There are some public officials who make their views on race clear, such as Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, whose staunch public defense of white nationalists abated only after a flurry of bad press and blowback from within his own party.
But others take a more covert approach, disguising their efforts to protect the white power structure that has always held a grip on American society as an effort to actually fight racial discrimination.
Racism and gaslighting often go hand in hand.
The latest example: a group of Republican state attorneys general — predominantly white and male — threatening Fortune 100 companies with legal repercussions if they dare take efforts to encourage racial diversity within their workforces.
In a letter sent to the nation’s largest corporations last week, the 13 GOP state officials called corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts “an inversion of the odious discriminatory practices of the distant past.” Citing the recent Supreme Court ruling banning affirmative action in colleges and universities, the letter demanded that companies employ only race-neutral employment and contracting practices.
“If you choose not to do so, know that you will be held accountable — sooner rather than later — for your decision to continue treating people differently because of the color of their skin,” the letter stated.
One surefire way to recognize when people are being disingenuous is when they press a solution to something that isn’t a problem. Claims that workplace DEI policies are racially odious require evidence that they serve as a barrier to entry and advancement to some racial group. To put it bluntly, they have to show that white people are being harmed. But the data clearly show that corporate America is, and has always been, a white man’s world.
White men make up about 30 percent of the US population but hold a majority of board seats of Fortune 100 companies.
That is not to say there haven’t been strides made, particularly since the 2020 murder of George Floyd and resulting racial awakening in America spurred many corporate institutions to state aspirational goals to ensure that their workplaces are welcoming, inclusive, and supportive of all employees, including those from marginalized racial and ethnic communities. By 2022, Fortune 100 companies reached a high point of corporate board representation by women and people of color, at a combined 46.5 percent. But that still means that more than 53 percent of those board seats are taken by white men.
A group of 17 Democratic state attorneys general, including Andrea Campbell of Massachusetts, sent their own letter to the companies, urging them to “double-down” on policies that reflect the value of diversity in their workforces and boardrooms.
“This Supreme Court decision provides absolutely no basis to conclude that a private company cannot engage in efforts to recruit a diverse applicant pool and to ensure that workplaces are welcoming and supportive of people of all backgrounds,” Campbell told reporters in a conference call with several other attorneys general Wednesday morning.
What is clear is that the Republicans’ threat to companies has little to do with actually enforcing workplace nondiscrimination laws. It’s the latest salvo in the culture wars that GOP officials have made the centerpiece of their party’s platform. It goes right along with banning from schools and libraries any book that tells anything but a whitewashed version of history. It dovetails with efforts to villainize trans Americans and others within the LGBTQ community. It dovetails with cruel and vicious immigration policies, including a reported policy in Texas authorizing law enforcement to push migrants, including children, back into the Rio Grande. Republicans seem bent on protecting the white patriarchy at all costs.
The party has drifted so far away from the ideals of small government and free markets that its leaders are putting themselves in the C-suites of corporations rather than letting corporate leaders act on the basis of their own values.
And one value that all corporations have is making money. Turns out, racial inequity in the labor force is not a recipe for big profits. In fact, according to a World Economic Forum estimate, racial inequality in the labor market cost the US economy at least $51 trillion in the last 30 years. And corporate workplaces that are more diverse, data show, are more innovative and profitable.
Still, Republicans can’t quit the culture wars, meaning that the GOP seems to value the white, male power structure over even cold, hard cash. That is quite the party platform.