Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann
As one of Georgia’s most high-profile racists (a high bar in that state), Marjorie Taylor Greene has a reputation to uphold. Which is probably why this week she posted an attack on the Blackrock investment firm for having DEI or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs at that company.
“Corporate communists believe they have to force behaviors,” Greene wrote on her Xitter feed. “They only need to remember as a corporation or business their ONLY job is to SERVE THEIR CUSTOMER with the best job possible to make their customers happy! It’s not about gender, sex, race and blah blah blah.”
In this, Greene is channeling centuries of racist rhetoric that argued it was inappropriate for government or companies to have any concerns about racial fairness or equity. After all, the white customers of Georgia’s segregated 1960s lunch counters were “happy!” What else is necessary?
There’s a reason why America’s white supremacist Republican politicians like Greene and Stefanik are pushing so hard to get rid of DEI and to fire Black people in academia and the Pentagon: it wins them votes. From the geriatric Fox “News” followers, to white nationalist militias, to the preachers in all-white evangelical churches, the browning of America has provoked a collective freak-out.
And when you put it into the context of presidential administration policies over the past seventy or so years, it just makes sense that at this moment in time we’d see this explosion of exploitative racism from the hard right in America.
Like with any six-decade-old memory (from childhood, no less), I can’t be sure my recollection is as vivid as I think it is, but I have a clear recollection of my Dad pointing out and commenting about a “Colored Entrance Around Back” sign (or words to that effect) at the old RE Olds Hotel (later renamed the Jack Tar) in downtown Lansing, Michigan in the late 1950s.
The hotel housed one of the better sit-down restaurants in Lansing and we went out only rarely, but it was one of my parents’ favorites, that sign notwithstanding. My recollection is that the sign offended my Dad who, although a Republican, was a strong advocate of civil rights (at that time, the segregated South was almost entirely Democratic).
Chattel slavery had only ended about 90 years earlier, the Klan was riding high, and Fred Koch was funding “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards across the country, expressing rightwing outrage over the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v Board decision that required the racial integration of our nation’s public schools.
Virtually every door to opportunity was closed to Black people in the 1950s. Their segregated public schools were substandard; America’s top colleges only occasionally let in women, much less Black people; unions and employers alike opposed African Americans in the workplace; and it was nearly impossible to find a Black doctor, lawyer, college professor (outside of HBCUs), or cop.
In a speech which began the racial transformation of America, President John Kennedy addressed the nation on June 11, 1963 about this issue:
“We are confronted today primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
“One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.
“We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?
“Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise.”
Kennedy didn’t live to see the legislation he proposed pass Congress: that job fell to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and 1965 with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. But JFK set the stage for racial reconciliation and Black opportunity, and America is the better for it.
In his speech, Kennedy pointed out how far behind Black people were, as a result of centuries of slavery and nearly a century of legally enforced segregation:
“The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.”
But just ending legal segregation and discrimination in America wasn’t enough, Kennedy knew. That’s why he originated the term “affirmative action” with his Executive Order 10925, which required any contractor or company that wanted to do business with the federal government to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”
President Johnson followed up with his own Executive Order, 11246, which spelled out exactly what affirmative action meant:
“Such action shall include, but not be limited to the following: employment, upgrading, demotion, or transfer; recruitment or recruitment advertising; layoff or termination; rates of pay or other forms of compensation; and selection for training, including apprenticeship.”
Over the loud objections of white supremacists and open racists like George Wallace and Ronald Reagan, affirmative action became a watchword phrase during the 1970s. That decade saw the first wave of Black people getting a quality education and finding good jobs, particularly in the government sector.
Then came the Reagan Revolution, powered in part by white backlash against Kennedy’s, Johnson’s, and Carter’s affirmative action programs.
Reagan’s first official campaign stop had been to speak at an all-white county fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the brutal murder of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, in 1964. The subject of his speech was “states’ rights,” which everybody knew was code for “let the southern states continue their segregation programs.”
On the 1980 campaign trail, Reagan told the story of the “strapping young buck” in line at the supermarket upsetting all the hard-working white people when he whipped out his food stamps to pay for his “steak and beer”; it was the male complement to Reagan’s Black “welfare queen” myth. Cut off his food stamps, the logic went, and he’ll be forced to look for gainful employment…even if there were no jobs within miles and white employers wouldn’t then hire Black people.
But Reagan didn’t just talk about stopping affirmative action: he took steps to push America back to the white supremacist 1950s. As The Washington Post noted:
“In the 1980s, the Reagan administration began to roll back civil rights protections and legally designated targets for affirmative action hires, thus bringing the politics of reverse discrimination to the White House. Under the now familiar banner of ‘Let’s Make America Great Again,’ Reagan campaigned vigorously against affirmative action in 1980, promising voters he would overturn policies that mandated, in his view, “federal guidelines or quotas which require race, ethnicity, or sex . . . to be the principle factor in hiring or education.”
As president, Reagan directed his Justice Department to stop promoting affirmative action and instead attack those programs in pleadings before the courts. When the Supreme Court refused to outlaw such programs, though, Reagan began what The Washington Post called “a two-pronged approach to circumvent existing civil rights laws.”
“Reagan’s secretary of labor, for example, implemented new federal compliance guidelines that exempted as many as 75 percent of companies contracting with the federal government from previously mandatory affirmative action programs.”
Reagan also fired people in the federal government who supported affirmative action, replacing them with opponents of school integration and bussing like the man he put in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, William Bradford Reynolds.
Reynolds and his compatriot Clarence Thomas (then Chairman of Reagan’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) blocked the federal government from using lawsuits to enforce affirmative action.
When Bill Clinton came into the White House in 1993, he re-started the affirmative action programs put into place by Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. In a speech, he said:
“My experiences with discrimination are rooted in the South and in the legacy slavery left. … The job of ending discrimination in this country is not done. … We should reaffirm the principle of affirmative action and fix the practices.”
By the time George W. Bush became president, private industry and academia had both begun a serious embrace of what President Kennedy called affirmative action.
A new system, called “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” set standards that colleges and companies were eager to embrace in pursuit of a more diverse and fairer educational and work environment. From Ivy League universities to the nation’s largest corporations, DEI initiatives were the hot new thing in the 21st century.
The Bush administration, arguably the first Republican administration since the Civil War to reject racism as a political strategy, embraced DEI, as did the Obama administration which followed.
Donald Trump, however, wanted to put an end to the entire process. This was the guy, after all, who as a teenager worked for his father interviewing people for the subsidized housing project they owned and would write a “C” (for “Colored”) on the applications from Black people so they never got an apartment in Fred Trump’s properties. Fred had, just decades earlier, been arrested at a 1927 Klan rally.
Trump reverted to Reagan’s policies: He issued an executive order banning diversity training on racial and gender biases across government agencies, nonprofits, and institutions with federal contracts. As The New York Times headline noted: “Trump Attack on Diversity Training Has a Quick and Chilling Effect.” The article pointed out:
“Both implicitly and explicitly, Mr. Trump has made race a centerpiece of his bid for re-election, warning suburban voters of the perils of low-income housing and the spreading of ‘anarchy’ in the cities. During the debate, he refused to condemn white supremacy and told the Proud Boys, an organization linked with white supremacy and acts of violence, to ‘stand back and stand by.’
“Beyond rhetoric, the president has mobilized the federal government to prosecute his efforts. Microsoft said this month that the Labor Department had initiated an investigation into its commitment to double the number of Black employees in leadership posts by 2025. The Justice Department sued Yale University last week, accusing the school of discriminating against white and Asian-American applicants in admissions.”
Trump is now running for president again, and his racist base are wildly enthusiastic about the prospect. They hate DEI and affirmative action, and want to see women and Black people returned to their second-class status that preceded the civil rights era.
Republican racists—much like Democratic racists before Kennedy’s presidency—proudly lay it out for all to see. They’re campaigning on their racism.
After all, what is the opposite of diversity, equity, and inclusion? Whites-only communities, whites-only jobs, and racial segregation.
Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.