Chyrons from stories about DEI on a purple background
Molly Butler / Media Matters

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“Didn't Earn It”: Right-wing cable news and online influencers amplify the latest attacks on DEI

Social media users praised the phrase, calling it “a fantastic new slur,” and targeted Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

In late March, the right-wing attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives pivoted to claims that DEI policies pose a risk to society by allowing high-level positions to be given to supposedly undeserving candidates who “Didn’t Earn It.” Social media users and right-wing personalities quickly amplified the phrase and used it to target Black individuals with racist rhetoric.

  • Right-wing media have repeatedly attacked DEI measures

    • Conservative media figures have repeatedly demonized DEI measures to question the merits of people meant to benefit from such programs. Following similar attacks against critical race theory and affirmative action, right-wing media figures have condemned DEI policies centering marginalized people, often claiming that such practices allow for unqualified candidates to be hired into high-level positions or suggesting that these practices are “un-American.” Several conservative personalities also celebrated the January resignation of former Harvard President Claudine Gay, who was the university’s first Black president, as a victory over “DEI ideology” and “the DEI cancer.” [The New Yorker, 1/22/24; Media Matters, 6/29/23, 1/5/24, 2/7/24]
    • Right-wing media baselessly blamed DEI initiatives for recent safety incidents with Boeing planes and the Baltimore bridge collapse, despite a lack of evidence. In January, right-wing media personalities blamed a string of failures in Boeing planes on DEI policies, claiming that airlines are “deliberately putting their passengers at risk” and that they are hiring Black pilots to fill “the demographic quota.” A DEI consultant indicated to Rolling Stone 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.” [Media Matters, 1/12/24, 1/25/24, 3/26/24; Rolling Stone, 1/11/24]
  • Social media users seemingly attempt to rebrand DEI as “Didn’t Earn It”

    • In late March, social media users posted that DEI should actually stand for “Didn’t Earn It,” using the phrase to suggest that Black people “didn’t earn” high-level positions — including targeting Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. Following the March 26 collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore after it was struck by a freighter, users on social media called Scott, who is Black, a “DEI mayor” and claimed DEI stands for “didn’t earn it.” In an MSNBC appearance, Scott said that people linking his position to DEI “don’t have the courage to say the N-word.” [Yahoo News, 3/31/24; The Baltimore Banner, 3/28/24; Media Matters, 3/30/24; New York magazine, 3/31/24]
  • Two screenshots of posts from X
    • At the end of March, users on far-right platforms, including Gab, far-right forum TheDonald, GETTR, and Truth Social, repeatedly posted the phrase “Didn’t Earn It,” praised it, and used it to push racist rhetoric. These users mocked DEI and praised the phrase, calling it their “favorite acronym,” a “fantastic new slur,” and “simple yet beautiful.” Users also claimed that “CRT is repurposed racism. DIE really means Didn't Earn It or redistribution AKA theft,” and wrote that DEI elevates “unqualified non white biological humans.” Some instances targeted specific Black people in positions of power, such as one user claiming that Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is “a DEI or-- Didn't Earn It fraud” who “has infected The Supreme Court as a DEI appointee.” [TheDonald, 3/20/24, 3/22/24, 3/25/24, 3/26/24; Gab, 3/24/24, 3/22/24; GETTR, 3/22/24; Truth Social, 3/23/24]
    • Some social media users, including on far-right platforms, indicated that they intended to spread the phrase, urging others to do the same. In one post, a user claimed that the “Didn't Earn It operation hit a nerve.” [TheDonald, 3/24/24]
  • Screenshots of posts saying to spread the DEI phrase
  • Right-wing social media personalities amplified the racist attempt to rebrand DEI as “Didn’t Earn It”

    • On March 19, right-wing personality Ian Miles Cheong posted that “DEI is short for ‘didn't earn it.’” This post from Cheong, who has a history of amplifying far-right campaigns to his right-wing audience, gained over 14,000 likes and nearly 1 million views on X. [Twitter/X, 3/19/24, Media Matters, 2/8/24]
    • On March 21, cartoonist Scott Adams, who has previously made racist remarks, claimed in a post that “whoever came up with ‘Didn't Earn It’ as the description of DEI might have saved the world.” He went on to say that “this one could collapse the whole racist system. It's that strong.” This post earned over 32,000 likes and 2.2 million views, according to X’s metrics. (In 2023, several newspapers stopped publishing Adams’ comic Dilbert after he made several racist remarks on his YouTube show.) [Twitter/X, 3/21/24; NPR, 2/27/23]
    • Rogan O’Handley, known online as “DC Draino,” shared Adams’ post, reiterated that “DEI = Didn’t Earn It,” and called the phrase “Genius.” This post earned 25,000 likes and 1.6 million views on X. [Twitter/X, 3/21/24]
    • On March 23, anti-trans activist James Lindsay posted, “DEI = Didn't Earn It, and the Iron Law of Woke Corruption never misses.” Lindsay also shared an article alleging conflicts of interest in hiring decisions by a Black public schools superintendent in North Carolina. [Twitter/X, 3/23/24]
    • On March 26, conservative Substack author and social media personality Amuse posted that “DEI = Didn’t Earn It… and people died,” seemingly referring to the first Black woman appointed to the Maryland Port Commission and the Baltimore bridge collapse. Amuse shared a post from the Young Conservative Federation claiming that the commissioner “knows nothing about Ports, but she is a ‘diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) auditor and consultant.’” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24; Fox 2 Now, 8/8/23]
    • Trump ally Laura Loomer declared that “DEI stands for DIDN’T EARN IT!” She also claimed that “in a game of scrabble, it’s spelled ‘Die’ because it is the quickest way to die.” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24]
  • As the phrase gained traction on social media, right-wing cable personalities also amplified it

    • On March 21, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain complained about “the consequences of us all lowering the bar again in the name of DEI” and said that “I saw someone the other day say DEI … should mean ‘Didn't Earn It.’” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 3/21/24
    • After criticizing Planet Fitness for “hiring a heck of a lot more transgender and more minorities with no skills,” One America News host Dan Ball mentioned O’Handley’s post on X and said that “DEI, Didn’t Earn It” was the “best thing I saw all week on social media.” He went on, “That's what it should stand for. ‘Didn't Earn It.’ That's the best way to describe this whole DEI, CRT nonsense.” [OANN, In Focus, 3/24/24]
    • On March 26, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld claimed: “DEI, which stands for Didn't Earn It, you know, that’s what replaced meritocracy, which is based on the best person winning. So now you have quotas taken from a depleted pool of deserving applicants.” Gutfeld added that “in every aspect, there is a war on competition. They don’t like to win fair and square.” [Fox News, The Five, 3/26/24
    • During a March 26 appearance on Newsmax, Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake promoted the phrase, saying, “Listen, DEI — somebody on the internet came up with the phrase ‘Didn’t Earn It.’ That's what it should stand for, ‘Didn’t Earn It.’” She went on to say, “You should get a job based on your qualifications, not on the color of your skin.” [Newsmax, The Chris Salcedo Show, 3/26/24
    • Newsmax host Chris Plante said: “As to the DEI and CRT issues, these companies suddenly decided to step on the gas because of the Democrat Party on this DEI, you know, ‘Didn’t Earn It,’ and critical race theory and all that.” Plante then blamed DEI for recent safety issues at Boeing as well as the Baltimore bridge collapse, adding, “Now we see the priorities of the companies are diversity and equity at sea.” [Newsmax, The Right Squad, 3/26/24]
    • On March 26, conservative podcast host Alec Lace used the phrase to attack White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the first Black and openly LGBTQ person to hold the position, calling her “the Didn't Earn It press secretary.” [Fox Business Network, Kudlow, 3/26/24; The New York Times, 5/20/22]
    • On March 28, Rumble streamer Tommy Sotomayor used the phrase during an appearance on Fox News’ Jesse Watters Primetime, claiming the host had failed to bring up the “racist bridge in Baltimore” during “this DEI ‘Didn't Earn It’ Thursday.” This was a reference to a recurring segment on Watters’ show called “D.E.I. Thursdays,” in which the Fox host mocks stories of efforts around the country to increase diversity and inclusion. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 3/28/24; Media Matters, 7/19/18; Twitter/X, 1/25/24]