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The Danger of Complacency: What is next?

Complacency is the enemy of progress. Complacency breeds stagnation and a false sense of security. When we become content with the status quo, we tend to overlook the need for continuous improvement; it prevents innovation, stifles potential growth, and allows existing problems to persist unchecked.


Margaret Atwood captured in her book, The Handmaid’s Tale, a fictional work about a totalitarian and theocratic state that replaced the United States of America. Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving, and their freedom, like the freedom of all women, is completely restricted. The book became a television mini-series, and to be honest, some of the scenes were very hard to watch, forcing women to do things beyond their free-will.


The mini-series went well beyond the book. At one point the mom of the main character, who had been a women’s advocate, explained how little-by-little society took women’s rights for granted. People ignored the signs. They had become complacent. The people in power made small moves, removed women’s rights, one quarter turn at a time. Complacency had taken hold, and only looking back in time could they see the inch-by-inch movements that lead to the present state.


Yes, that was a fictional tale; however, complacency is real and happening today.


First Step: Anti-DEI Legislation and Higher Ed 

Anti-Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) legislation refers to laws and policies designed to curtail or eliminate DEI programs within public institutions. These initiatives, which once focused on creating inclusive environments and addressing systemic inequities, are now being scrutinized and, in some cases, dismantled. Proponents of such legislation argue that DEI efforts often impose a uniform ideological framework that suppresses free speech and promotes divisiveness. They assert that these programs prioritize identity politics over merit and academic rigor.


Public colleges and universities have historically been at the forefront of social change, often serving as incubators for progressive ideas and movements. DEI initiatives in these institutions have aimed to foster an inclusive atmosphere where students from diverse backgrounds can thrive. However, a growing movement has turned these campuses into battlegrounds. Legislation restricting DEI funding and activities has been introduced and passed in several states, significantly altering the landscape of higher education.


Tracking the Dismantling of DEI in Higher Ed

In 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis, signed Senate Bill 266 and House Bill 931 into law, banning DEI offices, the use of diversity statements, and identity-based preferences in hiring at public colleges. The laws went into effect on July 1, 2023. Other legislation has been proposed, creating a domino effect.


The Chronicle of Higher Education has been tracking the legislation. As of last week, the publication has found changes at 164 college campuses in 23 states.


Chronicle writers Erin Gretzinger and Maggie Hicks wrote, in the article “Tracking Higher Ed’s Dismantling of DEI,” that it is about higher ed’s dismantling of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts: “As colleges make changes in response to anti-DEI legislation and mounting political pressure an inconsistent and confusing landscape has emerged.”


“This tracker collects changes that public colleges have made to offices, jobs, training, diversity statements, and other DEI-related activities as the result of bills, executive orders, system mandates, and other state-level actions since January 2023, when The Chronicle began reporting on anti-DEI legislation.”


In addition, a few private colleges also have faced anti-DEI pressure and are included in the rundown. The information comes from a Chronicle survey, media reports, and tips from readers.


The action continues. This year, in 2024, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed Senate Bill 129 into law, banning DEI offices, diversity programs, and identity-based preferences, and preventing institutions from forcing students and employees to agree with certain “divisive concepts.” The law will take effect on October 1, 2024.


The motion continues in 2024 and it spreads.


Momentum Builds: Expanding the Origins of the Anti-Woke Movement

The term "woke" originally emerged as a colloquialism within the African American community, signifying an awareness of social injustices, particularly those related to race. However, in recent years, "woke" has evolved into a broader cultural phenomenon, often associated with progressive activism on various social issues, including race, gender, and identity politics.


This expansion of the idea of “woke” also has catalyzed an "anti-woke" movement, the idea of pushing back against what some people perceive as excessive, progressive activism. This movement has gained traction and expanded its scope from issues of race to encompass gender equity and other areas.


Here are some key factors that contribute to the anti-woke movement:

1.     Backlash Against Political Correctness: Throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there was growing discomfort with what many perceived as an overemphasis on political correctness. Critics argued that the insistence on using specific language and adhering to particular social norms stifled free expression and honest discourse.


2.     Cultural and Political Polarization: The increasing polarization of American politics, particularly around the 2016 presidential election, heightened tensions between opposing viewpoints. As social justice concepts gained prominence, particularly in media and academia, a counter-movement emerged among those who felt alienated or marginalized by these shifts.


3.     High-Profile Controversies: Several high-profile incidents, such as the debates over free speech on college campuses, controversies surrounding public figures, and media portrayals of social justice issues, amplified the sentiment that "wokeness" had gone too far. These events provided focal points around which anti-woke sentiment could coalesce.


4.     #MeToo Movement: The #MeToo movement, which brought widespread attention to issues of sexual harassment and assault, also played a role in the rise of the anti-woke movement. While #MeToo garnered significant support and led to important conversations about gender equity, it also sparked backlash from individuals who felt it unfairly targeted men, enforced a presumption of guilt, and contributed to a climate of fear and suspicion in workplaces and other settings.


Key Arguments of the Anti-Woke Movement

The anti-woke movement articulates several core arguments, often revolving around concerns of free speech, meritocracy, and ideological imposition:


  1. Free Speech and Expression: Advocates argue that woke culture imposes restrictive norms on speech and behavior, stifling dissent, and open debate. They contend that the fear of being labeled as offensive or insensitive curtails genuine dialogue on important issues.


  1. Meritocracy: Critics of woke policies argue that these initiatives undermine the principles of meritocracy. They believe that considerations of race, gender, and other identity markers should not influence decisions in education, employment, or other areas, advocating instead for a focus on individual achievement and qualifications.


  1. Ideological Conformity: The anti-woke movement often claims that woke culture enforces a narrow ideological perspective, marginalizing alternative viewpoints. This argument is particularly prominent in discussions about academic freedom and the role of educational institutions in shaping social norms.


When I interviewed men about gender equity, many of these themes emerged:

·       The men said they were uncertain about saying things that might offend other people to the point where they would get “cancelled” by society or even in trouble with the law.

·       Some of the men reiterated the concept of meritocracy, saying we should interview people with bags over their heads so that skills emerge.

·       Other said that “woke” related to gender equity means that women get preferential treatment, perpetuating a bias about abilities.


As I stress in my book “Men-In-The-Middle,” my goal is not to criticize. It is to acknowledge a perspective that is not often discussed. When we don’t discuss perspectives, ideas that represent the status quo can continue. Another way to say that is complacency.


Challenging Ideas is Part of the New Professionalism

In October 2023, Newsweek Expert Contributor Diya Khanna wrote an article called “It’s Time to Challenge Our Idea of Professionalism.” She addressed the unwritten rules of professionalism. The following are paraphrased from her article:


1.     The dominant culture – the ones who establish group norms, often white males – shape which behaviors we consider important to the success of our jobs and organizations.

2.     Marginalized groups including women can be judged on traits that may not be relevant to their jobs, including ways of communicating.

3.     Workplace policies can exacerbate inequities, and in some case people that are like the norm, for example, get promoted more quickly.


When these ideas remain unwritten and un-or-under discussed, complacency continues to grow.


Is Handmaid’s Tale Relevant Today?


Earlier in this blog, I mentioned the Handmaid’s Tale, a fictional book that turned into a television series. In April 2021, Alice Delhaye wrote an article called The Handmaid’s Tale’s Relevance Today.”  In the article, Delhaye writes that Margaret Atwood, who published the book in 1985, explained in the book’s prologue that everything she wrote did happen somewhere, sometime; she just brought the events together.  The science fiction novel was considered speculative fiction. Atwood called it literature that deals with possibilities which have not yet been enacted but are latent.


Latent ideas that are not discussed, perpetuate complacency. Complacency is the enemy of progress. This is why I want people to have a conversation about those unwritten rule or ideas that go undiscussed. Thank you, Diya Khanna for your article. Thank you, Margaret Atwood for writing about the possibilities that lie latent. Thank you, Alice Delhaye, for talking about the relevance today.


Thank you for the courage to keep the conversation alive through your writing. 


A call to action: Have Momentum Gaining Conversations


We are seeing the rise of anti-DEI legislation. We are seeing the expansion of the anti-woke movement. Understanding the origins and motivations of the anti-woke movement is crucial for anyone seeking to navigate these complex and often contentious discussions. Whether one agrees or disagrees with its tenets, the movement's impact on public policy, cultural norms, and societal values is undeniable, reflecting the deep and ongoing struggle over the direction of social change in the 21st century.


It is our responsibility to open conversations, share perspectives, listen, and learn from one another before we go down the path of limiting the rights of certain groups. We do this for our daughters and sons and the next generations.





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