Charles M. Fox, Jr., M.A.P.P.

What seems to often be missing from the conversation about “DEI” (both as a professional field and as a set of business practices and standards) are actual DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) practitioners. Folks who actually do the work on a daily basis. It’s one thing to hear about how bad something is from people who are dead set on not understanding what the work entails. It’s another thing entirely to hear from folks who work in these roles across various industries. Of course, people who use the word “woke” as a pejorative and utter phrases like “DEI should DIE” would not be the best vessels to convey what the DEI work is actually foundationally about. 

Unfortunately, these very folks have become some of the loudest and most regressive voices in the conversation.  That said, here are some thoughts here in the hope that someone genuinely interested in learning more about this topic might receive this information for true understanding, growth, and development. 

  1. DEI work at its core is about addressing inequities that have persisted in our society for a very long time. To acknowledge that is not to denigrate this country. It is to challenge this country to be better and hold it accountable to ensure that it lives up to its ideals.
  2. Some DEI work is performative. Some DEI practitioners are awful and miss the entire point. We can acknowledge that without suggesting that the entirety of anything related to DEI has no value, no merit, and should be abolished (looking at you, Florida). 
  3. DEI is not affirmative action. Hell, affirmative action isn’t even exactly what some of its chief detractors want it to be. The “I” stands for inclusion. A good DEI practitioner thoughtfully considers how people’s backgrounds, perspectives, cultural norms, etc. can be affirmed in the workplace to make it a more harmonious and productive space. Make no mistake, there is a business imperative to DEI. People who feel more comfortable to be who they are at work (within the boundaries of good taste and professional decorum, of course) work harder, take more pride in their work, and stay.  Thus, companies and organizations overall do better when their workspaces are inclusive. 
  4. DEI and racial justice work is sorely needed in the criminal legal field. Period. There’s no argument to be had here.  If you’re trying to convince yourself that our system isn’t too punitive, biased, and inequitable, then it’s time to take a step back to check your privilege and reevaluate your role in the system. 
  5. Good DEI practitioners don’t hang their hat on “cultural competence.” If you were to board a plane and the pilot announced themselves as a “competent” pilot, you’d probably start wondering if you should be in the exit row and whether you’re going to land safely. Competence is great but that’s the most basic level of proficiency one can have in a discipline. The goal for all of us should be to remain open to learning new ideas and strategies to help us better do the work. If we are too rigid in our approach, we risk allowing DEI to become stale and antiquated. Good practitioners understand that DEI relates to culture, lived experiences, gender identity, sexuality, race, class, immigration status, socioeconomic status, and so much more. There is no mythical level of competence one can reach that will ever confirm that someone knows everything there is to know. The key is to practice “cultural humility.” Knowing that we don’t and can’t really ever know all there is to know about people (or anything) is a skill set that makes a professional susceptible to growing and evolving in a role.  If DEI in  2024 looks exactly the same as it did in 2020 to someone immersed in the work, they haven’t grown or learned anything about how to effectively implement DEI infrastructure in an organization. Society changes and as professionals we must adapt to an organic and evolving landscape that at times might mean that what worked last year won’t work today. Just as attorneys practice law and doctors practice medicine, DEI practitioners must continue to hone their craft through experience and collaboration. The key is to remember why the work is so important and why it mustn’t be abandoned.   
  6. If you don’t see the value in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, it cannot be  forced upon you. But we, DEI practitioners, ask that you not be an impediment to what many believe is important work. If you want to learn more, we’re here. What we will not do is sanction your wilful ignorance and attempts to try to derail efforts at meaningful change that will, undoubtedly, benefit everyone. 
  7. DEI didn’t begin in 2020. The Civil Rights Movement is indistinguishable from pure DEI work and make no mistake…the folks standing in opposition to DEI work  today are the ideological progeny of those who stood in opposition to it a half a century ago. Whether they will acknowledge it or not, the proof is in the pudding.
  8. Some people working in DEI have no business doing so. They lack the requisite training, tact, and ability. Like anything, this can be learned but folks who jumped into this work because they  saw it as the next hustle or easy career step,quickly learned that it ain’t that. It’s hard work that interacts with leadership, line staff, elected officials, the community, etc. If you thought you were just going to be handed a check because you’re a person calling yourself a “DEI professional” and you watched some documentaries during the national shelter in place/ pandemic,  you are deeply mistaken. We are out here working every day.  Trying to be impactful.  Standing in the gap. Fighting for real justice and equity. 
  9. DEI isn’t going anywhere. Not as long as there are people out here who are committed to leaving the world a little better than it was when they found it. 
  10. Simply put, if you have a “DEI person” in your office it’s likely that they wear multiple hats.   Despite all the balls they have to juggle,  they are more than willing to listen to your questions and suggestions about the work. These are real folks you can talk to and voice concerns with.  These are the thought-leaders who are willing to point you in the right direction and connect you with resources as you embark on your journey to educate yourselves to be better advocates and even better humans.  Stop getting your facts about DEI from folks that have never done the work themselves. Support your DEI practitioner as they work to effect change.  Your support and participation is the only way we can actually be the change we want to see. 

Peace and love.

Charles M. Fox, Jr., M.A.P.P.

Director of Diversity & Development for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, Inc. (Long Island, New York)

Racial Justice+ Committee Member

DEIJ Meetup Speaker & Participant

Are you a DEI practitioner in search of community?  Join NAPD and both our DEIJ listservs and meetup.  Email DEIJ Coordinator, Brittany Gail Thomas (BGT), Esq, at