Center Square: Race-conscious diversity training has negative consequences for employees and the public

September 22, 2023 | By LAURA D’AGOSTINO , ANDREW QUINIO

Many employers are on a mission to incorporate “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” into every aspect of their daily operations — some going so far as to expend significant resources to develop a “DEI” team whose sole aim is to deeply entrench these concepts within the workplace.

But what do these terms mean, and how are human resources departments to enforce DEI mandates? The answers to these questions may vary, but the City of Seattle professes to embody a shining model for others to emulate — its Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI).

RSJI is the city’s hallmark program — through it, the city instructs all employees to view their work environment as a racial power struggle, where those with “privilege” and power must be held accountable to those the city has deemed “powerless.” Where one falls between the two positions depends largely on race and skin color. Consequently, RSJI employs a Racial Equity Toolkit to evaluate all city functions through the lens of race. This initiative created a work environment so hostile and divisive that a former employee is now suing the city for the discrimination he experienced.

Joshua Diemert, a former program intake specialist for the City of Seattle, left his job when RSJI had saturated his work environment to such an extent that he could no longer endure it.

Paramount within the RSJI are the tenets that white male individuals like Mr. Diemert “are bolstered by racism,” that they “internalize it,” and that “individuals, institutions, and communities are often unconsciously and habitually rewarded for supporting white privilege and power.” At the mandatory RSJI Training, Mr. Diemert and his colleagues were taught that “racism is in white people’s DNA” and that many seemingly normal office behaviors — including a “focus on timeline. and an “emphasis on being polite” — were actually “manifestations of white supremacy culture.”

The city even pressured employees to join race-based affinity groups and consistently promoted harmful and denigrating labels to group their employees.

These activities created a toxic work environment. When Mr. Diemert spoke up against the RSJI training, noting that “it blankets entire groups of people with stereotypes,” his colleagues called him a white supremacist and told him he had white privilege. One colleague referred to him as the “reincarnation of the people that shot Native Americans from trains.”

For Mr. Diemert, the stress and hostility became too much. Despite being devoted to his job, he felt he had no option but to resign. And with representation from Pacific Legal Foundation, he’s now suing the City of Seattle for creating a racially hostile workplace. The Court recently decided that Mr. Diemert’s suit could move forward, allowing him to proceed with his hostile work environment, constitutional claims, and disparate treatment and retaliation claims occurring later in his employment. Mr. Diemert can now continue sharing a story that is familiar to workers in many other industries.

The unfortunate reality is this problem is not limited to Seattle. Many other public and private organizations have implemented similar programs and training. For example, West Point trained its students using similarly divisive material for lessons on the structural advantage and privilege of “whiteness.” In California, providers of continuing medical education must include instruction in “implicit bias,” which exhorts medical professionals to be conscious of a patient’s race and other immutable characteristics.

Whatever intent is operating in the background behind DEI training, programming, and ideology is irrelevant — investigations continue to expose discriminatory infrastructure that intimidates employees into silence.

While precise applications of “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” are elusive, one thing is clear: the philosophy underpinning these amorphous concepts is rooted in dissolving individual identity and recreating a person according to preconceived notions of their racial identity. Racism by any other name remains racism.

The way the city treated Joshua Diemert was not only wrong, it was also unlawful. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees every American equal protection of the laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from creating a racially hostile work environment. As the Supreme Court recently reminded us, eliminating discrimination means eliminating all of it. That includes discrimination in the workplace for all employees.

No American should have to experience what Mr. Diemert did. Racism in the workplace was wrong in the Jim Crow era, and it’s also wrong when perpetuated in the name of “anti-racism” today.

This op-ed was originally published at The Center Square on September  22, 2023.