Trump orders federal government to cancel racial sensitivity training based on Critical Race Theory

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.

72 thoughts on “Trump orders federal government to cancel racial sensitivity training based on Critical Race Theory

  1. I feel your cognitive dissonance. It’s tough to explain to friends. If you’re anti-Trump, people suppose you are woke; if you’re anti-woke, people assume you’re pro-Trump. I’d say most Americans are anti-Trump AND anti-woke, but we don’t get to have a voice because in the public debate because the paradigm has no place for us. We’re stuck down here in the Jerry Coyne blogosphere 🙂

  2. According to news reports I have heard on this, he got this directly from Carson on Fox. He is one of 3 or 4 on Fox where Trump gets all of his ideas.

    As far as the training itself, how is it training by lecture to people about racism works if they are already racist? Do they really think hearing about it in the classroom is going to make a difference. It’s mostly a joke. It will go over about like all the classes they use to give on sexual harassment. If you are a sexual harasser is hearing about it in a classroom going to make you stop. Give me a break. You solve the problem by not tolerating the practice. By having a professionally trained sexual harassment unit within the organization to handle it. That is what works and it would also work in a form for bigots within the organization. In more than 35 years of this, the govt. has leaned almost nothing and the answer is right in front of them within some government organizations.

    1. Someone called ME Hart has apparently ‘given hundreds of diversity training sessions for businesses and the federal government for more than 20 years’.

      Nice work if you can get it. He must now be feeling the pinch.

    2. To build on your conundrum, Randall, how is anti-racism training going to work when the overarching theme of the training is that you must accept that you ARE are a racist?

    1. The woke were always mainstream-corporate democrats in general, and denounced those who care about class and income equality as “brogressive” and “berniebros”. The inclusion of male-ness (“bro”) is no accident but suggested anti-feminism or misogyny, i.e. woke dogwhistles that mean “white guys” (which is bad). The assertion that wokism was “far left” was never particularly true. All major corporations are easily on board with woke ideas, because it nicely aligns with their corporate interests, leading to some woke angrily crying about “woke corporatism” which so effectively exposed their “activism” as mere live-action roleplay.

  3. We do not know how many federal agencies employ companies that use critical race theory in their sensitivity training. Maybe a few do, but we don’t know how pervasive it is. The quote from somebody from the Discovery Institute on Tucker Carlson’s show is worse than meaningless. Would you believe this guy if he was talking about evolution? Until we see hard statistics, I consider this directive nothing more than more Trump disinformation. Maybe CRT does permeate the federal government, but we are way past giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. In other words, Trump may be using a few isolated instances to score points with his base. Let’s get the facts before drawing judgments.

  4. Meh. I see that Russell Vought’s memo doesn’t identify any actual extant “divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions” or sessions teaching that “there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity,” but merely cites unidentified “press reports” that such federal-employee training sessions exist.

    And if such sessions actually exist, we’re to believe it took the Trump administration three and 3/4 years (until just 60 days before the next general election) to discover them and decided they are a bad thing?

    Does it come as any surprise that the Birther-in-chief sees his path to 270 electoral votes paved with non-stop fomentation of racial disharmony that he can somehow blame on the other side?

    1. Trump receives direction from his handlers at Fox news (also Putin). Carson is probably the most racist one at Fox so his word is gold.

    2. I agree. Notice also that the directive says nice things about the federal work force. This is a strong indication that it’s pure crap. Trump, like all Republican presidents, hates federal workers and tries to do all he can to cut their pay raises, diminish their pensions, and cut their health benefits. As I said in comment #7, let’s see the data before believing anything that comes from the Trump administration.

  5. The term “white privilege” bothers me more than it should. Perhaps it is because many whites, perhaps the majority, enjoy few special privileges. Rather, they have not had to bear the burden of racism that Blacks have. But to me, not bearing the injustice of racism is not a privilege, otherwise we could say that removing the injustice for Blacks is equivalent to granting them a privilege. It is not, it is restoring a right they should always have had. Justice for all should not be considered a privilege for all.

    Perhaps it is mere semantics, but it bothers me.

    1. Perhaps it’s because the word “privilege” has been weaponized with “check your privilege” being the easiest way to shut a white person up if they say something against orthodoxy. Before all this CRT and such started, I’d often say I was lucky and privileged because even though poor, I was in a fairly egalitarian society, a safe country, and had access to education and health care. I also as a white person didn’t face discrimination. Now it’s all been weaponized.

    2. Yes. The phrase is a verbal way to simply look past the poverty, underfunded schools, lack of health insurance & health care, and short life expectancy that lots of white people experience (similar to many Black people). One can acknowledge that these things are true while also agreeing that anti-Black racism is widespread and terrible.

      1. And I find it so annoying that so many of the woke are privileged people who go to ivy league schools their parents paid for and probably think the great injustice in their life is that they once worked a retail job and mom wouldn’t buy them a Mercedes when they turned 16 and they got a new Ford instead. They are from such a different world from the one I grew up in and I often suggest they all go work in an open hearth steel mill for a week to get a better handle on things.

    3. Thank you for this! You put it into words. You said something that clarifies what I was thinking but didn’t know what or quite how to say it.

  6. The enemy of my enemy is…well, still my enemy. Maybe this is a crumb tossed to his base, fine, I’ll take it. Even a broken clock and all that but I worry that Biden/Harris will tragically reverse course and make title IX and CRT training even worse as a crumb to THEIR base. Harris in particular, who likes to speak “as a woman of color” worries me the most. I do worry she will reject Obama’s ideals as evidenced by his statement that there was not a white America, a black America, and a Latino America, but the United States of America. It’s clear CRT acolytes have no use for that and are trying to undermine that at every turn.

  7. I hope this new directive is low on Biden’s list for cancelling when he becomes president.

    I’ve read about the Sandia Labs conflict. The scientist’s video against CRT is a bit over-the-top but I’m still on his side.

  8. A question for fellow reader that has intrigued me since I first immigrated to the United States and heard someone say it (after I understood English.)

    Why is slavery considered to be “America’s Original Sin”?

    (Especially in view of its near historical and geographic ubiquity….and much more.)

    1. It was also g*d’s original sin as he seemed in favor of it long before America. So actually it wasn’t a sin.

      1. Thanks….but in all honesty, I don’t understand it.

        I have asked Americans born in the US, and although they say it, they really can’t explain it.

        1. Black slavery was present right from when the country was first settled by Europeans. The unrequited labor of the slaves accounted for much of the development of the nation until 1865. And the founding principles of the country, as described in the Declaration and the Constitution, contradicted this reality.

          Best I can do.

          1. Thanks….yesterday I found out that one of the reasons Americans decided to import slaves from Africa was that slave markets in Africa were well established (maybe a few centuries old) due in large part to the slave trade going to Islamic states.

            I also read that it was also due to greater immunity to yellow fever and malaria by people from Africa. (Though, of course, germ theory of disease not yet known.)

            They could have imported some slaves (and Asia) from Europe…meaning white slaves???….note that the word “slave” derivates from “slav”-and not just in English. Also, geographic proximity.

            I got most of this from book “Sapiens”.

            1. Also, perhaps it is because it was via the European settlement of America that slavery and racism became so conflated. There had always been slavery but with some exceptions it was mostly intra-racial (e.g., in Africa at the time). In the New World, racism and slavery became inseparable. Just a thought 🙂

              1. Yet slavery has overwhelmingly been the fate of conquered members of a different ethnic (or religious, as in Islam) group too weak to resist. Does it really matter whether a Roman slave or a Native American slave is technically not from a different race when he is clearly the member of such an outgroup?

          2. As Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address:

            Yet, if God wills that it [the war] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”

        2. The economy in the early days, largely based as it was on cotton and tobacco exports, relied heavily on slavery to be as profitable as it was. Then it took almost a hundred years from the founding of the US to end the practice. By that time, much of the population had convinced themselves that being black was being less than human. And we’re STILL struggling with it.

          I was born in 1956, and my elementary and junior high schools were 100% white. My high school did have one black male, so hey, that’s progress. This was in a large city in Ohio. It wasn’t deliberate apartheid, but it sure did work out that way.

    2. When we Yanks speak of “America’s original sin,” it is generally a reference either to the genocide of the natives who lived on this continent before the first Europeans arrived or to slavery.

      As to the latter, it carries this stigma for two reasons: first, because chattel slavery provided much of the economic engine that permitted the colonies to grow to the point they could declare their independence from England and form their own union; second, because, over a decade after the union’s founding, when the nation replaced the original Articles of Confederation with the US Constitution, slavery was written into the Constitution’s text — in both the infamous “three-quarters” clause and the clause ending the importation of African slaves as of 1808 — even though slavery had been abolished by other civilized nations, and even though the framers themselves understood that peculiar institution’s inherent immorality. After all, as Thomas Jefferson, himself a misegenating slaveholder, and the man who penned the words “all men are created equal” in the colonists’ famous 1776 missive to the king, said as regards slavery: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

        1. Perhaps the hundred years of segregation and terrorizing of Black people after freeing them from slavery. Reconstruction offered them a promise of equality, which was soon snatched away.

      1. I meant the “three-fifths” clause. That’s the amount each slave counted toward a state’s population when representation in the House of Representatives was to be apportioned.

      2. There is a hot debate among historians (or as hot as academic debates) can be as to whether the Constitution was pro-slavery or not. I have followed the debate closely. The argument that it was not pro-slavery is that the Constitution never used the world “slave.” Instead it used the phrase “a person held to service.” Also, the Constitution ended the foreign slave trade in 1808. The proponents of this view is that the Founders were ashamed of slavery and hoped to see it abolished someday. But, alas, circumstances (there are always circumstances) made immediate action to at least begin the end of slavery in the states was not practical. Those who think the Constitution was pro-slavery point to the 3/5 clause as well as the Fugitive Slave Clause. In my view the Constitution was pro-slavery in the sense that it really did nothing to begin the process of ending slavery. But, as with many things, how one views the Constitution is a matter of opinion because of conflicting and ambiguous evidence. This debate is an example of why there is no “true” history.

        For a good discussion of the debate, see this article by historian Nicholas Guyatt. It was originally posted in the New York Review of Books.

        1. I’ve always understood the Constitution’s ending of the importation of foreign slaves by no later than 1808 as the southern slaveholders’ way of preserving and increasing the value of their existing slave stock (including their slaves’ progeny) by ensuring the market wouldn’t be flooded with newcomers.

          As I understand it, by the time shots were fired at Fort Sumter in 1861 (and quite possibly for a long time before that), slaves constituted the single most valuable property asset in the nation.

          1. Within the South the issue of whether or not to support the importation of foreign slaves was controversial. The smuggling of slaves into the country was not uncommon. On the one hand, the increase of supply would reduce the value of the existing slaves. Also, some slaveholders felt guilty about foreign importation and simultaneously observed that the importation of many new Africans would increase the likelihood of slave revolts. On the other hand, an increase in slaves and their reduced prices would allow more white people to own slaves. The idea was that the more whites that owned slaves would mean more people would have a vested interest in maintaining the system. Slaveholders constantly worried that since a majority of southern whites did not own slaves their support of the system could not be counted on. Probably most slaveholders opposed the re-opening of the foreign slave trade, but there really wasn’t a consensus.

            I believe you are correct about the value of slaves in 1861, but I would have to double check to be sure.

        2. The Constitution did not end the slave trade. Article 1, Section 9 prohibited Congress from ending the slave trade before 1808. Thus, it protected the slave trade for a period of time. An act of Congress ended the slave trade.

          1. Right, you are. And I believe the statute passed by congress, the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807, took effect and ended the foreign slave-trade on the earliest date possible, January 1, 1808.

        3. I was taught and, have read a number of sources that indicate, or state, that coming to consensus on that document was fraught with disagreements. I wish we had all the conversations, notes, discarded documentation, etc. to inform us as to precisely how we ended up with the concepts of and wording in this document. So, we started off with compromises and have had to continue that throughout our history. Given the divisions we’ve had from the beginning of our country, it’s amazing that we haven’t yet torn ourselves apart more than once. There are those citizens among us who expect to see a second Civil War if we can’t do much better about compromising again.

          1. I’m with you, Rowena. And I fear for the near term as well as the long, as to what might happen to this nation between now and January 20th of next year.

    3. Thank you all for the responses….I understand it better now.

      I actually forgot to ask the companion question to it: To which other nation/area can slavery be said its original sin?

      But that’s for another time….

      1. Maybe what King Leopold II of Belgium did in the Congo? Though I’ve never been to Belgium and have no idea how they handle this part of their history.

        But yes, best leave that larger discussion for another time.

  9. One more thing, this is the YouTube made by, Casey Petersen, Sandia Lab employee who was balked at the training.

    He has a good understanding of Critical Race Theory and even Post-Modern philosophy.

  10. “I don’t even know what that means, as racism is a characteristic of people, not countries.”

    I really can’t quite agree with our host on this. Sure, racism is a characteristic of people, but what do you call South Africa in the apartheid era, the USA in the segregation era, China in its treatment of Uighur Muslims, Israel under its recent “nation-state law”? They are countries that assign diminished status to citizens with certain cultural or ethnic characteristics on the basis of those cultural or ethnic characteristics. One can choose to call them discriminatory, without reference to the criteria on which the discrimination is based, but it is hard to see the distinction as more than semantic. Okay, they are not “racist countries”, but countries in which certain forms of racism are embedded in the law.

    1. I do agree with our host on this. Slavery and other forms of coerced labor (such as indenture, imprisonment, having to pay off taxes by labor when you haven’t money, etc.) has been present in most, if not all, the cultures (and countries) we know of throughout history. There is evidence for pre-historical slavery as well.

      The examples you give of South Africa, China and Israel are not unique in the world, whether the racism is institutionalized or not. Yes. Most have to do with acquisition and retention of all, or most of, an area’s wealth and resources for the benefit of one group of people at the expense of another, whether or not it be, in your examples: whites vs. blacks in South Africa, Chinese vs. Uighers in Uigher territory (also, Chinese vs Tibetans, and, now, Chinese vs. Indians) and Israel vs. Palestine.

      In the U.S.(and, other countries) indigenous peoples routinely are disadvantaged. Sometimes due to restrictions on where they can live, what education is available, and either no jobs or low paying jobs. A preponderance of U.S citizens at this time may view themselves as wage-slaves because good paying jobs are not available to them.

      I am tired of our not addressing the real reasons for these problems.

      1. Slavery was outlawed by Genghis Khan in about 1210. Genghis Khan, and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford.

        The real reason for these problems is multilayered, surely. But, I’d say racism in the US today is largely the result of the overall inequality in the society as a whole.

    2. “…Israel under its recent ‘nation-state law.'”

      How did you lump this in with the others? Israel is a democracy where anyone — no matter their ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender, etc. — can be a citizen, have full rights, and run for office. Plenty of non-Jewish people are citizens of Israel, and there are Muslim representatives in the Knesset.

      1. I agree that one of those things is not like the others. But I fear, if no two-state solution is forthcoming, it could eventually serve as a first step along an invidious path.

        After all, the first commandment changed by the pigs at Animal Farm merely allowed some to sleep in beds. It took seven steps to get to “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

        1. The continuous failure of a two-state solution is unfortunate, but it’s not as if Israel hasn’t tried. In every serious negotiation, the Israelis have agreed to all the terms demanded by the Palestinian leaders, only for the Palestinians to back out at the last minute with an “lol jk.” I guess the Palestinian leaders walked into those negotiations expecting that Israel would never agree to them.

          “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is the mantra. How do you bargain a two-state solution with a group whose stated goal is the annihilation of your state?

          The only hope is that the new pacts between Israel and other Arab countries, coupled with a change in view from Palestinian leaders and their people, will lead the Palestinian side to realize that their lives would be much better if they agreed to the terms offered by Israel in previous negotiations. The increase in economic activity, human rights, security, and other vital resources and living conditions would be immense if the Palestinians were willing to come to the table again and negotiate in good faith.

        2. Also, the “nation-state law” isn’t really a first step toward anything. It merely said that Israel is a Jewish state (we all knew this to be true when it was established, and it should also be noted that many other democracies are technically religious nations, like the U.K.), made Hebrew the only official language (but still kept Arabic as a language with “special status”), and made a statement about continuing settlements. While the latter of these is an issue, it had been going on for decades, so saying it out loud wasn’t much of a change, and Israel now seems to be backing away from that policy.

          Regardless, there is no indication that any steps will be taken to make non-Jews anything less than full citizens with full rights in the future.

  11. I mean, when you get right down to it, you’re going to find you agree with everyone in existence on something. That it is good to breath oxygen, that you should stop at red lights and go on green, that you should eat food and not rocks, etc., etc.

    I object to CRT in that, from what I can tell, it strongly stokes divisive, category-based thinking as opposed to “we are all human” thinking. So yeah, I have no problem with saying this is not the approach that the government, or anyone, should be using in trainings. I have fairly severe social phobia already, I just don’t understand mandating ways of thinking that force everyone to walk on eggshells around each other in the workplace. How on earth does making people terrified of saying the wrong thing bring people closer together or foster more caring, healthier relationships? So yes, I agree that these trainings are a bad idea.

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