Books that include LGBTQ persons and families have been banned in many school districts across the country. Toni Morrison classics have been pulled from library shelves, so too have other texts written by influential authors of color. Educators have been forced to discard lessons on various diversity, equity, and inclusion topics from the curriculum.
Despite far too little evidence that Critical Race Theory is being taught to schoolchildren, Education Week reports that 44 states have introduced bills since January 2021 that aimed to ban CRT or otherwise suppress teaching about race. Anti-DEI laws have been passed in 18 of those states. Even conservative school districts within progressive states like California have implemented policies to ban books and lessons pertaining to influential LGBTQ Americans, racism, and other dimensions of diversity.
Many states have placed restrictions on the expenditure of public funds on DEI-focused professional development experiences for employees of K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Presidential candidate and Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has banned public spending on DEI initiatives at colleges and universities in his state. Last month, both chambers of the Texas legislature passed a bill that bans DEI offices and programs at public colleges and universities. All these DEI suppression activities are going to have devastating effects on our democracy and American businesses.
It’s important to acknowledge why these politicized attacks are occurring. DEI initiatives in educational institutions have always been met with internal and external resistance. In other words, the backlash we’re seeing at this time isn’t new. But the opposition has been especially and dangerously intense since Barack Obama left the White House. Many Americans erroneously convinced themselves that by electing a Black man to the U.S. presidency, our nation was instantly done with racism. There was the myth of a post-racial America. The Obama Administration did much to affirm DEI. Then entered Trump.
On election night in 2016, CNN political commentator Van Jones emotionally explained that Trump’s victory was a “whitelash against a changing country, a whitelash against a Black president.” During the 2016 campaign, Trump made numerous offensive remarks about Muslims, immigrants, Black Americans, Mexicans, and many other people who make our nation diverse. According to Pew Research Center data, 54% of white voters casted their ballots for Trump – compared to 6% of Black and 28% of Latino voters, respectively. That nearly 63 million Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom were white, voted for Trump to become president was a strong rejection of diversity and inclusion.
Once he assumed office, Trump continued making offensive comments about diverse populations without penalty or apology. In September 2020, he signed an executive order banning DEI trainings in federal workplaces, including our nation’s military. The New York Times reported just a few weeks later that Trump’s Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping had a “quick and chilling effect” on diversity trainings in government agencies. Those effects also extended to public K-12 schools and higher education institutions, as leaders worried that the continuation of DEI efforts would jeopardize their federal funding. Even though Joe Biden reversed Trump’s executive order on his first day in office, efforts to dismantle DEI in schools had already snowballed into a large-scale political movement.
It’s noteworthy that Trump’s ban on DEI trainings was issued less than four months after Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin murdered an unarmed Black man. Uprisings ensued across America and around the world as teenager Darnella Frazier’s video of Chauvin pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds emerged and went viral. That moment forced long-overdue national conversations about systemic racism.
That grappling was suddenly happening among family members at kitchen tables, between neighbors, in places of religious worship, on social media, in workplaces, and in schools. In most contexts, the reckoning lasted less than six weeks. But its endurance in schools persisted. Not everyone was in favor of that. Some parents didn’t want their children being taught the truth about America’s racial past and present because it was inconsistent with lies they’d been taught in their own schooling experiences. Three years later, that continues to be the case.
Another notable explanation for the attacks on DEI is the spread of misinformation via social media. Unsubstantiated claims are made every day about what’s occurring in K-12 classrooms and on college campuses. DEI opponents often post one example of one book or one lesson or one drag queen reading to schoolchildren or one Pride Month celebration occurring in a single school under the exaggerated guise that those things are happening everywhere. They aren’t.
There’s absolutely no evidence, for example, that children are being taught that all white people are racist in any widespread fashion at schools across the country. In social media posts, DEI obstructionists are lifting up M. L. Webb’s book The GayBCs as an example of what’s being taught to kids in schools. There’s no evidence that Webb’s book is on shelves in even 0.005% of classrooms and school libraries. Yet, outrage on social media would have people thinking this text and other LGBTQ-inclusive books are being assigned in just about every school. They aren’t.
While there are dozens of other explanations for the current politicized attacks on DEI in schools, here’s just one more: there’s an actual well-coordinated, intentionally orchestrated, and highly funded political movement that’s succeeding. Lies, misinformation, and exaggeration fuel that movement. White supremacy, systemic racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and Islamophobia undergird the movement. Parents and families are being manipulated by the movement. It is succeeding in largest part because not enough people are fighting to stop it.
Today’s students will become adults. If they’re denied opportunities now to learn about racism and other dimensions of DEI, they’ll enter professions in which they make discriminatory decisions and consequential missteps, unintentionally offend and exclude people, reproduce and exacerbate inequities, and erode the global competitiveness of America’s businesses and military (research makes irrefutably clear that diverse and inclusive organizations are higher performing). Also, conflicts and violence between racial groups will increase because citizens didn’t learn enough about other racial groups or about our nation’s racial history when they were in schools. Democracy will suffer. There’s too much at stake to allow anti-DEI efforts and related misinformation campaigns to continue.
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