The myth of anti-whiteness in the DEI space
Despite having worked in the DEI (Diversity, equality and inclusion) space for the past six years, it was only recently I found out why my understanding of “Diversity” is slightly different to what I read or hear. Diversity and inclusion, to me, are instinctively right, but to others, this is not so. There is a constant backlash against affirmative action – there is the belief that diversity is anti-white.
In my language, Persian, the equivalent word for Diversity (Goonagooni) has connotations of individuals being together and connected. Diversity does not apply to things which are not somehow related or connected. This word emphasises similarity and connectivity more than difference, which is emphasised in English understanding of the word.
Whenever diversity is discussed on social media or even in traditional media outlets, there is invariably a backlash – a deeply rooted suspicion that surrounds initiatives that aim to address equity, such as affirmative action hiring, or even unconscious bias training. That diversity has become an anti-white phenomena. This fear is so prevalent and so very commonplace that it is worth unpacking in some detail.
As a current example to one of the more extreme reactions against diversity and inclusion even being discussed, take the United States Military. Its prestigious Westpoint Military Academy, at the behest of Defence Chief Gen. Lloyd Austin – himself the first black man in charge of the Pentagon – has introduced an element of critical race studies. This course is designed to critically examine social issues such as white supremacy: “critical race theory recognises that systemic racism is part of American society and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish”.
Army General Mark Milley defended the decision to include this element of study in the university course: “A lot of us have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is, but I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read… it is important that we train, and we understand ― and I want to understand white rage. And I’m white, and I want to understand it.”
This move was criticised by Republican Representative Matt Gaetz (FL) as being unnecessarily ‘woke’ and even anti-white – other critics have gone so far as to suggest this introduction, along with other diversity-friendly initiatives such as ending the transgender service member ban and encouraging women into special operations roles are ‘unamerican’.
Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), a retired Green Beret, argued against the inclusion of critical race theory at Westpoint Military Academy, accusing the theory of being based in Marxism and pigeonholes “an entire race of people as oppressor and oppressed”.
Such extreme responses are usually grounded in fear – so let’s talk about who is afraid of diversity and is falling for the anti-white myth, and why?
It’s worth noting first that it is not only in issues of culture or race that this fear emerges – whenever feminism is brought up, there is a presumptive fear from some men that feminism is anti-man. That in granting women equality, something has therefore been taken from men – as though human rights is a finite resource in the world. So, too, do (some) white people rage against anti-racism, thinking somehow that to be anti-racist is to be anti-white. Transphobic rhetoric is also steeped in fear – that in accepting trans men and women as the gender they identify with, that there is a threat to those who are biologically assigned maleness and femaleness at birth. This is never so evident as in the ongoing overinflated concern about trans women competing in professional sports.
Even superficial analysis yields the conclusion that human rights and equality are not finite resources. Granting rights to those who historically have lacked them does not take rights away from those who already have them. White people, specifically men, however, have in Western countries always had power over minorities – and in affording minorities and women rights, this power is lessened.
Power comes from having more money, better access to education, housing and employment and, importantly, a majority presence in government and law enforcement. These powers can be used to grant rights to individuals, or to subjugate them.
When, through affirmative action, these same powers are afforded to non-whites and to women, when the scales of power are at least somewhat balanced, this dominance begins to erode.
Fundamentally, the erosion of this power – the power to subjugate another less dominant group – is what the dominant white culture fears. General Milley refers to ‘white rage’ – for which he was roundly attacked by right-wing news pundit Tucker Carlson.
Carlson has been speaking the language of white supremacy on his daily current affairs program for a long time – in this instance, calling General Milley “not just a pig, he’s stupid” from behind an onscreen graphic that read ‘ANTI-WHITE MANIA’.
The irony of Carlson’s rage at a four star General over his anti-racist stance and use of the term ‘white rage’ was apparently lost on the host himself, but fairly clear to anyone watching.
This rage and fear are expounded on, in the most extreme cases, by white supremacist groups, who often co-opt the language of social justice to make their erroneous points. In doing so, they maintain an illusion of reasonableness – the onus is shifted from being an exclusionary assault on outsiders, to protecting white people. This is a change of focus, however, not a change of message, which remains racist and exclusionary.
The question arises – what exactly are these hate-groups attempting to protect white people from? The fundamental basis for such fears in white supremacist groups is called the Great Replacement theory:
“This belief stems at least in part from fears that minority groups will gradually replace white people, then turn around and attempt to punish them and destroy their culture—a baseless concern currently being amplified by the Great Replacement conspiracy theory and its public promoters”
A particularly toxic example of this behaviour and the manifestation of this theory can be found in the website ‘anti-white watch’ – a site that, in many ways, mirrors social justice sites that report on racist attacks on minority groups. This website purports to be: “dedicated to documenting bias, policies, hate, and violence directed at ethnic-European people worldwide”.
“They try to both minimise the apparent threat from the far right,” Kurt Braddock, an expert on white-supremacist communication and radicalisation strategies at American University, told The Daily Beast, “and to make it seem like the real threat to America is minorities”.
The particular concern in the case of sites such as ‘anti-white watch’ is the appearance of legitimacy – the site may not necessarily be lying when it reports on crimes against white individuals, but in cherry-picking such facts without context as it does, it provides white supremacists a platform from which they may spread misinformation and promote racist agendas.
It is this ‘two-sided whataboutism’ that has gotten in the way of meaningful discourse on diversity and race, particularly in the United States, but also with the ubiquity of social media, in all Western countries. Real, deeply-ingrained issues of justice and race are so easily derailed by spurious claims that white people, men or the cisgendered are, too, being discriminated against. It is this fundamental belief, underpinning all other worldviews, that leads to the belief that diversity and inclusion initiatives are anti-white – after all, if white people are just as discriminated against as other groups, then any attempts to ‘even’ out the playing field disproportionately victimise white people.
This has impacted the DEI space negatively – and as such, we call for a data-driven approach to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. It stands to reason – if people believe the lie of anti-white racism, then it follows that DEI initiatives are part of this vast conspiracy against white people.
Even attempts to ensure mutuality, where the representation of demographics in organisations is commensurate with that within the wider community are seen as being attacks on white people. So, to, with attempts at gender parity – men’s rights activists, who believe feminism is an attack on their rights, will rally against attempts to include women in senior positions or claim there is no gender pay gap.
Thus far, this post has only discussed problems and presented no real solutions. I truly wish I had the solution to all of this, but I can’t say I do. One instinct is to become angry – angry not just at the racism, sexism, trans and homophobia in the world, but at the tenacity with which the intolerant cling to and defend their positions. In doing so, they attempt to defend the systems and structures society has in place that perpetuates inequality. To me, it is indefensible, and anger is a natural response.
The usefulness, however, of this reactionary anger is questionable. In many instances of racism, we see strong responses played out online and in the physical world – people outed and cancelled for their opinions, or even protests going wrong and descending into violence. This is more and more common and these extreme reactions have their own consequences.
I think about the Netflix comedy series The Good Place, in which the character Jason Mendoza explains one of his key philosophies:
“I’m telling you, Molotov cocktails work. Anytime I had a problem and I threw a Molotov cocktail, boom! Right away, I had a different problem.”
It seems that whenever we respond hatefully to hate, when we take the Molotov cocktail approach, it only serves to further polarise society. The very idea that the perpetrators of hate and intolerance are themselves victims gains traction.
If, however, we have data – hard, impartial data – that tells the story of women’s representation in C-suite roles, or male and females in various age groups or distribution of ethnicities, worldviews and languages across a cohort or that very few black people are in similar positions – it becomes much more difficult to present a case for anti-white racism.
Lord Kelvin, the famous physicist well known to all engineers, coined the famous proverb “what gets measured gets done!”.
I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.
I would like to thank Jane Felstead, Peter Mousaferiadis and Michael Walmsey who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted the article, even though they may not agree with all of the interpretations or conclusions therein .