Skip to content

Civil rights groups fight back against ‘anti-DEI’


‘A slap in the face’

An unofficial coalition of civil rights, political and advocacy groups are launching a multifaceted counter to the growing cries to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion efforts stoked by billionaires like Elon Musk and Bill Ackman, among others.

The quests to abolish DEI “are a literal slap in our face,” said Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League. “We’re up against an effort to contort and misrepresent what DEI really means.” 

Morial said Black organization leaders like himself began contacting one another in recent weeks, as the attacks on DEI began to gain momentum. Out of those communications came a commitment to create or increase existing efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion. Their goal is concrete, and based on what Morial calls “fairness”: to assure Black people receive equal opportunities — not less — in the workforce.

Musk and Ackman have been outspoken in their opposition to DEI. Last month, Musk called DEI “another word for racism.” He and Mark Cuban have engaged in a spat on Musk’s X platform, with Musk calling the former Dallas Mavericks owner a racist for supporting diversity and inclusion in businesses. 

Last month, Ackman said Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech proves that the civil rights icon would have opposed DEI. Ackman also led the charge to push Claudine Gay, the first Black president of Harvard, out after what he and others deemed a lacking response to antisemitism on campus, as well as an uproar over allegations of plagiarism in Gay’s academic work. After stepping down from her position, Gay wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times that she continues to stand by her research.

Morial counters that Black people have received fair opportunities because of legislation like the Civil Rights Act and equal employment opportunity programs created to balance the workforce. “That opportunity might get you in the door, but it can’t sit for the test,” Morial said.  “‘It’ can’t do the homework. ‘It’ can’t sit for the bar exam or the medical board. You have to do that, and Black people have succeeded in doing the work when given the chance. When you attack DEI, you are literally slapping us in the face. You’re literally saying that we don’t deserve an opportunity.”

The CBC took the first step in this multi-pronged approach in December when its members sent a letter to each of the Fortune 500 companies querying them about their commitments to DEI. The letter asks the companies that pledged commitments to support diversity, equity and inclusion during the social justice movement of 2020 after George Floyd’s murder to share data on their progress.

Ken L. Harris, president of the National Business League, a not-for-profit trade association for Black-owned businesses and professionals, said the anti-DEI movement has, in essence, always existed. 

These shifts have made the work of these advocacy groups, like the National Black Chamber of Commerce, even more crucial, said its president, Charles H. DeBow III.  

“It’s one thing to throw rocks at a fortress,” DeBow said. Anti-DEI agents “are dropping bombs. And now the reality is Black businesses are getting killed. And so we’ve got to lift them up. So we’re focused on developing a whole new generation of entrepreneurs that are sustainable in their communities.”