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Right-wing media escalate DEI panic, embrace blatant racism against Black pilots and airline employees

Charlie Kirk: “If I see a Black pilot, I’m going to be like, ‘Boy, I hope he’s qualified.’”

Right-wing media have continued to blame diversity, equity, and inclusion measures for theoretical airplane accidents after a widely publicized Boeing 737 Max malfunction, attacking the principles of DEI to suggest that plane failures are the result of airlines hiring Black pilots and employees of color. Some figures have questioned whether Black pilots are “qualified” and have called DEI “racist.” 

  • Right-wing media have baselessly blamed Boeing plane’s malfunction on DEI

    • Following a malfunction that caused a Boeing 737 Max 9’s door to dislodge mid-flight, right-wing media were quick to blame diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives for the mechanical malfunction. In their criticisms, figures claimed that the airplane manufacturer had a “DEI obsession” that created a “major risk to airline safety.” Some also blamed Federal Aviation Administration guidelines that promote hiring people with physical and intellectual disabilities and from other underrepresented groups. [Media Matters, 1/12/24, 1/18/24]
    • DEI measures have been repeatedly demonized by right-wing media figures and used to question the merits of the groups meant to benefit from such programs. Similar to their backlash against critical race theory and affirmative action, right-wing media figures have condemned practices centering marginalized people, either claiming that such practices allow for underqualified candidates to be hired into high-level positions, or that these practices are “un-American.” [The New Yorker, 1/22/24; Media Matters, 6/29/23]
    • Furthermore, it is unlikely that DEI measures have a tangible negative impact on an institution’s priorities and performance. In an interview with Rolling Stone, a DEI consultant indicated that “the supposed crisis is vastly overblown — not only because DEI doesn’t have the negative effects described by conservatives, but because it’s far less institutionalized than its critics imagine.” [Rolling Stone, 1/11/24]
  • Right-wing media figures are baselessly claiming that hiring “pilots because of their skin color” puts “passengers at risk,” and smearing DEI with racist attacks

    • On the podcast Thought Crime, co-host Charlie Kirk stated, “If I see a Black pilot, I’m going to be like, ‘Boy, I hope he’s qualified.’” The panel of co-hosts defended Kirk’s statement, responding, “You wouldn’t have done that before,” possibly referring to a time before businesses regularly implemented DEI measures. [Twitter/X, 1/23/24]
    • On X (formerly Twitter), The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh said that “when United announces ‘we’re going to hire more black pilots,’ we are left to wonder if any one particular pilot is there because he’s the best or if he’s there because he fills the demographic quota.” Walsh also stated that an end to DEI and affirmative action measures would make this concern “disappear.” [Twitter/X, 1/23/24]
    • Conspiracy theorist James Lindsay ranted that “DEI has absolutely no place in aircraft cockpits or in air traffic control.” Lindsay also claimed that it is a “guarantee that people will die horribly eventually by compromising on merit in those locations. [Twitter/X, 1/23/24]
    • Right-wing internet personality Ian Miles Cheong posted, “Fly the friendly skies. Do you feel safe in the new DEI airlines?” along with a supercut video poking fun at airlines’ DEI measures. The supercut features clips from airlines’ Pride campaigns and footage of fictionalized or unrelated plane failures. [Twitter/X, 1/23/24]
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    • Conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza claimed that airlines who implement DEI “are deliberately putting their passengers at risk.” Dinesh also said that these airlines should be “sued into bankruptcy for reckless and intentional harm if—or more likely when—there’s a fatal crash.” [Twitter/X, 1/22/24]
    • The Right Side Broadcasting Network praised former President Donald Trump for pledging to “eradicate” the “radical leftist ideology” of DEI from federal agencies after the Boeing airplane incident. The article also claimed that the FAA drew “ire of concerned potential passengers” after implementing DEI “guidelines for recruitment and hiring.” [RBSN, 1/22/24]
    • Conservative podcasters the Hodgetwins claimed that DEI is “racist” because it forces airlines into “hiring pilots because of their skin color.” [Twitter/X, 1/24/24]
    • Right-wing Twitter aggregator Twitchy posted an article titled, “We Are Watching the DEI Demise of Airlines Happening in Real Time and It Is Terrifying AF.” The piece went on to argue that airline “safety seems to be flying out the window” as the “destructive force” of DEI is used. [Twitchy, 1/23/24]