If the average American were to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training through its discussion in the political arena alone, suspicion of it should be expected, and hostility toward it would be understandable. Duh. That applies to just about everything these days.
On July 21st, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Jacksonville, Florida to object to that state’s newly approved standards for how black history is taught. The new instruction will teach “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
The objection to the “benefit” of slavery in the standard led to Gov. Ron DeSantis initially claiming it was the Florida Department of Education who wrote it, not him. But that only lasted for a moment before he realized there was an opportunity for a fight here. DeSantis quickly pivoted to defend the controversial language and attack anyone who didn’t like it.
That predictable, and disgusting position got more complicated when high-profile Black Republican elected officials sided with Harris. Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, the state’s only black member of congress, objected first, followed by other Black members of the House, Rep. John James of Michigan and Rep. Wesley Hunt of Texas. Even presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, joined the objectors.
Again, duh. The language in the Florida standards is racist. Plain and simple. It is so clearly racist it is silly to even debate it. Delete it. Apologize for it. Learn from it. Move on.
The Florida DOE could use some training in DEI.
Introduction to DEI
Acronyms are easy to villainize in our post-fact culture. It’s easy to hate DEI when the first, primary and constant things one hears about it are that it is bad, that it is a ploy to take something away from someone, that it is a conspiracy to harm.
Just as most Americans didn’t know what social distancing or coronaviruses were before 2020, that was also the year that DEI entered our mainstream vernacular. In the wake of racial justice riots following the killing of George Floyd, organizations of all kinds began investing time, energy and resources into understanding each other better. Excellent. There can’t be a downside to that, can there be?
Let me save some time and just answer that question bluntly. No. There is no downside. There is no loss to anyone. There is no harm.
So, what is DEI training? It is an organized educational program that aims to promote awareness and understanding of how people with different backgrounds, cultures, ages, races, genders, sexuality, religions, physical conditions, and beliefs can best work together harmoniously.
I am a communication professor and consultant. It is impossible to train a student to communicate effectively, just as it is to serve a client well without a focus on the audience. When delivering messages today, the most obvious error is people focus on what they want to say instead of what they want their audience to hear. There is a profound difference. Words and tone matter. Appearance and posture matter. All kinds of things matter differently to an audience based on who they are, and considering who the audience is when communicating can only help.
Likewise, if one wants to be a better listener, reader or recipient of messages, that same training will also help.
The potential benefit of DEI
What doesn’t DEI training do? It doesn’t create inequities, unfairness, quotas or my favorite horror story, it doesn’t make anyone weak.
The U.S. House recently passed language banning DEI initiatives from the military. Speaker Kevin McCarthy said of the measure, “A military cannot defend themselves if you train them in woke.” Really, Kev? If the U.S. military, which is similarly diverse as its citizenry learns to communicate better with each other, it will somehow be less strong, less capable, and less able to defend itself? Even the Florida DOE would have to strain to come up with a curriculum that dumb.
Every student in my graduate school cohort would agree that the most valuable part of our training was the series of seminars we received on DEI. All twenty of my classmates learned invaluable lessons on how to connect with people better, and most of us were already professional communicators.
Those expressing hostility toward DEI programs are almost uniformly expressing hostility to “the other.” And in this context, the other is usually defined by race. Yes, the hostility is racist.
There is nothing being taken from anyone when training them to understand each other better. There is nothing meaningful being risked. Committing to do it is not even provocative. It’s obvious.
It is such a no-brainer we should find a way to convert the acronym from DEI to DUH.