. They say we fear what we don't understand, and I suppose it's true that DEI could be scary to those who don't understand it. If you think that DEI is just grabbing a random Black person off the street and being like, "Hey, you wanna fly a Boeing 747? Maybe do some surgery later?" then, yes, that might be frightening. That's why, in these arguments, my response is usually to propose three scenarios that a DEI initiative would actually produce in the real world, and ask the uncle or cousin which ones they would disagree with the most.

Scenario 1:

You become the CEO of a large corporation, one that operates in a very stable and lucrative field, with lots of high-paying, probably STEM jobs. Upon taking over, you realize, if you didn't already, that your corporation has a decades-long practice of discriminating against Black applicants. Very few of the employees are people of color, and none of them in those higher-paying, more prestigious positions. Historically, Black candidates have been refused even an interview, and usually their application process ends when HR reads their name on the resume.

You feel strongly that this racist practice should end under your leadership, but, aside from firing the entire HR department, you don't know what to do. You hire a DEI consultant, who advises retraining for all HR employees, as well as a directive that ten of the twenty new employees that the company hires in those coveted positions this year should be Black or persons of color (with proper qualifications, of course, because we're still running a business here). This would bring the percentage of Black employees up to 2% by the end of the year, which is nowhere near 10%, which is the percentage of Black residents in your city, but a move in the right direction.

By the end of the year, it's become harder than you thought to find qualified Black applicants, at least partly because the word has gotten around about your company's past discrimination, so maybe to get the last two positions filled, you send recruiters to nearby universities to repair that reputation and encourage more people of color to apply.

Any objections? 

Scenario 2:

You've been CEO of the company now for several years, and while hiring Black employees or people of color has never been a problem, getting them to stay with the company long-term is. After noticing this, you ask HR for a report, which reveals that while the overall turnover rate and self-reported satisfaction of your employees is above normal, both of those measures are abysmal when accounting only for minorities. In their exit interviews, many Black employees have reported micro-aggressions (whatever those are, amirite?) and hostility as their reasons for leaving, along with the perceived lack of advancement opportunity. You get personally involved, interviewing some of the departing employees yourself, and get an earful of their complaints firsthand. Furthermore, whatever initiatives you might have set into place for increasing diversity and atoning for the company's prior discriminatory practices.

Again, out of a desire to solve this clear problem with morale and company reputation, you hire a DEI consultant, who runs a company-wide study and training program for all employees. This program seems to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, the idea being that nobody was intentionally trying to alienate or antagonize anyone else, but the changing make-up of the constituency has created the need for more sensitivity in the way we talk to each other and hear each other. Black employees feel more supported, and white employees (hopefully) feel supported as well, knowing how to navigate this new situation.

Any objections?

Scenario 3:

That first initiative is really revealing some discomforting things about the city and state where your company is headquartered. One of the reasons that HR is having a hard time finding enough qualified Black applicants to achieve this directive (again, aside from the fact that a lot of Black folks don't want to work for a company with a known history of discrimination and a ton of negative reviews from former Black employees) is that the high schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods in your area are woefully underfunded. Most students leaving those schools have never seen the inside of a proper science lab, let alone had the opportunity to participate in a robotics team or coding club. The facilities and tools just don't exist for them. The Black students at mostly white schools, on the other hand, enjoy campuses with much better equipment, but don't always get into the advanced classes because of educator bias. This causes a real lack of Black university students seeking STEM degrees, which it turn affects how many Black applicants your company sees.

Once again, you have your assistant arrange a meeting with the DEI consultant, who suggests that you take a portion of the charitable funds already in your company's budget and invest them in updating the labs, equipment, and faculty of the schools in the majority Black neighborhoods in your city. This has the double advantage of helping your company achieve its diversity goals and atone for it's past discrimination, as well as creating some positive media buzz. Heck, the consultant even suggests that some of your current employees visit the schools to oversee the updates and mentor some of the students - while wearing their company polos and followed by a photographer, of course. After all, we are running a business here.

Of course, during the planning meeting, one of your executives complains. He asks the consultant why everything has to be about race, and why only the Black schools are getting the money, and why can't we just divide up the money evenly among all the local schools, and don't all schools matter. Ever the professional, the consultant calmly reminds them that the donations are intended to bring the under-funded schools up to the same level as their peers, and that spreading money around evenly wouldn't solve the problem of inequity in STEM opportunities.

Any objections?

If you're trying this with your uncle or cousin, maybe they're still worried about quotas and hiring unqualified pilots or whatever. Maybe they're still convinced that they lost their job at the factory because of some DEI initiative, and not because they got consistently negative evaluations over the last five years.  In that case, please ask them to consider the following:

In the case of our semi-fictional corporation above, having a quota for hiring Black employees is nothing new. The company is not starting a quota in their hiring; they've always had a quota. To emphasize, for decades, the company has always had a set number of Black employees that it hired, it's just that the number was zero. Or maybe one, so they could have someone around to add some color to the company photo so they don't look egregiously racist. 

In addition, the objection that "we should only be hiring the best applicants" is a great idea, but a little disingenuous. Our fictional company never had that as its hiring practice before, so why start now? The rule for hiring at our fictional firm was never to hire the best applicants, but to hire the best white applicants ... maybe, unless the boss had a nephew who needed a job or a favor owed to some other rich person with a knucklehead for a relative. It seems odd that now that our fictional CEO is interested in correcting the discriminatory hiring practices of the past, suddenly several people want to use merit as the sole measurement for hiring a person.

Furthermore, what does "hiring the best" even mean? I know that there are social and psychological reasons why Charlie Kirk hyperventilates when he sees a Black person in a cockpit, but what does he think is happening when he sees a white man in that seat? Does he really think that pilot is the "Best"? That out of all the pilots and all the airlines in America, that he lucked out and got the "Very Best Pilot" in the world to fly his non-stop from St. Louis to Minneapolis? Or is it enough that the pilot is competent, ready to deal with whatever emergencies might arise during the flight, because he or she has the proper training and is approved by not only the flight school that trained them and the airline that hired them, but also the FAA, which regulates these matters? It seems as if Kirk just assumes the competency of any white person he sees wearing the wings, and only questions the competency of Black pilots. Surely, even your uncle can see how that comes across as a little bit racist.

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