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DTALE should replace DEI

We need an ideology that values the diverse perspectives of all people, not a “victim Olympics.”

An artist's depiction of diversity. Credit: Angelina Bambina/Shutterstock.
An artist's depiction of diversity. Credit: Angelina Bambina/Shutterstock.
Dr. Sheila Nazarian. Credit: Courtesy.
Dr. Sheila Nazarian
Dr. Sheila Nazarian is a Los Angeles physician and star of the Emmy-nominated Netflix series “Skin Decision: Before and After.” Her family escaped to the United States from Iran.

The chorus of voices criticizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs has never been louder. DEI’s opponents charge that these programs are exclusionary and politicized. This, they say, culminated in the explosion of antisemitism that followed the Oct. 7 massacre. 

But DEI supporters raise a fair point: DEI’s problems do not negate the need to ensure diverse representation and inclusion. They are right that rolling back DEI should not mean rolling back all systems that attempt to create fairness and opportunity for all people. We should reject the term DEI and all its harmful associations, but we must also create alternative acronyms that respect the original intention of words like “diversity” and “inclusion” without the negative connotations of “DEI.” 

A better way to ensure inclusion would be a different acronym: DTALE—“diversity of thought and life experience.” This ideology would emphasize the importance of varied perspectives but highlight diversity in its truest form, which is a mosaic of unique personal stories rather than an “oppression Olympics.”

DTALE would treat people as nuanced, complex individuals whose value is expressed in their distinct perspectives and life experiences, not whether they represent broad racial categories. DEI determines one’s significance based on a single criterion: Proximity to whiteness. This is considered the only way to evaluate one’s “privilege,” which in turn determines the merit of one’s voice. This fundamentally reductive approach is harmful to everyone. It denies all of us the opportunity to learn from unexpected and surprising voices. It forces young people to see and define themselves through the lens of race and oppression rather than the multifaceted prism of their unique experiences.

This attitude towards young people is particularly troubling. The pervasiveness of DEI and its hierarchy of moral authority is forcing young people to “perform” the “right” politics, identify with the “right” groups and tell the “right” personal stories to gain access to personal and professional opportunities. Thus, they learn to fabricate the “identity” that DEI demands of them. They see themselves only through the lens of progressive politics. They define their lives according to the oppression and injustice they have faced—even if those experiences are relatively minor.

Wealthy black students learn to elide their socioeconomic privilege by emphasizing racial microaggressions. Rich white students learn to scour their bloodlines for a fraction of Cherokee identity to cite on their college applications. Even worse, students who might have interesting perspectives irrelevant to DEI categories—like a poor white student from Appalachia or a high-performing Chinese student who grew up working in his family’s restaurant—learn that these perspectives are not valued and they might fare better if they keep quiet about them.

This is a sad reality for today’s young people. But DTALE could do something about it. A system that values diversity of thought and life experience is a system in which everyone has a fair chance to be heard and valued because it is built on the understanding that one’s experience can far exceed any narrowly defined relationship to privilege. DTALE is also a much more empowering system, encouraging people to derive a sense of self from their unique background, talents and hard-won accomplishments, rather than from the ways they have been marginalized, hurt or victimized.

The values of DTALE are merit, excellence, hard work and diverse perspectives, as well as the belief that they deserve to be rewarded. These are quintessentially American values. But, intentionally or not, DEI has stripped many of them away. The hardworking strivers who were once touted as American success stories are now made to suffer for their achievements, whether they are Jews who overcame historical persecution to prosper in a free society or Asian Americans whose hard-won success suddenly counts for nothing in a system in which they are not deemed “oppressed.”

DTALE will reopen the path for strivers to succeed, and this opportunity will not come at the expense of others. Everyone’s voice will be equal, regardless of their proximity to oppression. This is a form of diversity that benefits everyone. At a time that is rife with so much division, DTALE offers a solution to the DEI debate on which we should all be able to agree.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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