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Ethics of Equity: Part 3

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephen M. King
September 15, 2023

The Apostle Paul wrote that there are no ethnic and religious differences before God; that both Jew and Greek are equal in the eyes of the Lord. And it was MLK, Jr.’s dream of freedom and justice that proclaimed black and white children joining hands, unified as brothers and sisters. Today, although America has made progress in breaking down the barriers that separate us, we have not reached the high marks mentioned above. There is still much work to do. The question for this third essay is “to what degree does diversity, equity and inclusion contribute to, or conversely detract from, this progress?”

First, is there a metric that measures a sufficient level of diversity in, say, college student recruitment? Robert Weissberg retired political science faculty at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, commentator on Minding the Campus, and author of Political Tolerance: Balancing Community and Diversity (1998), contends if there is an ideal diversity it should be specific, directed toward achieving a particular orientation. For example, if we seek “demographic diversity,” how do we determine the right balance between various groups, such as LGBTQ+, blacks, females, etc.? Or if we are seeking “viewpoint diversity,” that is, diversity of ideology, do we set a certain percentage for both liberal and conservative students to populate college classrooms, providing a unique blend and presentation of worldviews, thus producing a learning environment where differing ideas are expected and encouraged? Of course, we don’t. Like Weissberg, I recognize there is no ideal empirical metric for measuring diversity. Instead, diversity should strive to mirror in spirit, if not in practice, the heart and soul of the nation, which is a tapestry of ethnicities, races, religions and ideologies. In addition, diversity should be viewed as an ethical goal; one that seeks to advance the greater good for all citizens, without promoting political agendas.

Second, how is equity understood and addressed? Ibram Kendi, professor of history at American University, offers an interesting perspective of racial inequity. Kendi, the founder and promoter of the “antiracism ideology,” and author of How to be an Antiracist (2019), argues that an “idea, action or policy” is “either racist or antiracist.” There is no “neutrality.” In effect, “we are all racist,” unless we work toward not being racist, or more precisely being “antiracist.” Among other things, this means recognizing our inherent tendency to speak and act racist, and then work to change our racist attitude and behavior toward others. Later, however, in a Politico symposium, to correct what he defines “the original sin of racism,” Kendi calls for an amendment to the Constitution, declaring “racial inequity” and “racist ideas by public officials” unconstitutional. The amendment would establish a federal government agency titled Department of Antiracism, which would have carte blanche power to oversee all racial policies enacted at all three levels of government, to ensure “they won’t yield racial inequity.” Certainly, politics and policy are a part of the equity solution, but we must access and utilize government power and authority fairly, wisely and with accountability. In addition, we should strive to mitigate our ideological and worldview differences, while reducing the threat of alienation toward others.

Third, what are the implications of inclusion? The academic and corporate sectors use the term to imply “tolerance” or “sympathy,” but, according to conservative commentator Chris Rufo, author of America’s Cultural Revolution (2023), inclusion “is the most manipulative” of all three terms, where inclusion really means exclusion, particularly for the segment of the population who are the “oppressors,” that is, any person or group that is not part of a protected demographic identity. Thus, Rufo contends that a diverse equitable and inclusive world is one that is controlled by progressives, who push and promote policies that benefit the “oppressed,” while the conservative “oppressors” are corralled and controlled, forced to comply with left-wing DEI bureaucracy. I disagree. The world is not so easily divided. No single manmade ideology or worldview consistently and coherently explains or drives government action and human behavior, including Rufo’s bifurcated world of the “oppressed and oppressors.” To truly be inclusive requires unifying around ethical and moral values common to all individuals.

In summary, as I mentioned earlier, some level and type of government action is necessary to address social inequities, reaching a just, equal and free society. However, government action alone is insufficient; in fact, it is secondary to man sustaining institutional morality, and acknowledging the spiritual foundations undergirding their humanity. Progress lies in how we confront the “enemy of our soul,” who disorients all of us, causing us to only see what we want to see—what we are comfortable seeing—and not what is necessary to set us free. Diversity, equity and inclusion are not the enemy, but nor are they the panacea. They are only a start; one that begins with recognition that no one person, ideology, political party, race or other demographic representation is or has all the answers for. Opportunities to improve society and strengthen individual resolve distill when we lay down our anger, division and animosity toward each other, work toward unity of ideas, strengthen our communities and transparently address the problems and issues that confront us all. Perhaps then we will recognize the veracity of the Apostle Paul’s words, and embrace the heart of MLK, Jr.’s dream.  

Author: Stephen M. King is Professor of Government at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA. He teaches undergraduate courses in American politics, state and local government, and public policy, and graduate courses in public policy analysis and ethical leadership and administration. He frequently publishes on the topics of ethics and public administration and leadership, and spirituality in the public workplace. He was elected President-Elect (AY23-24) for the Hampton Roads Chapter of ASPA. He also serves on the Advisory Council for SEIGov, ASPA. His most recent book, Ethical Public Leadership: Foundation, Organization, and Discovery, published by Routledge, is due out September 2023. Contact him at [email protected].

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