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Dr. Cherly Gary-Furdge is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Sociology at North Central Texas College
After the death of George Floyd, there was an awakening in the United States about issues centered around racism. African Americans became less tolerant and more emboldened to speak out when they identified racism. Many people from other races became more sensitive and wanted to learn more, so they would not offend people of color. During this time, there seemed to be a coming together like never before.
I remember personally speaking to people who felt they were not racist, but after learning what racism really looked like, called me to say they were sorry and asked for more understanding. The conversations were very refreshing; because there were those who felt that having an African American friend or being nice to African Americans meant they were not racist. Then the confessions came about their racist behavior behind closed doors. The confessions did not offend me. I appreciated their honesty. I finally saw some people ready to do the work to end the racial divide.
DEI and CRT are not the same
Colleges and universities started having hard conversations and implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion trainings. Then the big announcement came. The president issued an Executive Order banning DEI trainings in government agencies and non-profits, stating it combatted offensive and Anti-American race and sex stereotyping. As a person who was assisting with the training at the institution where I was working, I was totally confused. Suddenly, I began to hear the term Critical Race Theory and politicians were using Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion terminology to explain it. After some research, I quickly realized that DEI and CRT were not the same.
What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)?
To understand the meaning of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, you must define the terms individually. McKinsey & Company defines them as:
Diversity is defined as having a presence and representation of people who are different. This includes but is not limited to race, gender, disability religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, age, languages, and nationalities.
Equity, which is often confused with equality, is defined as the act of implementing processes that are just and fair across the various groups of people.
Inclusion is the state in which all groups feel included because they are recognized and receiving beneficial access to programs, systems and power and are not be discouraged due to their personal characteristics. As these three definitions are combined, one can see evidence that DEI is needed.
America is a very diverse country. That said, institutions, corporations, and systems need to have something in place to support people from different backgrounds. For example, if colleges and universities do not implement DEI training, imagine the impact this will have on our students.
I remember a coworker was in my office working on a project with me. We were trying to think of a word and I suddenly said, “Oh my gosh, I am having a blonde moment.” There are stereotypical phrases associated with blondes such as, “blondes have more fun” and “blondes are dumb.” When I made that statement, my co-worker said, “please don’t let my wife hear you say that. She would be so offended.” My heart was crushed but I took that as a teachable moment. I didn’t come back with, “it’s just a joke” or “is she that sensitive? There was an immediate apology. And to this day, I have never said that again. It had never crossed my mind that using the phrase, “a blonde moment” during a time of forgetfulness was offensive. Why would I say that anyway? My hair is black.
DEI training encompasses learning about others, so we don’t commit microaggressions or things that are insensitive about people who are different from us. It has nothing to do with being divisive, but everything to do with learning how to not hurt people.
What is the Critical Race Theory (CRT)?
After gaining knowledge about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I began my quest to understand the Critical Race Theory. I remember watching the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Judge Brown was questioned by one of the senators about the Critical Race Theory. The senator asked her if she “believed that the Critical Race Theory was taught in K-12 schools.” Judge Brown responded by saying, “she didn’t,” and continued to say that “Critical Race Theory is an academic theory studied at the law school level that examines how race interacts with various institutions.” She further explained, “Critical Race Theory examines policies to ensure discrimination was not embedded.” For example, a school that would prohibit someone attending because of the color of their skin. The senator then shared all the books that were taught at a specific school. The books he mentioned were related to how not be racist. The school was a private school, and the parents were fine with their children learning this information.
What confused me was that teaching a child to not be racist has nothing to do with the Critical Race Theory. According to the Legal Defense Fund, “Critical Race Theory, or CRT is an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of society―from education and housing to employment and healthcare. Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice. It is embedded in laws, policies, and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities.” When comparing this definition with the definition of DEI, what is the underlining cause of the confusion?
Why DEI and CRT should not be confused
It is vital to have an understanding of DEI and CRT to ensure they are not confused. For educational purposes, with the exception of law school and those responsible for overseeing policies, there is no reason to think about CRT. However, if we want to understand how to work with people from different backgrounds, ensure employees represent the population you serve, and diminish microaggression in the workplace, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training is imperative and should be welcomed. The impact of not having DEI training can lead to having a bad reputation or serious lawsuits.
Previously, I wrote a blog about things I experienced in the workplace due to my race. Because I decided that I love my job and I didn’t want to go to work every day feeling uncomfortable, I started filing reports immediately. I must say, because of the quick response, I don’t experience microaggressions anymore. Imagine the number of people who do and come to work daily hurt.
One day while strolling through Facebook, I stumbled on a post where a mom was reaching out to some parents because she wanted to talk to them about something their daughters did at a local elementary school. Her son, who was Black, was attending the afterschool program. They were getting ready for storytime. The daughters, who were white, told her son that “he could not be a part of storytime because Black people should not have books and need to go back to being slaves.” Imagine this, the girls were six and seven. Neither CRT nor DEI are bad. Not ensuring employees are trained in DEI could cause similar incidents to what I experienced and what that little boy experienced to happen in the workplace.
DEI and CRT: Things to think about
Having hard conversations will make some people uncomfortable, but doing so is highly likely to produce change. Understanding history and different cultures is necessary in an effort for history to not repeat itself.
I watched a clip of a school board meeting related to a school in Texas. The parent who didn’t understand CRT told the board that “Black people were given Black History month…what more do they want?” Clearly, she didn’t understand that the goal is equity not just equality. Isn’t Black History part of America’s History? DEI is about educating people. CRT ensures systemic racism is not embedded in policies. Could it be that those who really understand DEI don’t want it taught because it really sheds light on history?
I will end with this. I watched an interview with Tom Hanks. He shared that he had “never heard of Black Wall Street until a few years ago.” He asked, “Why wasn’t I taught this in school?” There is no way to live in America and not interact with people who are different from you. Embrace the knowledge, have the hard conversations, not just for you, but also for those who will come behind you.
Today, many higher ed leaders are focusing on DEI and DEI&B initiatives in their academic communities. To learn the diverse viewpoints of faculty, administrators and students, and get actionable steps to break down systemic barriers at your institution, join us for our Empowered Educator webinar: Creating DEI&B Magic Through Real Intention on April 19, 2 p.m. ET.