An old Jewish joke, which I’m allowed to tell because I’m a secular Jew, describes cognitive dissonance for Jews this way: “Jewish dilemma: Free ham.” Well, one of the latest rulings of the Trump administration may create some cognitive dissonance among readers who, like me, both hate Trump but also dislike Critical Race Theory (CRT) of the divisive and accusatory sort. That’s because the ruling bans racial sensitivity training in the federal government if it’s based on Critical Race Theory, involves notions of “white privilege”, or ideas that the U.S. is inherently racist or evil, or that any race is inherently evil (they of course mean whites). “White privilege” is of course an integral part of CRT, but is not on its own nearly as invidious as the entire theory.
This may be the third good thing that I’ve seen the Trump administration do (after revamping the Title IX regulations and fostering the accord between Israel and the UAE). The fact that their motivations for doing it may differ from the reason I approve of it doesn’t make the act less salubrious, though it may show Trump’s racism more clearly.
Click on the screenshot to read the WaPo article, which refers to a directive from Russell Vought, head of the Office of Management and Budget (pdf here)
Here’s the gist of the executive order, clearly issued by Trump but written in that memo by Vought:
For example, according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or where they are required to say that they “benefit from racism.” According to press reports, in some cases these training have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.
These types of “trainings” not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce. We can be proud that as an employer, the Federal government has employees of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We can be proud that Americans from all over the country seek to join our workforce and dedicate themselves to public service. We can be proud of our continued efforts to welcome all individuals who seek to serve their fellow Americans as Federal employees. However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.
The President has directed me to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions. Accordingly, to that end, the Office of Management and Budget will shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President’s directive. In the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on “critical race theory”, “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil. In addition, all agencies should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these un-American propaganda training sessions.
Note that it doesn’t ban all race sensitivity training, which I think should be available, though not necessarily mandatory (it depends on the department and its history). There are ways to increase people’s sensitivity without using CRT; in fact, I went to one session at my University earlier this year and found it pretty tame, non-divisive, and respectful to everyone. So when the Post pushed back on the memo in its article, it attacked the wrong target, though properly got assessments from critics of the measure.
From the Post:
It could not immediately be learned what training sessions Vought was referring to in the memo. Recent Fox News segments have heavily criticized “diversity and inclusion” efforts in the federal government started under the Obama administration.
“It’s absolutely astonishing how critical race theory has pervaded every institution in the federal government,” Chris Rufo, research fellow at the right-wing Discovery Institute, told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson earlier this week.
Other experts say racial and diversity awareness trainings are essential steps in helping rectify the pervasive racial inequities in American society, including those perpetuated by the federal government. Several studies have found federal contracts are disproportionately awarded to white-owned businesses. In 2017, a study by the Minority Business Development Agency found a dwindling over two decades in contracts for minority-owned businesses, according to NPR.
. . .Racial awareness trainings can help officials realize unconscious bias in the awarding of contracts from the federal government, the country’s largest employer, said M.E. Hart, an attorney who has given hundreds of diversity training sessions for businesses and the federal government for more than 20 years.
The racial sensitivity trainings can improve morale and cooperation in the workplace, and by increasing the diversity of perspectives, ultimately improve overall efficiency, Hart said.
The reason the aim is off here is that the memo doesn’t call for abolition of all racial sensitivity training in the government, but just forms of training that conform to the stipulations in Vought’s third paragraph above, especially adherence to tenets of CRT. There’s also a bit of editorializing where it shouldn’t be, mentioning Fox News’s consistent anti-minority views, which (though Trump loves Fox), isn’t relevant unless Trump got this idea from watching Fox—not an unlikely event.
Now we all know why Trump is doing this: he’s playing to his white base at a time when there’s racial unrest in the U.S. And he probably couldn’t get away with what I suspect he really wants: banning all racial-sensitivity training in the government. In an effort to keep his base without alienating all blacks, he’s toed the line, and, fortunately, he’s toed it pretty close to what many of us want.
Certainly there should be sensitivity training available, but it won’t work if it alienates people using CRT or by demonizing whites. And there’s no need to say that America is an inherently racist or evil country. I don’t even know what that means, as racism is a characteristic of people, not countries, and, at least in the government, there’s not the codification of inequality that I think of as “structural racism.” But yes, if evidence shows that a form of racial bias is operating in some divisions of the government, then by all means bring out the training.