Aisle Of Wit

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Carpe DEI-m?

No, it wasn’t a very good week for those who believe in inclusion.  Aside from the Supreme Court’s pre-summer vacation parting shots, the most notable of which was the de facto elimination of affirmative action, the entertainment medium was awash in stories announcing numerous departures of executives who had been specifically tasked with improving their companies through efforts of diversity, equity and inclusion.  It was epidemic enough for THE WRAP’s Sharon Knolle to fire off a late Friday night recap as her own midsummer night’s scream:

Three studios and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences laid off or lost top diversity execs in the past 10 days, which gives the impression that the industry is placing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on the back-burner.

Disney’s chief diversity officer and senior vice president Latondra Newton, a six-year veteran, was the first of the four to go…Her departure was followed by Wednesday’s announcement that Vernā Myers, Netflix’s head of inclusion strategy, will step down from the role in September. She was the first person to serve in the role, which she held for five years…Friday…brought a double departure with Warner Bros. Discovery ousting SVP of diversity, equity and inclusion Karen Horne, and the Academy parting ways with EVP of Impact and Inclusion Jeanell English. Horne joined WBD in March 2020, while English’s role was created by Academy CEO Bill Kramer in July 2022.

I specifically used the three dots to indicate portions omitted from the above reporting because there was quite a bit of editorial liberty being taken by Knolle in her framing of these departures.  These are among the “objective” observations that Knolle chose to employ as a reputable journalist:

The drive for diversity that picked up prominence with 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement seems to have run its course after just three years.  Were these roles merely lip service all along? As “A Black Lady Sketch Show” actress Yvette Nicole Brown tweeted, “I guess all those black boxes after George Floyd was murdered were for nothing,” referencing 2020’s social media blackout that was supposed to be in support of the BLM movement.

(Regarding Newton): Predictably, her exit was celebrated by a faction of people who blamed her for “The Little Mermaid’s “woke” casting of Black actress and singer Halle Bailey.

(Regarding the Friday departures):  (T)he day after the Supreme Court struck down Affirmative Action in education.

And: S*W*A*T” writer Brian Margolis tweeted on Horne’s departure, “Let me be clear: if your plan is to restructure your diversity initiatives by removing Karen Horne, your plan is to make everything exponentially worse. F–k [WBD CEO David Zaslav].”

OK, folks, it’s pretty clear where y’all stand.  You’d probably be buying drinks for the three female Supreme Court justices not named Barrett.  Since knowing what level of salary you were ushered in at, amidst a typically public fanfare in publications like THE WRAP as the pandemic began and the first wave of industry panic and consolidations unfolded–you know, the one that took yours truly out with the tide, I know your severance packages and expense accounts are luctative enough where you can still afford to do that.

But the last time I checked, these were BUSINESSES that hired you, businesses where the only inclusion that actually translates to tangible results with stockhoders and investors are those where their works are at the top of ratings or box office charts.  They haven’t had a lot of them of late, certainly not the levels seen pre-pandemic, and the reasons why this is have scant little to do with anything they were tasked with.    When creative efforts fall short of fiscal expectations, people get fired.  Positions that have less to do with the actual creation of value or revenue are indeed considered expendable.  Indeed, this was telegraphed at a December gathering which Knolle’s publication sponsored:

ATheWrap’s Power Women’s Summit in December, Hartbeat CEO Thai Randolph predicted that DEI roles were vulnerable, saying that they were on the “chopping block” if leaders don’t make it a “business imperative.”  Said Randolph, “If you do not look at building inclusive organizations as critical to the success, the profitability, the scaling of your company and its objectives, those are the things that that are greatly at risk.”  During the panel, Amazon Studios Head of Gobal (sic) DEI Latasha Gillespie said the industry might be experiencing what she termed “diversity fatigue.”

Yah think?  I’m exhausted just recapping the word salads and hand-wringing that has been almost nonstop for the past several days by those who are looking to roll up personal frustrations and conflating of these seminal issues as some sort of outright assault on human rights.   I was directed on my social media feeds to a scathing commentary from MSNBC’s Joy Reid that was full of particular vitriol, where she mocked the environment of her alma mater Harvard as one she despised, but yet wore as a badge of entitlement as defining her attendance as some sort of retribution.

As if the idea of anyone being able to actually succeed in any business without a Harvard education is impossible.  I didn’t even qualify for a scholarship to Boston University, let alone Harvard, and I did OK.  And don’t anyone dare try and explain my success because of my gender or race.  Pure and simple, I worked harder and longer hours than many others, delivered time and time again on ratings goals and budget expectations, and rose through companies ahead of plenty of Ivy League-educated colleagues who didn’t.  I subscribe to the theory of “carpe diem”–seize the day.

When my own cancellation occurred, it was explained to me that it was both budgetary and cultural.  I was let go along with the second-oldest person in my department, both of us approaching age 60.  I’m constantly admonished that ageism is something that can’t ever be addressed, nor will anyone go on the record to even try and debate it.   I wouldn’t want to speculate on the specific ages of the DEI execs who were let fo, but I don’t think I’m wrong in suggesting their average falls below that number.

As for all that inclusion, all readily available credible census and survey data suggests that 16.7% of adults are 60 and over, pretty much smack dab in between the percentages of Blacks (14%) and Latin Americans (18%).  I think raw numbers would suggest that folks like myself are as equally entitled for appropriate representation levels as those population sectors are.  I’d like to know where anyone like Horne , Myers or Newton were to fight for the inclusion of folks like myself.

You want to conflate affirmative action in education in with this all?  Don’t just throw 1619 out as a date of consequence without also factoring in 1636.  That’s when Harvard was founded as a private institution.  Is it the old boys club that Reid chided them for being, in a far less impactful way than, say, Elle Woods did in LEGALLY BLONDE?  No doubt.  But it’s also their right as a PRIVATE BUSINESS to set their standards–and their tuitions–accordingly.  Reid could have just as easily gotten to where she is today with a degree from Howard, and probably would have enjoyed herself a lot more in the process.

And honestly, the only year I care about these days is 2023, since neither you nor I were actually arounded in the 17th century.  I can’t speak to any alleged atrocities my ancestors may have been associated with because a) I don’t know that European Jews were all that controlling and b) I just don’t care.  I’m stlll seizing days, against some really long odds that anyone once in my life actually wanted me to succeed in doing so, and working harder than ever to find a way to still contribute to a world I fought like hell to get into and am fiercely determined to stay in until I get carried away in a pine box.

And, bluntly, I’ll stack my tenacity and qualifications for helping actual bottom lines up there with any DEI executive still remaining.

I’ll stack the grades and accomplishments of my nephew, who is still scrambling to find a graduate school who will accept him, against those were somehow finding their way into programs via affirmative action with lesser numbers and qualifications.  If Friday’s decision actually helps his own odds at achieving his dream, I’m just as selfishly motivated to breathe a sigh of relief that this all went down as I am to join any march to protest it.  Since I was so positively received when I actually did stand up for George Floyd during that hot pandemic summer three years ago (I’ve written about this before; suffice to say, I’m dripping with sarcasm here), that ain’t happening now.

And I’ll even stack the work ethic of my roommate who was dismissed from his own position at a law firm a few weeks ago against his diversity-hire employee–his direct report–after he dared to ask  she would be available for emergencies after she informed top management she would be taking a week or so off in the middle of a busy period for “personal reasons”.  Apparently, DEI policies prevented him from even being allowed to get that information.

So if anyone’s looking for anything from me resembling sympathy or any  lamenting that these people are being treated just as “unfairly” as the dozens of other victims of bad decision-making in entertainment and tech, or education or law for that matter, dream on.

And carpe your own damn diem while you’re at it.

Until next time…