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Attacks on Black History and Black Curriculum

In the last year or so, some 40 anti-DEI bills have been introduced across the country targeting higher education institutions.

In the not-too-distant past, Diversity and Inclusion positions were not taken seriously. Corporations, universities and the government used the offices or lone officer to check the box as evidence that they were addressing the issues of racial and gender discrimination. Something intriguing has happened in the last several years: external pressure calling for more accountability and DEI personnel actually striving to hold institutions accountable. The Right now considers DEI or the “woke” movement to be a threat to white domination.

The U.S. has not seen this kind of whitelash against Blackness since Reconstruction. The attacks on Black history and Black curriculum. The attacks on Black bodies. The attacks on Black civil liberties. Attacks, attack, attacks.

Colleges and universities have experienced serious setbacks based upon the Republican agenda. In the last year or so, some 40 anti-DEI bills have been introduced across the country targeting higher education institutions. These racist jackals received a big boost from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn affirmative action.

Last year, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning the use of higher ed funds to go towards diversity. The Wisconsin state legislature used another arm-twisting tactic. It held funding to the University of Wisconsin system hostage until it agreed to cut its DEI programs.

The impact on Black women in academia has made headlines. Claudine Gay’s humiliating fall from grace at Harvard University was jubilantly counted as a victory by conservatives. Add as a casualty the suicide of Dr. Antoinette Candia-Bailey at Lincoln University, an HBCU headed by a white president whose bullying tactics of the vice-president of student affairs put him on administrative leave.

The anti-DEI is permeating all aspects of civil life including philanthropy. A recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy blasted the headline, “Racial Justice Programs Under Fire: Foundations Running Scared When They Should Double Down.” The article is responding to how the Right has twisted the narrative of racial justice to one of dangerous reverse discrimination. The chilling effect is forcing some social justice organizations and agencies to avoid certain language triggers, like ‘Black-led’ or ‘voting rights.’

The various sectors of the Right have consolidated and been given their respective assignments. This was apparent when billionaire investor, William Ackman, led the attack on Claudine Gay.

The brutal murder of George Floyd in 2020 by Minneapolis police rightfully ignited a firestorm of protests across the world. In its traditional reactive response, corporate America expressed its public commitment to DEI. A whole lot of money was thrown around (mostly for advertising and self-promoting) and a plethora of empty promises were made. The term Diversity, Inclusion and Equity became a buzzword as corporate and civic leaders engaged in superficial changes both in their own backyards and in the communities around them. In 2024, the lack of progress in racial equity speaks for itself.

For those of us of African descent, this is way more than a trendy campaign that is being met with repressive hammers. The attacks are not just on a movement for diversity and inclusion, they are attacks on the very existence of Black people in this country.

If we are to be successful in beating back the Right’s aggressive strategy to neutralize blackness, our purpose has to be focused, and our organizing energy must exceed theirs. Our allies must be steadfast and not waver under the bullying tactics that beat back the gains of Reconstruction. Black people understand what the future looks like if we don’t fight like our lives depend on it. We will determine the outcomes of the Third Reconstruction.

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