Republican leaders and UNC board give in to claims of white grievance | Opinion

The University of North Carolina System Board of Governors is poised, enthusiastically, to end diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs across the state’s public higher education system.

The new policy will go from requiring senior-level diversity officers at each institution to making them illegal. Such are the winds that blow in North Carolina. Trying to catch up with Florida has become an essential Republican mandate. And the UNC governors are nothing if not compliant partisans, especially when it comes to race.

Gene Nichol
Gene Nichol

Board of Governors member Woody White embarrassed North Carolina by explaining he supported the ban of “un-American DEI constructs” because he was fist-bumped by a Black man at a Circle K in Jones County, thus proving that all is well in the Tar Heel state.

The Chapel Hill trustees moved to the front of the pack by assuring that what are reported to be millions of dollars in DEI expenditures will be transferred to campus public safety programs, lest some pro-Palestine demonstrators again be discovered. No study suggested campus cops needed the money, especially at such levels. But Republican trustees know where their bread is buttered. It is hardly in the service of effective racial integration.

Much can be said about race in North Carolina. Much by people far more knowledgeable than I am. But even I know three things to be true.

First, North Carolina’s racial history is horrifying. It is astonishingly brutal and inhumane. Unspeakably so. We seem to take comfort, on occasion, in a belief that the Tar Heel state wasn’t, or isn’t, as bad as Mississippi or Alabama. Though there might be glimmers of truth in that claim, in fact, sometimes we’ve been even worse than our deep South compatriots. Just read David Zucchino’s Pulitzer Prize willing book on Wilmington’s murderous coup. Though don’t be caught trying to read it in a North Carolina public school.

Second, rather than having remedied the impact of our often-heinous past, North Carolina, at present, suffers from crushing racial disparities in almost every component of our economic, social and political lives. African American Tar Heels have stunningly diminished levels of income, wealth, food security, health care, employment, job benefits, financial savings, educational status, housing resources, and access to capital compared to their white colleagues. Black North Carolinians, on the other hand, face dramatically higher rates of arrest, incarceration, suspension and housing, job and educational discrimination than their majority colleagues. We allow systemic racial subordination — without apparent surprise, alarm, or controversy — in all facets of North Carolina private and public life. We think it as natural as the morning sun.

Third, since 2010, the Republican caucuses of the N.C. General Assembly have waged one of the most stout campaigns against the electoral, political and dignitary rights of African Americans seen by any state in modern U.S. history. You know the drill — history-making racial gerrymanders, precision-based acts of voter suppression, repeal of notable guarantees of racial justice, singular punishment for Black Lives Matter protesters, suppression of the teaching of racial history, subsidization of racial discrimination in public and private schools, and more. Government of, by and for white folks. Old school Jim Crow.

Given these tragic realities, it is beyond difficult to comprehend why a political party in the American South would see its primary mission as responding to farcical claims of white grievance — through hatred for “diversity,” in demands for political suppression, in assertions of naked tribalism, in aversion to even learning our racial history, much less acting boldly, or even modestly, to ameliorate it. One would think that “liberty and justice for all” had been banished from our aspiration. That our allegiance now lies elsewhere.

Contributing columnist Gene Nichol is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.