DEI — the diversity, equality and inclusion initiative geared toward promoting opportunities in corporations and higher education for African Americans — is being cynically blamed for causing problems with passenger airlines.

The reason? “Conservative cultural warriors” are pursuing the “rebranding of the ‘wokeness’ and critical race theory-related moral panics that dominated 2021 and 2022, after 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country,” according to HuffPost. They are now claiming “that incompetent hires are going to get people killed.”

But the concept of DEI is not new, as Washington Post reporter Julian Mark noted in a January 11 interview with Tonya Mosley on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” It dates back to passage of the first Civil Rights Act, in 1866, that extended citizenship to formerly enslaved people. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill, making the now all-too-familiar false assertion that it discriminated against European Americans. Congress overrode Johnson’s veto, which, Mark noted, “was seen as a pretty radical step in the country’s … march towards the future.”

Other “radical” steps followed -and so has the opposition. They included Reconstruction during 18651877 to address the inequities left by slavery and that was sabotaged. Discrimination against African Americans continued in some form, including Jim Crow anti-African American laws.

Then President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948 desegregating the military. He “did not expressly forbid segregation,” as Penn State noted in a 2018 online posting. However, by 1953, “95 percent of African American army soldiers were serving in integrated units.”

Shortly afterwards, Congress passed legislation such as the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Age Discrimination Act in the 1960s. President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Labor William Brock appointed a commission to study economic and demographic trends. Its report, “Workforce 2000 – Work and Workers in the Twenty First Century,” projected that “minorities” would account for, as Pen State put it, “a larger share of the new entrants” into the workforce. As a result, “companies began focusing their efforts on increasing the ‘business case’ for their diversity efforts.”

“To some citizens,” Penn State said, that and other trends, including immigration, “suggested that diversifying the workforce was important economically if companies were to remain competitive and able to attract workers and were able to create a diverse industry.”

More recently, diversity took centerstage after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25, 2020, sparking mass protests against what demonstrators saw as modern lynching enabled by institutional racism.

About six months later, Ken Frazier, former CEO and current chairman of Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, and Ken Chenault, former CEO and chairman of American Express, met to discuss a response to what was seen as a time of racial reckoning. That led to formation of a coalition committed to placing or promoting one million African Americans in jobs within10 years: the OneTen initiative. By December 2020, OneTen says on its website, it had partnered with nearly 30 “founding companies,” including American Express, Delta Airlines, HP, IBM, Merck, Nike, Nordstrom, Target and Whirlpool.

The five-member OneTen executive committee comprised Chenault and Frazier, Charles Phillips, former CEO and chairman of Infor, a major business software applications firm; Ginni Rometty, former CEO and chairman of IBM; and Kevin Sharer, former CEO and chairman of the Amgen biotechnology company. A 19-member board included CEOs of businesses such as Allstate, Bank of America, Cleveland Clinic, Delta, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe’s, Nike, Northrop Grumman and Walmart. Debbie Dyson, former president of ADP National Accounting Services., headed a seven-member leadership team.

OneTen settled on its goal after a survey of African Americans without four-year degrees whose household income was less than $50,000, comprising 76 percent of the workforce and paid hourly. The study found that only 40 percent had full-time jobs; 26 percent were employed part-time or as gig workers; 20 percent were unemployed; and 16 percent were retirees, students or homemakers. The average difference in family net wealth between African American and European American families was $143,000.

In its first three years, OneTen was responsible for the hiring or promotion of 108,000 African Americans, which, it said, translated into an overall income gain of up to $12 billion, The New York Times reported. That was lower than the coalition’s goal and, also, it had been “forced to change with the times.” But it has remained “at the forefront of a movement to adopt diversity, equity and inclusion methods in business,” The Times said.

While OneTen dedicated itself to diversifying corporations, another group has been working to discredit it, especially in educational advancement, which is critical to upward mobility. The Times reported on a “group of conservative activists and academics” who “formed a loose network of think-tanks, political groups and Republican operatives in at least a dozen states” committed to abolishing DEI programs.

Housed at the conservative Claremont Institute in California and headed by Scott Yenor, a political dcience professor at Boise State University in Idaho, this group initially focused on Texas and persuaded the Texas Legislature to ban all DEI programs from the state’s public universities. Then it spread its tentacles to several other states, including especially Florida.

In public, the coalition claimed that its goal was, according to The Times, “to protect diversity of thought and intellectual freedom” because DEI “had made universities intolerant and narrow” and “made Black and Hispanic students feel less welcome instead of more.” But, in private, the agenda included “purging liberal ideas, professors and programming wherever they could,” The Times said. “They debated how carefully or quickly to reveal some of their views – the belief that ‘a healthy society requires patriarchy,” for example, and broader opposition to anti-discrimination laws.

This group argues that “lagging achievement for African Americans and other racial minorities … should not be a matter of public concern.” Yenor was quoted as having said, “My big worry in these things is that we do not make ‘the good of minorities’ the standard by which we judge public policy or the effects of public policy. Whites will be over-represented in some spheres, Blacks in others, Asians in others. We cannot see this as some moral failing on our part.” Yenor also told his colleagues that many lawmakers were reluctant to take on “diversity and inclusion” and such terms should be, in the words of The Times, “saddled with more negative connotations.” Diversity should be dubbed “social justice” which could be “stigmatized so that when people hear it they can act on their own suspicions.”

Claremont and its allies began publishing the findings of their own research into DEI and combined their tactic with the one deployed against critical race theory (CRT) to create a new bogeyman: “critical social justice” or “critical social justice education.”

Claremont president Ryan P. Williams proclaimed, “America is under attack by a leftist revolution disguised as a plea for justice’ reminiscent of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.” He claimed, The Times said, that liberals were dominating higher education and what was needed was “a frontal attack on public university systems in states where conservatives dominated the Legislatures.”

This assault on DEI has been taking place at a time when another rightwing activist, Christopher Rufo, of the New York-based Manhattan Institute, is in full attack mode against CRT. The Guardian has linked Rufo, a top advisor to Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, to the discredited theory that African Americans are genetically inferior to European Americans.

The anti-DEI cabal scored a major victory when Claudine Gay, the first African American president of Harvard in its 387-year history, was forced to resign on January 2. Gay was hounded out of office ostensibly over anti-Semitism and plagiarism; in reality, it was because of her commitment to diversity. Significantly, Rufo played a major role in her ousting.