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For Governors Who Ban DEI Initiatives– And the Rest of Yall, Too

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a bill defunding diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at the state’s public colleges, or anything that would “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism."

Under the new law, general education courses "may not distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics" 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."

DeSantis’ stance and ideology reflects a fragility of whiteness that not only dominates our legislation, but that’s also pervasive within organizations and companies who proclaim to want to be part of the solution. History, and our present reality, teaches us time and time again that when White people feel threatened in any way, they will lash out and weaponize their power in a way that harms people of color (see: the 2016 election or January 6, 2021).

Employers allow these same racist and anti-Black belief systems to thrive in their places of work through practices, policies, and procedures that protect the interests of the dominant class at the expense of the people from underrepresented communities. While DeSantis was able to get his agenda passed, his stance is mostly unpopular across the nation, and especially for the communities this change will directly impact. A March 2023 survey from Best Colleges found that only 1 in 4 students support legislative efforts to limit DEI on college campuses. More than half of the students surveyed also supported incorporating discussions on race, gender, and sexuality into coursework at public colleges.

Organizations operate in similar ways when they upend the will of Black and brown employees with practices, or building a culture that does not value or implement their feedback and needs.

The defiance of DeSantis to push forward with a policy like this is reflective of white supremacist values that insist on having power over Black, brown, and Indigenous communities. Organizations take a similar approach when they do things like keeping managers in place that are known to be toxic and harmful to the rest of the team; refusing to implement more flexible workplace accommodations; or shutting down attempts by employees of color to shift the culture towards one that is more inclusive and equitable.

Florida also teaches organizations looking to become more equitable and anti-racist an important lesson on the perils of resisting change. Instead of leaning into the moment and embracing transformation, organizations, like Florida, resist it by doubling down on policies and supporting leaders that overtly do not hold anti-racist values.

Organizations can resist an internal whitelash to their DEI efforts by first interrogating whose interests they are beholden to. Whose voice will you listen to when faced with competing interests between entities like board members or funders? Leaning into the voices and experiences of Black, brown, and Indigenous people is the key to crafting an anti-racist and equitable workspace. Anything less than that reveals where the DeSantis-like ways in your organization is showing.

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