Black History Month 2023: Black Resistance

Categories: General
Black History Month Black Resistance Blog Graphic

2023’s theme for Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” This February, we’re called to learn more about how Black people in America have for centuries resisted oppression in its systemic, institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal forms. This ongoing struggle to right inequities needs to be centered not just every February, but each and every day. The authentic pursuit of diversity, equity, inclusion, and racial justice (DEIRJ) requires a true commitment to the work of resistance–a commitment whose very purpose is to confront and resolve inequities especially when it feels difficult, if not impossible.

Now is one of those moments when the fight for a systems reset feels especially exhausting. The spike in “everything and anything DEI” after George Floyd’s murder and the swell of the “Great Resignation” has puttered out. Several states are pursuing legislative and institutional restrictions that disallow conversations and education about racial inequities to happen where and when they are most needed: in workplaces and schools.

Workplace DEI is stalling. The emotional drain of DEIRJ work means organizational DEI leaders are burning out, often due to low budgets, shallow or performative engagement (especially from leadership), and lack of access to the resources or institutional power needed to drive lasting change.[1] Alarmingly, companies are slashing their DEI budgets even further–despite evidence that organizational DEI efforts increase both profits and worker satisfaction, and make companies more resilient during economic recessions.[2] The recent economic downturn has led companies to cut costs, and the “last in, first out” mentality means that recently created DEI positions are often the first eliminated. Since DEI teams are often small (think one or two people), this can mean that companies eliminate their entire DEI program in one fell swoop. Layoffs threaten DEI longer term, too: Revelio reports that companies that have undergone recent layoffs are also seeing a sharp decline in diversity across new hires.[3]

Those new hires are also less likely to be for DEI positions. LinkedIn reports that after positions for “chief diversity and inclusion officer” increased by 168.9% between 2019 and 2022, those opportunities declined by 4.5% in the past year. Of the “C-suite” executive positions that had increased over the past three years, DEI job ads are the only category that declined in number in the past year.[4] These challenges to workplace DEI should be alarming to anyone committed to making the workplace a more fair, effective, and supportive space. Companies with well-resourced DEI teams are more likely to have higher representation and retention of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People Color) employees, and higher levels of worker satisfaction regarding workplace culture, values, diversity, and inclusion–not to mention higher satisfaction with the company overall.[5]

We should all also be alarmed by current threats to DEIRJ in education. In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has proposed banning diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the state’s public universities. Last November, a federal judge declared Florida’s Stop W.O.K.E. (“Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees”) Act unconstitutional for censoring the ways that systemic racism and sexism can be discussed in workplaces and schools. Florida is just one of over a dozen states to pass these kinds of censorship laws.[6] Conversations about objecting to and controlling educational content are happening here in Illinois, too. Here and in states across the country, conservative legislators are proposing “curriculum transparency bills” whose thinly veiled aim is preventing inclusive and affirming conversations about race, gender, and sexuality from happening in schools.[7]

The debate over inclusion and censorship in education has exploded this February. On the very first day of Black History Month, the College Board released its revised curriculum for its AP African American Studies course, which removed intersectional, resistance-driven topics like Black Lives Matter, Black queer studies, and Black feminism. African American Studies as a discipline emerged from, illuminates, and strengthens Black resistance. Dr. Robin D. G. Kelley, a History professor whose work was removed from the AP curriculum, warns that the very concepts of equity and racial justice are under attack through an assault on “knowledge that interrogates issues of race, sex, gender, and even class.”[8]

It is deeply troubling that organizations are de-investing in DEIRJ at the same time that an inclusive and intersectional understanding of our past and present is being challenged. Both DEIRJ work and African American Studies aim to recognize, confront, and overhaul the system of White supremacy that has shaped the United States from its very inception. The systems that Black people in America have been forced to resist for centuries are still in place, doing exactly what they were created to do: provide structural advantages to White Americans. Learning and honoring Black history only 28 days out of the year fosters a culture of silence in which inequity and oppression thrive. So too does slashing organizational DEI budgets and letting the muscle needed for courageous conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion atrophy. Now is not a time when any of us can shy away from DEIRJ, especially not in the name of either profit or comfort. Resistance needs to be our year-round, 24/7 theme.

Dr. Laura McCoy Headshot
Dr. Laura McCoy
Inclusion Chicago Coordinator



[1] “What Has (and Hasn’t) Changed About Being a Chief Diversity Officer” (Harvard Business Review), Shelley Willingham, “The Root Cause of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Burnout, And How to Fight It” (Forbes),

[2] Ella Ceron and Lindsey Rupp, “Hiring for Diversity Officers Stalls 2 Years After Big Promises” (Bloomberg),

[3] Revelio Labs, “Cutting Costs at the Expense of Diversity,”

[4] George Anders, “Who’s Vaulting into the C-Suite? Trends Changed Fast in 2022” (LinkedIn),

[5] Revelio Labs, “Cutting Costs at the Expense of Diversity,”

[6] ACLU, “Lessons Learned from Our Classroom Censorship Win Against Florida’s Stop W.O.K.E. Act,”

[7] Samantha Smylie, “While Red States Debate CRT, Illinois Looks at Curriculum Transparency” (ChalkBeat Chicago),

[8] Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “The Meaning of African American Studies” (The New Yorker),