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Elon Musk criticizes DEI efforts in Don Lemon interview, despite ongoing Tesla racial discrimination suits

Elon Musk criticizes DEI efforts in Don Lemon interview, despite ongoing Tesla racial discrimination suits
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X owner Elon Musk, who has been posting for months, even years, in opposition to what he calls the “woke mind virus,” shed new light on his libertarian thinking in an interview with Don Lemon, the former CNN host put online on Monday. The billionaire said he believes conversations about racism and discrimination largely belong in the past.

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“Being aware of inequities in society is fine, of course,” Musk said. “But trying to make everything a race issue is divisive and corrosive to society,” he told Lemon, who was challenging the Tesla and SpaceX CEO on the amount of hate speech on his social media platform.

Musk expressed fears that diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are dangerous to society, citing a post on X from last month in which conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro said DEI initiatives would lower standards for incoming prospective doctors. Musk instead insisted that in lieu of DEI measures, hiring and promotion practices should be based solely on merit and integrity.

“The only basis for promoting somebody should be their skills, talents, and that’s it,” he said.

Race and discrimination were frequent topics in Musk and Lemon’s tense hour-long interview, where Lemon, a Black journalist, confronted Musk on past controversies including his comments about transgender rights, antisemitism, and moderation of hate speech on X. Instead of addressing Lemon’s questions directly, Musk largely backtracked on several controversies that arose from his chronic posting, including some he had previously apologized for, specifically the times he highlighted rhetoric related to “Great Replacement Theory” and antisemitism. Musk also downplayed the extent of racial discrimination lawsuits against Tesla.

Last Friday, his EV company settled a racial discrimination lawsuit for an undisclosed amount, following a $3.2 million judgment in court to a Black former Tesla elevator operator. This was much reduced from a jury verdict awarding the former employee $137 million, an amount later ruled excessive. 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Tesla in September for tolerating widespread racist harassment and retaliation against workers who’d spoken out against alleged discrimination. Musk told Lemon that the allegations were not true.

“If you walk around the Tesla Fremont plant, I think it’s a very good atmosphere…” Musk said. “If there’s over 20,000 people in one building, is anyone gonna behave perfectly? No. Did I see any situations that I thought were improper? I did not.”

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‘What future do we want?’

Musk has a history of toeing the line between acknowledging racism and denouncing initiatives to address inequities.

In his interview with Lemon, Musk agreed with Lemon’s assertion in the interview about the U.S.—and “every country”—having a history of racism, but he said that continued discourse about the persistence of racism today was futile.

“If you study history broadly, everyone was a slave. We are all descended from slaves, all of us. It’s just a question of when. Was it more recent or less recent?” Musk said. “What future do we want? Is this something we want to make a constant part of our dialogue forever? Or do we want to move on and treat everyone as an individual?”

Tesla’s decision to remove diversity, equity, and inclusion language from its annual report in January aligns with Musk’s ideology around the role of DEI in the workplace: The EV giant introduced its DEI report in 2020 and expanded its Human Capital Resources of its annual report in 2021 to include information about attracting a diverse talent pool and providing employee resources, Quartz reported. Its most recent report release last month included a statement condemning discrimination, but eliminated any diversity information.

But other recent comments indicate that Musk is willing to blur the lines of where he stands in speaking out against racism. In February, Musk called the now-suspended AI model Gemini “insane, racist, anti-civilizational programming” for generating historically inaccurate images, including a Black U.S. founding father and racially diverse Nazis. 

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“It is pretty much a guarantee that any company that says ‘don’t be evil’ will be evil,” Musk posted on X at the time.





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