The Fate Of The Racially Furious

It’s been four years since corporate America jumped all over DEI. Now what?

Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury. Getty Images.
Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury. Getty Images.

Several weeks ago, I saw a news article proclaiming that it’s been four years since the death of George Floyd — and my head snapped. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been four years. When George Floyd’s death on a Minneapolis street hit headlines in May 2020, I was busy graduating high school, sans Pomp and Circumstance, and trying to figure out what exactly the future would hold. We were headlong into the COVID-19 lockdowns, and my schedule was, to say the least, very open. The video of Floyd’s death, and the pure unadulterated social rage that followed, served as a catalyst that would change the country forever. Americans were looking for a reason to be mad — and they found one.

The race-obsessive revolution that followed happened in two ways: suddenly and gradually. In the months after Floyd’s death, American cities descended into madness, with looters and vandals doing $1–2 billion worth of damage in the most expensive riot damage tolls in the past half-century. But you can’t riot forever; in many ways, the gradual incursions of America’s race revolution in the institutional space have been even more pernicious and laid the groundwork for a far more complex wave of social racialization.

I’m referring, of course, to DEI: programs for diversity, equity, and inclusions that’ve commandeered billions of dollars from the university to the boardroom and re-ignited fierce debates about the place of race in public life. Shortly after the death of George Floyd, such initiatives were everywhere. You’d be hard pressed to find a company in the Fortune 1000 that wasn’t having to explore the best way to approach the issues of racial and cultural conflict in the workplace: exploration to the tune of $340 billion. Corporate America pledged more than the entire 2024 budget of the Department of Education to treat a disease that they weren’t sure they had.

Yet here we stand, four years later, and times have changed. As a corporate analyst, who’s watched almost a hundred annual meetings and listened to thousands of corporate proposals, I see how the market for diversity officers is drying up. Very few corporate proposals are seeking to form DEI commissions or move the goalposts on diversity — and an increasing number are actually asking companies to audit the legal and reputational risks that such programs have created. What happened? Did the corporate DEI movement simply get stamped out by greedy companies, happy to forego racial progress to make a buck? Or, does the movement itself bear some blame for grounding itself on the rocks?

I’ve interviewed both DEI critics and advocates, trying to find answers. I’ve listened to corporate activists, including at Walmart’s annual meeting last week, discussing how employees of color are still at risk and underprivileged in the workplace. I can sympathize with concerns about prejudice — and no doubt, sympathizing with concerns is how many corporate DEI initiatives began. Yet, the racializing solutions corporations have devised are quickly running up against reality. Just look at the case of Amazon, which recently had to deal with multiple lawsuits over its diversity grant program (piloted in 2020) that excludes white and Asian entrepreneurs. As the pendulum swings back towards normal, ordinary Americans are waking up and realizing how divorced from reality corporate ‘anti-racist’ solutions are.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had in Grand Rapids last year with a DEI practitioner who said, “DEI isn’t generally seen as ‘company first.’ HR is there to look out for the company and mitigate risk. And DEI can create some risk there.” When pressed, she further noted her discomfort with the fact that “DEI consultants are buying into the corporate and capitalist game.” If DEI practitioners view corporate structures, including the pursuit of fiduciary duty, as a game to be played, and openly admit that their practices create corporate risk… that’s a bit of a poison pill for a corporate department/initiative tasked with providing positive returns to shareholders. DEI’s most ardent advocates and supporters might like to believe that diversity initiatives are part and parcel of increasing brand value. But shareholders don’t seem to agree—and as DEI’s potential to create corporate risk increases, so does the skittishness of the people who rely on brand performance for return.

Four years after the death of George Floyd, America’s rejection of race radicalism is underway, from the Supreme Court to prominent academic institutions (even the faculty of Harvard are doing away with mandatory DEI statements). As economist Glenn Loury told me days after the Court’s overturn of affirmative action, “People said there was going to be a racial reckoning after George Floyd. The real reckoning on race is this.” America’s DEI advocates didn’t fall victim to a series of unfortunate events or any such helpless situation. They walked into the boardroom unseriously, and assumed that the radicalism and real risk that came along with them wouldn’t matter to corporate America. Billions of dollars later, it’s abundantly clear: it mattered.

The corporate DEI movement’s wounds are overwhelmingly self-inflicted, and its eventual demise will be as well. I only wish it hadn’t taken us four years and hundreds of billions of dollars to arrive at this conclusion.

* * *

Isaac Willour is a corporate analyst at Bowyer Research. He can be found on X @IsaacWillour, and is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured at outlets including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He is a contributor with Young Voices.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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