Why is DEI upsetting so many people when so few people seem to know what the heck it really is?

Such is the confusion I perceive in the dialogue that two well-known rich guys who love to tweet recently had with each other on X, formerly Twitter.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk poked Dallas Mavericks minority owner Mark Cuban on Thursday as the two got into a tweet-spat over the hot-button issue of diversity, equity and inclusion, known as “DEI” for short, in the business world.

Musk got things going on his X platform by writing that DEI was “just another word for racism” and “shame on anyone who uses it.”

Cuban responded with a string of tweets praising DEI.

“These are the same people that work for you or are your co-workers,” he wrote. “Everyone is entitled to their POV, but these same feelings, even if they are not said out-loud, are heard loud and clear at work.”


Musk responded with a snippy reference to the makeup of Cuban’s Mavericks.

“Cool,” he said, “so when should we expect to see a short white/Asian women on the Mavs?”

Ho, ho. Cuban didn’t immediately respond to Musk’s reply, which is an old anti-affirmative action joke – old enough to have whiskers on it.

But, in a serious debate-discussion, he could have said something about efforts by NBA and other professional sports team executives to improve their embarrassingly low numbers of Black head coaches, a long-running gripe among Black athletes and many of us who root for them.

The reality is that NBA and other pro sports teams have taken steps to improve racial diversity at all levels – for good business and public relations reasons, they say.

Unfortunately, that optimistic take runs counter to the latest wave of ideological battles to hit elite university campuses in an escalating culture war, just in time for a new election year.


The resignation last week of Harvard’s first Black president, Claudine Gay, opened a new front in the culture war that conservatives have waged against what they see as liberal academic “wokeness.”

“This is the beginning of the end for DEI in America’s institutions,” said conservative activist Christopher Rufo, a pioneering leader in the crusade against “critical race theory,” an academic framework which is not taught in public schools, although you’d never guess it from the fuss that Rufo and his allies have stirred up.

Have they now brought an early end to DEI, as Rufo claims? That would be easier to believe if so many of the critics and, for that matter, more than a few of the DEI supporters I have heard sounded a little more like they knew what they were talking about.

By the way, what is DEI? That’s a good question. Like “critical race theory,” DEI has become another example of a phrase or acronym popularized by progressives, then hijacked by the right to make it sound downright sinister.

That’s politics. We saw similar demonization of diversity policies in the 1960s when the right condemned even the Civil Rights Act’s protections of equal justice under law as “reverse consideration” and the like.

Yet, I understand the opposition felt by many Americans on the right, left and wobbly middle to ideas or programs that try to promise not only equal opportunity, but equal results.


Progressives of that extreme strain unwittingly are the best allies the right could ever ask for.

I think the late “King of Soul,” James Brown, had it right in his underappreciated ditty on the flip side of his 1960s hit, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”:

“I don’t want nobody to give me nothing.

Just open up the door, I’ll get it myself.”

It’s a hip tune, as we used to say, and you can dance to it.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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