This ended up being about Shake Shack, kind of?
I try not to curse in my public scholarship. Twitter and my podcast are rated PG-13 because they’re mostly freeform, but if I write an essay, even one like this that isn’t peer-reviewed, I make it suitable for the children (or my mother). I mention this to say that this promise I have made to myself is really going to be tested in this piece, because the subject is infuriating.
I am not on the market for a job these days, but I still get email alerts to whatever Indeed wants to send along. Lately, for obvious reasons, there has been an absolute flood of postings for titles that are some version of “Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” from organizations as varied as charter school networks and restaurant chains like Shake Shack. This was to be expected, because if organizations know how to do anything well, it’s throwing money at something without any sort of deep reflection.
What I want to write about tonight, though, isn’t merely the fact that they’re all trying to buy woke points by hiring someone, but that every single ad (I can’t pretend I haven’t clicked on any) seems to require ten years’ experience in the DEI field. One (Shake Shack’s, in fact!) includes this line:
Demonstrated D&I program creation, launch and management.
Here’s where I get mad.
The only reason a company would be hiring a person for this position would be that they didn’t have anyone in this role beforehand, or, for some reason, their person was let go or left. I would guess, for many of these places, it’s the former reason. So now, looking out at the world from their home offices, the leadership of these companies has decided that what they need to do for racial justice is hire someone who has been responsible for hoary, archaic diversity programming for a decade and expect their organization will be cured of its ills. Not examine the ranks of their extant management and address their institutional issues. Not make their racialized employees psychologically safer and better paid. Not change their business practices to be less predatory to Black communities. No, they’re just going to find Mr. Brown and bring him in-house where he can be kept under their watchful eyes, without any actual power to change systems or processes or upend the power structure.
Who are these people who will eventually take these jobs? It’s not the people who are currently doing the difficult, dangerous work to make the world better. It’s people who’ve received dense DEI salaries for a decade and are eager to take on the same task in a new place, and currently from the comfort of their own homes. Who wouldn’t want that job? It sounds fun to be a well-paid pawn.
Some of the people in these jobs are Black or Brown themselves, of course. The Director of Diversity at my (deeply racist but vocally liberal) high school is Latinx, and, from every indication, he’s trying, but the school isn’t going to let him rip out the rot from under the floorboards. Truthfully, since my article on whiteness in English Language Teaching came out in May, people have been asking me to join various professional organizations, make them better from the inside, but I hesitate to trust these overtures, because what guarantee do I have that they’d actually listen?
Let’s look at Shake Shack again. Maybe I should feel bad for picking on them but I don’t care.
As the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, you will develop new programs and practices that effectively increase diversity (What diction!), measure and monitor company diversity (Clearly they spent considerable time on this!), and provide support to the organization’s business objectives. The Director of Diversity & Inclusion also provides strategic advice and counsel to the organization’s Senior Leadership Team (“Massa CEO, don’t wear blackface”).
This person will be a peon with no power who takes all the blame the next time their CEO says something scummy.
What does it mean that organizations have responded to this moment with such an utter lack of innovation? I thought these people believed that the “free market” and “competition” would lead to better results, but here they are, trying to out-diversity each other, and it seems more like a race to the bottom of an empty, soulless pit.
You and I know exactly what’s going to happen. They’ll hire someone they can paste on the website, thereby resolving the blinding whiteness (plus one Asian!) of their leadership team, a sarcastic sentence I wrote before I confirmed that Shake Shack’s leadership team is literally all-white with one Asian. And that person won’t be listened to if they ever suggest a substantive change that would possibly challenge the company’s bottom line. In fact, the sort of person who would suggest such a shift wouldn’t even receive the job in the first place.
The same people will remain in power. These bald attempts at Black-washing their companies will recede into distant memory. This movement has caught their attention, but they think they can make it go away with a quite literal diversity hire. They’re not as scared of us yet as they need to be.
I started writing this with anger, but I’m left empty when I think about how little they’ve learned. What they see on the news — or, saw, before the news stopped covering the protests — is just a minor irritant that made a few of their workers feel bad enough to force management to spend a few hours’ revenue on a token. It’s almost enough to make you think the better world being fought for will never come. I’m doing what I can to chip away at whiteness, but it won’t let go until we force it to, and right now that future feels far away.
Not a one of the many organizations looking for a new head of DEI really cares about Black lives. In fact, the existence of the field prevents its successful application, because it remains based upon the unchallenged idea that an organization will necessarily be a white space that needs to be welcoming to others.
Can an organization become equitable if it was not founded on these principles? Can diversity and inclusion be the norm and not goals to be “monitored?” Can a capitalistic creature ever develop the ability to care? No matter what dynamic person they think they’re going to hire, and even if they find a Black exhibit to prove they would have voted for Obama a third time, the same people are going to hold onto their power, and more of us are going to suffer, and die, while they pat each other on the back and lay off their workers. The same people, even if there’s a single Black face in the picture by this time next year. The same people, while they tell you how much they care. The same people.
And it’s bullshit.