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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Why we need diversity programs

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Attempts to erase Black identity and history predate colonization and slavery, but recently, some ideologues and elected officials have doubled down on attempts to tout the “good old days.” New standards in Florida will now teach students the “benefits” of slavery. The Supreme Court made the dangerous decision to eliminate affirmative action in higher education for people of color, which I wrote about in my last column. New book bans have also spread, like the East Hamilton County Public Library removing a variety of books from its Young Adult section. Experts have demonstrated these kinds of actions result in two-fold damage – to diminish the self-worth of minorities and to embolden racists.

Now Republicans have launched new attacks in Washington and Indiana – this time against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, or DEI.

Last month, my colleagues across the aisle in Washington brazenly voted to dismantle diversity efforts across several federal agencies, agencies that are still working to repair the damage of generations of systemic exclusion and segregation. They did this through divisive amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass defense bill that typically has bipartisan consensus. Their arguments misrepresent DEI programs and ignore their benefits as well as our country’s legacy of government-sponsored discrimination.

Their amendments would remove DEI programs in the military under the farce of “anti-wokeness,” plus they would reverse earlier legislation enacted to remove confederate traitors’ names from all U.S. military facilities. Ironically, the Department of Defense was one of the first departments to end segregation as America fought World War II to win the battle over tyranny and Nazism. Today, our armed forces are the most diverse and strongest in the world. But complaints of discrimination in training, assignments and promotions persist.

Let’s be clear: racism and discrimination exist in the military. We do a disservice to servicemembers by ending effective efforts to address discrimination. With an all-volunteer force, it is critical for our military to be able to attract, retain and train a wide variety of individuals from every background in America. Today, 41% of the military identify as members of minority groups, and that number will grow. Diversity makes us stronger in principle and in practice, and DEI programs in the military are about strengthening an institution to benefit everyone. My colleagues are forcing their own “anti-woke” political agenda on matters that should be about what’s in the best interest for our country.

Building more diverse, equitable and inclusive institutions requires deliberate, systemic changes to end disparities in wealth, poverty, education, healthcare and more – issues that will not be solved overnight. But it’s not just about individuals succeeding. DEI helps organizations and corporations become more successful, too. DEI programs don’t exist to give one group an advantage over another – they exist to open up access to opportunities amidst circumstances that are inherently unfair. When Black applicants enter the workforce, they’ve already faced discrimination in entrance to universities and inside college classrooms. Black applicants are not hired or promoted at the same rates as their white colleagues — while Black Americans account for about 12% of the population, they only occupy 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large companies and just 0.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. Even with the same levels of education and experience, Black Americans aren’t treated fairly.

Extremist ideologues are taking to the House floor in Washington to criticize DEI efforts, but it’s also happening here at home. A Republican gubernatorial candidate has called for an end to Indiana’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity – even though the office was founded by current Republican Governor Eric Holcomb. This office’s Equity Data Portal looks at data related to health, public safety, social services, education and the workforce. As we learned during the COVID pandemic, when so many disparities were laid bare, these are some of our state’s most important issues and where we face the most challenges. Removing data needed for analysis could be catastrophic to our state’s future. The flawed rationale for killing such programs is hyper-partisan, ignorant, misinformed and dangerous.

Every American should be concerned about the calculated efforts to turn back the clock and dismantle the limited progress we’ve made so far. With so many issues at stake for our community, it’s hard to know what to focus on first. I stand firmly against book bans, sanitizing classrooms of any critical thinking, and efforts to erase our history. I also implore Americans to not ignore these dangerous attacks on DEI and the very ideals we stand for.

We need to sustain DEI before it’s too late.

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