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America Could Learn From Black Ala. Democrats' Response To Anti-DEI Legislation

A helmet and ball bag are seen during a football game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida State University Seminoles on Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta.
A helmet and ball bag are seen during a football game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida State University Seminoles on Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As all Black folk have quickly come to learn, ”DEI” has become not only a euphemism for the favorite slur of racists near and far, but a target of GOP legislators nationwide.

The latest example of this is The University of Texas at Austin laying off about 60 people who used to work in diversity, equity and inclusion programs, as first reported bythe Austin American-Statesmanand later confirmed by UT Austin President Jay Hartzell in an email.

“I recognize that strong feelings have surrounded SB 17 from the beginning and will shape many Longhorns’ perceptions of these measures,” Hartzell wrote, referring to state legislation that led to the layoffs. “It is also important that this continues to be a welcoming, supportive community for all.”

Senate Bill 17, which bans DEI initiatives at Texas’ public colleges and universities, was passed last year and went into effect in January. State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R) had warned institutions that they could see their funding frozen if they did not comply.

As a Texan, I am disturbed by the legislation but not shocked that the open hostility toward Black people has been codified into law. However, when it comes to the matter of “what now,” I hope that Texans and others being placed into this predicament by Republicans look to Alabama on how to respond. 

During this most recent Black History Month, in what can only be classified as a very 2024 move, a white lawmaker introduced a bill to ban taxpayer-funded diversity, equity and inclusion departments in Alabama. Speaking to reporters about his legislation, state Sen. Will Barfoot (R) said: “We shouldn’t be forcing or teaching to children that one race or sex or religion is better than the other. Those are just some of the divisive concepts that are listed in there.”

Based on my recollection of Republican complaints about Black people in recent years, Barfoot seems to be repurposing political talking points about critical race theory, which was not designed to make white children cry and is not typically taught in their K-12 public schools.

What does that have to do with DEI?

Negroes are involved in both!

Barfoot won’t just flat-out say it that way, but close enough. 

The bill would prohibit “state agencies, local boards of education, and public institutions of higher education, from maintaining a diversity, equity, and inclusion office or department or sponsoring any diversity, equity, and inclusion program or program that advocates for a divisive concept.”

It would also prohibit public entities from “promoting, endorsing, or requiring affirmation of ... certain divisive concepts relating to race, sex, or religion.”

So it sounds like no Black graduations at predominately white schools. No Pride celebrations on any campuses. Insert everything else not straight and white gone too. In spite of the wording, Barfoot maintains that the bill would not lead to the sanitizing of his state’s history with racism.

“There is specific language in there that encourages and authorizes, continues to authorize the teaching of historically-accurate history, and certainly, I think that is a fabric of what has made Alabama from a history standpoint...the good, bad and the ugly,” he explained.

“I don’t think we need to gloss over that.”

The phrase “historically-accurate history” explains everything about what that “specific language” means.

After all, who better to trust with accurate depictions of U.S. history — especially when it comes to racism and slavery — than one of the Confederacy’s VIP members, the state of Alabama?

Understandably, Black lawmakers are tired of the stunts from their neo-Confederate colleagues.

Speaking on the Senate floor after the legislation was filed, Alabama state Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D) said: “You’re trying to destroy every black person in this state. You’re trying to destroy them. That’s what you’re doing. If you don’t think that this critical race theory bill doesn’t wipe us out as a race…it wipes us out. It wipes everything that has been accomplished by African-Americans or the avenues and the valleys that are open for them to have an opportunity in this state is wiped out.”

Separately, state Sen. Kirk Hatcher (D) suggested that he might resign over the legislation.

“I’m just tired,” he said in committee. “I’m praying about a letter that I penned to resign from the Senate. I can’t do things like this.”

Democrats are expected to filibuster the legislation, but given the state of the GOP, the decimation of all DEI-related programs will remain a top priority. So it may be only a matter of time.

As many college students across universities in Texas are learning, the absence of those programs and the communities they benefit will be felt the second they’re deemed illegal.

Responding to the Alabama bill on social media, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin (D) compared the effort to gut taxpayer-funded DEI departments with former Gov. George Wallace’s (D) past efforts to fight desegregation.

“To the leadership, athletic directors and coaches at University of Alabama, Auburn University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham: Do you support this prohibition of diversity and inclusion?” Woodfin wrote.

He then offered a potential political solution: “Although I’m the biggest Bama fan, I have no problem organizing Black parents and athletes to attend other institutions outside of the state where diversity and inclusion are prioritized.”

Imagine what would happen to Alabama public schools and universities if their Black athletes were successfully convinced to leave the state in protest. Now apply that to Texas and everywhere else Republicans have written their racism into law.

While conservative politicians and media have targeted Black history and Black people, there has been a muted response at best from the Democratic Party. Yet for all the fearmongering about Donald Trump, without him there is still Tucker Carlson, Ron DeSantis and others openly trying to sanitize American history or gut programs designed to help people from marginalized communities.

People like Barfoot are local soldiers in that effort to erase and silence us. 

There have been statements and stern tweets from some Democrats, but nothing matching the rhetoric from conservatives.

If they are trying to find the right messaging — and they should be — they should look to Black Democrats in Alabama like Woodfin. At least they’re willing to call Republicans’ efforts what they are.

And if they don’t listen, we can implement this plan ourselves. If they don’t want us, we can go where we are wanted and appreciated.