I almost feel silly writing this piece because I have written some version of it so many times. I wrote Diversity is a Dangerous Set-Up and the Rules of the Diversity and Inclusion Racket. I also wrote long ago about the problems with the broader impacts criterion leading to students of color being treated like diversity props and minoritized scholars shouldn’t be forced to serve diversity.
I wrote, “The diversity racket is this: thinking that this is an intellectual exercise in being magnanimous, not a matter of survival.” I even wrote a whole chapter in my book about unwaged academic housework.
So I am tired and feel a bit silly but mostly furious because it is both ridiculous and deeply outrageous that it is necessary to write about this topic again, and surely this will not be the last time.
But also, as my grandmother Selma has said to me: I am shocked, but not surprised. Very little about the institutional relationship with “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” “diversity and inclusion,” “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and it’s newly extra woke iteration “justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion” (JEDI, ha! so cute) surprises me. Because the institution’s goal is to survive, not to be better to us or for us. Our survival is not the institution’s goal. Our well-being is not the institution’s goal.
Even so, the articulation of JEDI is something of a victory. Because some of us screamed “LOOK AT US” and “YOU CANNOT LOOK AWAY” enough that finally they said, “Alright, alright, we cannot look away.” There were even moments of material consequence: the brief period when quotas were implemented before a white NASA engineer sued all the way to the Supreme Court, complaining that quotas for historically marginalized people were damaging to his dignity as a mediocre white man. Mediocre is emphasized because other white men did get into University of California medical schools that year. Bakke just wasn’t good enough to compete with them. All he could do was beat up on the few people of color who took up slots guaranteed to them as an apology for all the fucking racism and acknowledgment that life had basically been rigged against them since 1492.
I just had to delete a paragraph because I was literally going to rehash things I have already written, which reminds me of that Toni Morrison line from a 1975 conversation,
The very serious function of racism is a distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.
Which is what I want to write about: how the new culture of (J)EDI is distracting me from doing my work. It is distracting me from doing actual liberation work (because I’m writing this instead), and it is distracting me from doing my calculations (I took a time away from an important scientific project to write this).
First of all, I had to write this piece where I repeat myself. (Maybe this is me refusing to see that there will always be one more thing. There will always be people who need to hear this shit over and over and pretend they will get it the next time.)
But also now every application requires me to talk about EDI, but the the whole thing is a setup (seriously, I am repeating myself). Isn’t this what you wanted? The self-appointed, self-impressed devil’s advocate wants to know. Don’t you want to people to be compelled to take action on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Actually what I want is for anti-Black violence and colonialism and all of their structural entrails to disappear so that all children have the conditions to grow up and experience childhood and grow into their curious selves in peace.
Parenthetical that is too important to be foreclosed by parentheses: I am not the first to imagine and try to conjure this future. I am part of an unstoppable line of thought. This is a central act of Black diasporic thought, as Katherine McKittrick makes clear in Dear Science, and Other Stories and Kevin Quashie shows us in Black Aliveness, Or a Poetics of Being and Jafari S. Allen explains in There’s A Disco Ball Between Us: A Theory of Black Gay Life.
Now we have to display an interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion and propose authoritative action in for example diversity statements on faculty applications/NSF Broadening Participation statements/NASA Inclusion plans, but in truth, very few people know what the fuck they are doing. This means that this display of an interest is an ignorant performance coming from a lot of people. And worse, the people evaluating these displays of interest are also often ignorant. Newborns evaluating nurslings.
So, bring in the experts! Who are the experts?
I want an opportunity to focus on the science in this collaboration, but how do I get that opportunity when I am the only scientist in the room with a high competency in issues associated with marginalization, racism, sexism, and all the other things that get swept under “EDI”? I ask myself.
So hire an expert! Ok, first, you should not do this for a job application. If you have no competency, you have to either develop it or accept you compare poorly to people who took the time to do that.
But for a grant proposal … hire an expert with what money? The whole point is that you need money. (And in the case of the job application and the grant, again it’s often people who don’t know what they’re doing evaluating you, even if you’re an expert who should be evaluating them. That’s fun.)
It’s actually worse than this because there’s also the part where the definition of what counts as EDI work is so circumscribed that somehow I get feedback that it seems like I don’t do much. Even though I’ve written a multiple award-winning book on the subject, I keep writing these blog/newsletter entries, and I am an internationally recognized expert. But it’s true, I haven’t started my own pet program or organization for the purposes of showing that I am nice and caring. (Some other time I will unpack what I have heard Sarah Tuttle call the sexism of students specifically expecting me to be caring in ways that they do not demand from hetcis men.)
So anyway, what does your diversity and inclusion requirement do to the marginalized person who is now saddled with it? Does it disproportionately reward white people who know how to perform like they are nice and caring? (Almost certainly.)
No, dude. I’m saying proclaim it like you mean it. If your organization wants to institute an equity, diversity, and inclusion requirement for funding and programming, then it has to provide the resources for people to fulfill it properly in a manner that is not at the expense of people who have already been robbed eleventy times by white supremacist heterocispatriarchal capitalism. Otherwise, you are just fucking around.
If you want to read more on this topic, borrow my award-winning book from the library or grab a copy from somewhere that isn’t destroying the book industry by selling books at a loss. Read about how to resist Amazon and why.