WILLOUR: DEI Advocates Furious After Governor Says They Can’t Be Racist Anymore

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Isaac Willour Contributor
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Oklahoma has become the latest battleground in the war against diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies. On Wednesday, Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt dropped the hammer, mandating a review of the state’s DEI programs via executive order and announcing that state-funded universities must be in compliance with that order by May or risk losing public funding.

The executive order has sparked the expected backlash, notably from 1619 Project architect Nikole Hannah-Jones, who decried Stitt’s order as pushing Oklahoma onto the wrong side of history. “Society is regressing and we should all be appalled,” Hannah-Jones ranted on Twitter. “Where are all the people so worried about repression of campus speech and academic freedom?”

University of Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz Jr. was even clearer about the direction he believes Stitt is taking the state. “[T]his news evokes deep concern and uncertainty about the future, and in many ways, feels like a step backward,” he said.

OU’s Black Emergency Response Team (which is apparently a thing) argued that the edict was dangerous to students of color, saying Stitt’s order “jeopardize[s] the existence of these [pro-black] spaces altogether.

To listen to the reaction, you’d think that something truly awful was going down in the Sooner State — a rogue governor drunk on executive power slashing away at the ability of universities to create multicultural spaces. That certainly is the narrative that Nikole Hannah-Jones would like you to believe, and why shouldn’t we? It’s not as if she’s made a career out of spewing easily disprovable falsehoods to an audience unwilling to criticize her antiracist religion.

But is that the reality of what’s going down in Oklahoma? Perhaps unsurprisingly, not in the slightest. It’s all obfuscation. According to Stitt’s actual executive order, Oklahoma is making three major demands of DEI offices: they cannot practice or call for preferential treatment based on race, they cannot mandate training sessions that call for such preferential treatment, and they cannot compel people to make statements in favor of such preferential treatment.

Let’s be clear: these aren’t complicated, and they shouldn’t be controversial. Oklahoma is not spurning academic freedom — provisions within the executive order specifically protect the academic freedom of faculty, the right of guest speakers to discuss ideas freely, and the actions of student organizations. Nothing within the order is truly out of order by any rational standard. Oklahoma has simply said that programs encouraging racist treatment will not receive state funding. It’s revealing that DEI’s most prominent cultural advocates view this as a step backward.

The modern anti-racist movement too often functions like a cult-adjacent religion: its leaders, such as Ibram Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones, will not tolerate any questioning of its edicts. To raise questions about the outcomes of race-preferential DEI programs or (heaven forbid) to bring up conflicts between the First Amendment and DEI programming, is to question the movement’s doctrine, rendering one anathema — or in Hannah-Jones’ words, “deplorable.”

The reaction to Stitt’s executive order is an obvious tell: if DEI is, as its advocates argue, the only way to truly combat racism, then why is it being stymied by a ban on racism? If one truly believes that DEI is not racist (and I have met many such true believers), Oklahoma’s actions should pose no such obstacle. There truly is no response to such a question except through the Kendi lens: the response that past discrimination can only be remedied by present discrimination, and that DEI offices exist to formulate and distribute such a remedy.

It’s a response not only unacceptable to anyone with a reasonable standard of sane discourse, but fundamentally at odds with the values of Western civilization. The prevalence of this response should make every American sad. The argument over DEI could have been an argument over the best way to serve students of color. Instead, it’s become an argument over exactly how much racism should be permitted on American campuses.

The answer, for most Americans, is zero. Why can’t DEI’s most prominent cultural defenders get on board with that?

Isaac Willour is a freelance journalist.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.