A Peek Behind the DEI Curtain
with Erec Smith
I’ve spent a lot of time picking apart the hollowness and cynicism of university DEI programs on my show and in this newsletter. But for the most part, I’m an observer of DEI policymaking rather than a participant. It may not surprise you to learn that I’m not asked to chair any diversity committees at Brown. I can see the damage DEI has done to the university’s mission, but usually the planning stays behind closed doors.
Thre’s a reason for that. With the ballooning presence of DEI programs in university org charts, the diversity industry has taken on a life of its own. It employs many, many thousands of people, and a lot of them are handsomely remunerated. There’s money in DEI. And where there’s money, there’s a vested interest on the part of DEI officers, consultants, deans, and many others in keeping the project going, keeping the dollars flowing, and keeping the paychecks coming.
It’s not hard to understand how even someone who grows skeptical of the project would be loathe to undermine it and put themselves out of work. So it’s relatively rare to see someone with firsthand experience of DEI talk about what many of us suspected was true: the vast majority of DEI initiatives amount to little more than marketing. In this clip, Erec Smith, a rhetorician at York College, tells me about his time as a DEI officer, and how it opened his eyes to the hollowness and cynicism of the endeavor.
Erec is a principled guy. He wants to see more black young people succeed, but only if that success is come by honestly. That’s what I want, too. But to get it, we’re going to need more Erec Smiths who are willing to call out the DEI hustle for what it is and work for real change rather than promotional window dressing.
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GLENN LOURY: But you're chilly on DEI. You're skeptical or less than fully on board. How so? Why so?
EREC SMITH: I can start about 15 years ago when I was a diversity officer at a small liberal arts college on the East Coast, and I saw some things that I can't unsee. Mainly, the fact that even the administration there, to a large degree, had a particular idea of what a black person was. I tell this story all the time. I was talking to the president of the university at the time, and it came up in conversation that, you know, black people aren't a monolith. We have different lifestyles, different religious affiliations, all kinds of different things. And he looked at me like I had four heads, like I said the craziest thing ever.
That should have tipped me off. Actually, it did tip me off a little bit. Ultimately, I was there for optics. I was there so that people could say, “Hey, we're doing something, with diversity.”
Let me be clear. You're an employee of the college working under the direction of this person whom you're speaking to as a diversity officer, telling him that black people don't all think alike.
Yeah. With that said, I saw it just as a performance. I was there to make the college look like they were doing something. And other than that, it was a very useless position. So I was already sour on a lot of diversity initiatives in higher education before the whole woke/critical social justice thing reared its ugly head.
And with that said, I'm even more dedicated to exposing DEI for the detrimental aspects, especially when it comes to insisting that black students and professors and administrators are forever dealing with this specter of racism and that the whole country is dedicated to the downfall of black people. That doesn't do anything positive for the mindsets of black students and faculty, especially since I don't think there's much merit to it whatsoever. I also like the concept of merit. So that's something else that is considered a double term in DEI circles. It doesn't make any sense. It's detrimental.
I've said before in publications, in presentations, and debates, that if a Klan member wanted to make sure black people never moved upward in any kind of way, societal or economic, this whole DEI thing is a great strategy. It's a good way to start. Because, among many other things—I mentioned this before with prescriptive racism—if you are happy and fulfilled as a black person, you are suffering from false consciousness, you've been duped, you have some kind of Stockholm syndrome. You couldn't possibly have a good reason for being optimistic and for succeeding and knowing that other people can succeed as well. You can't possibly have a good explanation for that. You must be trying placate whitey.
Well, you're preaching to the choir on a lot of that stuff. But I'm trying to conjure up a devil's advocate kind of response here.
What about solidarity? Black people need to stick together. What about shared narrative? The story we tell our children about where we come from and from what we've come through should be reproduced from generation to generation. What about implicit bias and subtle racism and all that kind of stuff? What about diversity? Are you sour on that? You're good on merit, but what about what about diversity, including racial diversity? And so on in that vein. It was good that there was a black president, wasn't it, when Obama got elected and got reelected? Somebody's got to call the cops out when they mistreat young black people. You need an Al Sharpton or a Ben Crump or whatever, even if you don't like everything they say. Isn't it a luxury to be able to declare one's individuality in the face of so much structured racial exclusion and marginalization and so on?
I am doing my best here, Eric!
I am all for addressing those issues. And I think we can address those issues. And even when I was that useless diversity officer, the approach I was taking was nothing like the current DEI approach, which is steeped in critical social justice, socially called woke.
I have to tell you about this. There are ways of addressing those things without embracing ... well, for example, it's not all racism or even mostly racism in some situations. There are a lot of factors going on. Issues with family, issues with education, some people would say—including Ian Rowe and other black educational leaders—that there is a spiritual element that is missing. And I'm all for exploring all those things. But we can explore all those things without the divisive, detrimental to the psyche of students and faculty. We can do all those things without embracing this wokeness, which I think is divisive and detrimental to black psyches.
So, yeah, I think it's a good thing that we had a black president for two terms. I think we need to address things that are going on between police and the communities. I think we need to address all these things. But we don't have to do it based on what Robin DiAngelo or Kendi say. We can do it in other ways.