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Thursday, January 06, 2022

A Quick Note on DEI Professionals and Antisemitism

This is a topic careening around my corner of the internet, and I've almost blogged on it a few times. Instead, I'll just share some quick and tentative thoughts.

(1) Anecdotal evidence aside, I entirely believe there are many DEI professionals who don't know much about antisemitism, and so are poorly equipped to recognize or address instances of antisemitism.

(2) The above can be, but I suspect is not primarily, due to latent hostility towards Jews or a belief that antisemitism "doesn't matter". 

(a) First of all, most people don't know much about most things, including but not limited to antisemitism.

(b) Second, in the American context, I suspect the professional development of DEI staffers tends to concentrate, for understandable reasons, on race and sex, with comparatively less (albeit not zero) attention paid to other potential axes of marginalization (such as religion, disability, indigenous status, and class). I also think that people wildly overestimate the breadth and depth of knowledge DEI professionals have -- which is not a knock on them, they have a hard job! -- in assuming that any gap in their understanding can only be a matter of willful ignorance (and that every other group is the beneficiary of their infinite fount of wisdom and energy).

(c) Finally, while some "generic" principles of DEI training might be cross-applicable to handling instances of antisemitism, I tend to view antisemitism and other forms of marginalization as sufficiently distinct such that one cannot simply deduce proper orientation to one via knowledge of another, and so it is not the case that one knows how to treat antisemitism by taking what one knows about racism and cross-applying.

(3) I do not, therefore, unduly begrudge a DEI professional for not knowing much about antisemitism -- so long (and this is an important point) as they know they don't know much about antisemitism and do not assume expertise they don't have. It's fine for people not to know things -- most people don't know most things. It's when people think they know things they don't that we run into problems -- this is why I actually really find the assumptions attacked in 2(c) dangerous. The problem of antisemitism in DEI isn't that people don't know much about it, it's that too often they don't know much about it but assume that they know plenty much primarily because they oppose racism and so that suffices to establish their anti-antisemitism bona fides (I've sometimes referred to this as treating antisemitism as a BOGO -- learn about racism, and you get credibility on antisemitism thrown in free!).

Putting all this together, and recognizing that DEI training time is a scarce resource and "become an expert on everything in advance" is not actually a viable proposal, the integration of antisemitism into DEI spaces may be better served by developing a culture of outsourcing -- recognizing that, outside a basic corpus of principles that everyone can reasonably be expected to know, that on-site DEI professionals may not have significant expertise in antisemitism and can, without being viewed as failures, turn to outside authorities (such as respected local Jewish organizations) for assistance if and when issues come up.

1 comment:

  1. Had to Google DEI.

    As an aside, my problem with DEI training that it is more about checking a box to avoid regulatory and civil actions than actual effecting change.

    Much like police training on implicit bias and use of force, nothing changes until meaningful consequences for bad behavior become part of the office culture.

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