DEI-Phobia: Unpacking the Fears of White Conservatives in the Face of Demographic Change

Effenus Henderson
3 min readJan 5, 2024
Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

In an era marked by unprecedented cultural shifts and evolving societal norms, a peculiar mindset has emerged among some far-right white nationalists: DEI-Phobia. This mental bias, characterized by fear and resistance to growing diversity, has taken root, leaving a trail of tension and misunderstanding in its wake.

It’s a curious phenomenon when fear and apprehension become the driving force behind one’s beliefs and actions. Much like a classic phobia, individuals affected by DEI-Phobia find themselves running frightened and intimidated by the changing landscape of America and the world at large. The fear of losing control over the status quo becomes all-consuming, leading to a reactionary stance that often manifests as anger and aggression.

What’s particularly intriguing is how this fear can grip even those who appear well-to-do and prosperous. In a paradoxical twist, some individuals, seemingly secure in their affluence, channel their resources into efforts aimed at stemming the tide of diversity and inclusion. They go to great lengths to obliterate leaders who advocate for empathy, equity and inclusivity.

In this vortex of fear and resentment, even staunch supporters of the far-right movement, some with bi-racial families themselves, lose sight of the very real impact of their actions on their loved ones. Their short-sightedness prevents them from recognizing the long-term trauma inflicted upon their immediate families, circles and society as a whole.

I am particularly encouraged by the words of people like Mark Cuban who have come to the defense of DEI strategy and who coined the term, DEI-Phobia. I took some liberties with it because I think it is a great way to characterize why DEI remains important. Consider this exchange with Elon Musk appearing in The Hill on 1/4/24

“Discrimination on the basis of race, which DEI does, is literally the definition of racism,” Musk posted.

In a separate post, Musk was responding to comments about Harvard President Claudine Gay resigning and said “DEI is just another word for racism. Shame on anyone who uses it.”

Cuban, an entrepreneur, former host of ABC’s “Shark Tank” and part owner of the Dallas Mavericks, took to the platform to give Musk his thoughts on DEI in a numbered and lettered list.

“Good businesses look where others don’t, to find the employees that will put your business in the best possible position to succeed. You may not agree, but I take it as a given that there are people of various races, ethnicities, orientation, etc that are regularly excluded from hiring consideration,” Cuban wrote. “By extending our hiring search to include them, we can find people that are more qualified. The loss of DEI-Phobic companies is my gain.”

Yale Professor Dan Kahan labeled this resistance as “identity protective cognition,” a term that aptly describes the tactics used by crafty conservative figureheads to amplify their followers’ grievances and sense of loss. The cycle continues as fear mounts and individuals feed on each other’s grievances, leading to attacks on anyone who falls within their line of sight.

Dan Kahan’s identity-related work has focused on “identity protective cognition”, which refers to the tendency of individuals to unconsciously dismiss evidence that does not reflect the beliefs that predominate in their group.

It’s essential to acknowledge that this phenomenon is not a monolithic one. DEI-Phobia is a complex issue with multifaceted causes. It’s a product of the interplay between personal experiences, societal influences, and political rhetoric. To address DEI-Phobia effectively, we must engage in nuanced conversations that consider the diverse backgrounds and perspectives within far-right circles.

In conclusion, DEI-Phobia is a manifestation of the profound changes occurring in our world today. It’s a reaction to the evolving tapestry of our society, driven by fear and a sense of losing control. To address this issue, we must strive for empathetic dialogue, fostering understanding rather than division. Only through respectful engagement can we hope to overcome the divisive grip of DEI-Phobia and work towards a more inclusive and harmonious future.

Effenus Henderson

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Effenus Henderson

President and CEO of HenderWorks Consulting and Co-Founder of the Institute for Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion. Convener, ISO Working Group, DEI