Wendy Kaminer on free speech, compulsory race and bias training, and why they’re related

March 25, 2021 • 9:30 am

Because the “progressive” Left brooks no criticism, if you’re against the pernicious form of anti-racism promulgated by the people John McWhorter calls “the elect,” or are worried about the divisiveness and hatred that, ironically, is promulgated by Critical Race Theory, then you wind up finding yourself in bed with some unsavory people—as if you had a drunken assignation with someone who, by daylight, is repugnant. And by that I mean some of the more extreme conservatives.

So it’s a bit of a relief to find an ally in someone with impeccable liberal credentials, who’s advocated for free speech, women’s rights, and who was a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union for years. I’m speaking of lawyer and author Wendy Kaminer, who is only two days older than I am. I’ve read several of her books and always found her not only liberal, but levelheaded and clear in her thinking. And her article in a recent Tablet, on the invidious nature of compulsory race and bias training (a piece that would never, of course, appear in the New York Times), should be read as the views of a left-centrist.

Click on the screenshot to see the article (scroll down after clicking):

The answer to Kaminer’s question is “probably not,” for, as she argues, even left-wing judges would be loath to deny to whites the same kind of protections against racially based opprobrium that they would give to blacks. Just as one cannot force black people to get training to overcome any bias against whites, and be criticized in a group because of their skin color, so the reverse must hold as well, regardless of one’s admirable intentions. Nor can the government, at least in public institutions, “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” (This is a quote by Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in a case which prohibited schools from forcing students to salute the American flag.)

Yet such forced profession is precisely what bias training, as described by Jodi Shaw, intends to do: compel its consumers to admit to their biases and racism, even if they don’t feel they’re bigots. Kaminer describes the case of Jodi Shaw, which we already know about. Although her complaint is against a private school (Smith “College”), Shaw’s upcoming lawsuit could be based on “state and federal workplace discrimination.”

Kaminer also details a case brought by a Nevada student against his charter school, and I haven’t described this. Here’s Kaminer’s summary:

High school senior William Clark and his mother, Gabrielle, are suing Democracy Prep, a Nevada charter school, for punishing William, subjecting him to a hostile educational environment, and threatening to deny him a diploma for refusing to participate in mandatory social justice training. The curriculum, titled “sociology of change,” declared that “reverse racism doesn’t exist,” and required students to “make professions about their gender, sex, religious and racial identities”; it then “subjected those professions to interrogation, scrutiny, and derogatory labeling,” Clark’s complaint alleges. William, a light-skinned, mixed-race student, is the only apparent white student in his class, and his various identities, including his Christianity, categorized him as an oppressor: According to the curriculum, he had an “inherent belief in the inferiority” of others and was instructed to “unlearn” the principles instilled in him by his mother, a conservative Christian.

The Clarks are seeking an injunction in federal court allowing William to graduate, deleting his failing grade for the course, and demanding monetary damages. They invoke his rights under federal equal education guarantees (Title VI and Title IX) and his First Amendment right against compelled speech. . .

Given the intransigence of CRT advocates, it will take lawsuits like these to force them to stop the indoctrinations. And it’s helpful for those of us who hold views that could get us tarred with phony “racism” epithets to nevertheless make our cases, rationally. As Kaminer notes in the video below, many students indoctrinated in this stuff simply haven’t learned how to argue rationally, and just hurl names or yell instead.

While Kaminer, who says she’s an “old fashioned liberal,” is a bit worried by having to associate by groups that are on the extreme right, she nevertheless lays out her views, to wit:

We don’t always enjoy the legal right to act on our convictions, but we should enjoy an inalienable freedom to harbor and express them. Anti-racism programs that aim to compel students and employees to “unlearn” their beliefs, and internalize new, ideologically mandated self-images, violate fundamental freedoms of speech and conscience. The likelihood that they’ll succeed mainly in promoting self-censorship and insincere self-flagellations doesn’t mitigate their intolerance of dissent and intrusive authoritarianism.

Does structural racism exist? I believe so. But sending white people to mandatory thought reform camps seems more likely to impede than advance efforts to redress it. Do many, maybe most of us, harbor unconscious biases? Probably. But they’re not the business of our teachers or employers, much less our legislators.

Social justice/anti-racism trainers who disagree and consider me a racist are free to evangelize, and those white people eager to prove their allyship are free to submit voluntarily to their preaching. Others should be free to debate and reject it, in schools and workplaces, without suffering retaliation. It doesn’t matter if the cause of anti-racism trainers is just, when freedom of conscience is at stake: “Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men,” Justice Jackson wisely wrote in Barnette. “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters.” Of course anti-racism training refuseniks don’t risk extermination, but they do risk the loss of educational opportunities and employment on account of their race—as the cases of Jodi Shaw and William Clark make clear.

Can white people suffer race discrimination? Apparently. Discrimination is the resort of people in power, as social justice warriors correctly assert, and they hold power in compulsory anti-racism trainings and the structures that support them. As mere human beings, they’re not above abusing it.

Here’s a six-minute video from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) giving Kaminer’s views of free speech, offensiveness, and bullying (the social-media form). You may have heard these views already, but it’s good to hear them reinforced.

Another reason for opposing this mandatory (as opposed to optional) training, is that it doesn’t seem to work, with any changes quickly disappearing with time. The article below (surprisingly, from The Guardian) suggests that there are better and more permanent ways to improve race relations in and out of the workplace, including voluntary training, training developed locally rather than sourced from the outside, and focusing on positive rather than negative consequences (e.g., lawsuits).  And there are more mechanistic changes that seem to work:

Once that information is found, tried and tested methods can create change. Having a system where managers train people to move up through the ranks, rather than relying on an ad-hoc promotion system works well, particularly for women. Putting in “special recruitment structures” – which basically means you no longer recruit exclusively at historically white colleges, but also approach historically Black universities, or engineering programs with lots of women in them, also works well.

Mentorship programs that are open to everybody – so that women and people of color get mentors even if they’re at the lowest levels of a firm – are also a good way to ensure talent can rise.

“We know what kinds of systemic changes promote diversity. Pointing the finger of blame at managers, and trying to adjust their individual bias, they just don’t work. So, to me, it’s just, it’s crazy that companies are still doing these things,” explains Dobbin.

So is diversity training just a money-maker, I ask Kalev?

“Most diversity training doesn’t work. Most of it is not for free. So you can do the 1+1,” she says.


26 thoughts on “Wendy Kaminer on free speech, compulsory race and bias training, and why they’re related

  1. I was perplexed that the judge in the Clark lawsuit was reported to have expressed skepticism. You would want to establish the facts in the case securely, no question. But skepticism implies that the abuses this child was subjected to are implausible prima facie. Why would anyone think them implausible, given the enormous volume of well-documented information about the behavior of the Woketariat commissars in academic institutions?

  2. Although I believe that diversity training doesn’t reduce bias much, it surely succeeds in informing an employee as to what kind of behavior is expected of them and what will get them fired. It also helps protect the company against employee lawsuits as in, “We gave them diversity training so what else could we have done?”. Finally, it allows the company’s HR department to justify its existence and expand its influence and budget. Just one of the many things we do here in the US to reduce our competitiveness with China and the rest of the world.

    1. As in universities, the bloated administrative class keeps finding ways to retain its avoirdupois.

  3. “Voluntary training” on CRT in the workplace may be a good compromise, but my suspicion is that its proponents will right away make “voluntary training” a prerequisite for promotions or other items of value.

  4. I hope they are successful in suing the crap out of the school. I cannot believe a public school would have the guts to do such a thing.

    In my experience in business, having classroom training on most of these issues is a waste of time and money. Racial diversity, sexual harassment, you name it. We did this stuff year after year and it accomplished nothing. The classes are always mandatory so everyone goes. Not only is it a waste of time, the lost productivity just adds more loss.

    1. The easiest way to make university instructors’ lives miserable is to assign them a class that’s required for some other major, where they’re facing fourteen weeks or so of sullen, hostile and utterly indifferent students two or three times a week for fourteen or so weeks. Forced ‘diversity’ ‘training’ is essentially the same thing, and there’s plenty of evidence by people who’ve done the research—heavies in the field like Mona Weissmark—that if anything, these exercises in attempted thought control backfire spectacularly: people often come out of them *more* committed to their previous biases, or develop those biases in reaction to the coercion they’ve just experienced.

    2. As Paul alluded to, “don’t be an idiot” training accomplishes protecting the corporation from legal damages when one of their employees acts like an idiot. However slimy we might think that is, it’s relevant here because the school isn’t going to be held legally liable for some student’s personal conservative views on race or diversity. So even that thin justification disappears in this case.

      Now, I’d like to think that good corporate training has the positive effect of reminding people about rules of behavior and conduct that might not otherwise be intuitive. No, don’t wear flip flops to a client meeting. No, a joke you make alone with Bob in the bar is not appropriate to make with Bob in a meeting in the workplace. Etc. But again, that’s not relevant here. It might be perfectly legit to hold anti-bullying or anti-harassment assemblies (functionally equivalent to ‘training’), but in this case, it seems to be anti-conservatism training, which is wrong.

      1. Well, I am not sure where your experience in this comes from but mine is from 27 years working for a worldwide company (AAFES). I saw many years of mandatory classis in diversity and specifically in sexual harassment in the 80s which we had our share of. The sexual harassment mandatory training was even increased and did not help. Instead, sexual harassment was brought under control by implementing a professional program of reporting and investigation that has proven results, not only in our firm but others. You get nowhere with classes. So if that is being an idiot I think proven results works much better than a day or two of classroom talking. If you have any examples of the classroom getting the job done, other than making someone feel good, let me know.

        1. Interesting Randall, I think that don’t be an idiot training might help. I’m not sure if it does, but I do know that reporting and investigating sexual harassment would obviously work. This case is different. It is forcing an ideology with a poor scientific basis down the throats of children. No do I think it is just ani-consevative only . It is anti anyone who doesn’t agree with it. Remember the youngster here comes from an all black family where a genetic fluke makes him look white. Google and you shall find it 🙂

        2. I got a lot of the harassment training on the military side. It was sort of tedious, but was presented as a bunch of things that are not acceptable to do. Some of their logic was convoluted, as when they were explaining why opening a door for a woman was potentially offensive.
          But what they did not do was adopt a confrontational and accusatory stance by turning the training into a bunch of reasons why all men are bad. That seems to be the tendency of the current training, as well as demanding that one participate through public confession.

          Another absurd and somewhat related training I was required to receive was called “healthy lifestyles” or something like that. This was once I was on the civilian side. It was all about avoiding vices and the dangers of addiction, that sort of thing. What was comical was that all of the students at that class were senior professional officers, with homes and families and years of experience. We knew each other professionally, and also knew that the 30 year old guy teaching the class was in that position because he had failed a drug test and lost his security clearance. They could not deploy him, but kept him in their employ as a condition of completing rehab. It was not a good use of our time. Just a box someone got to check.

  5. It’s so important to see well-argued pushback coming from liberal quarters. It gives Democratic leadership something besides right wing sources to point to, and will give some cover if they try to take a sensible approach.

    1. Sadly the Woke believe that ‘reason and logic’ are tools of the White Man created to oppress and should be replaced with ’emotion and instinct’. Therefore you cannot argue rationally with these immature adults.

  6. “…training developed locally rather than sourced from the outside…” Obviously a non-starter, as
    it would eliminate the entire cottage industry of Diversity Consultants and professional “anti-racism”
    training companies. Wasn’t this boondoggle estimated to net about $8 billion annually for its practitioners? It has already taken its place along with such other shining American enterprises as the
    advertising “industry”, the homeopathy “industry”, the quack medicine “industry”, the general concept of “Consultants”, and those absurd motion-activated paper towel dispensers everywhere.

  7. I don’t think pseudo-voluntary ideological training should be offered at workplaces and schools. It is a powerful tool of indoctrination and oppression used by every totalitarian regime I know about. When my country abandoned totalitarism in 1989, one of the first laws to be enacted banned organized political/ideological activity at workplaces.

  8. I’ve done a bit of extra googling on this case. According to the other press stories, this poor student actually has a black mother two black full siblings. He just looks white because of the way the genetic dice have fallen. Of course he doesn’t like a course that wants to label him racist, because he won’t be one. All the rest of his immediate family are black. ( His father is dead.) . I presume that the idea that reverse racism doesn’t exist means that black people can’t ever be racist. This is patently false and it also gives you an insight into their ability to think critically. You can NEVER prove a negative. Any claim that something doesn’t exist is a fragile one that can be broken by just one example to the contrary.

  9. Kaminer said: “Does structural racism exist? I believe so.”

    Liberals always feel obligated to say this but what’s the evidence? Structural racism obviously existed in the past, but I see no evidence of it in 2021. Sure, there is legacy/residual racism from a small percentage of individuals, but systemic racism in Western industrialized countries? I don’t see it…

    Thomas Sowell agrees: “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support — kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as ‘racists.'”

  10. Obligatory ‘diversity training’, what could that possibly achieve ? Other than an aversion to those who impose it? It is a stupid, probably counterproductive exercise. Obligatory, quasi voluntarily? F.ck them, would be my first reaction. However, on second thoughts, it might help one to learn to use the (insincerely held) right noises where required.

  11. Wendy Kaminer also wrote an excellent piece in 2014 on the Obama administration’s guidelines for outrageous star chamber proceedings in cases of campus sexual misconduct accusations: see
    https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2014/05/05/due-process-and-sexual-assault-wendy-kaminer . She
    is a true Liberal, and one of the few unafraid to make themselves clear. Three cheers. Alas, the
    conventional Left has evolved over the last 20 years from old-sense Liberalism to our current plague of wokery—exemplifying, for the millionth time, Gresham’s Law and Sturgeon’s Law.

  12. Can black people be racist? Young black kids certainly can. Back in the late ’90s, my ex and I visited a local nursery in London looking for somewhere nearby and affordable that our young daughter could attend. All of the kids already there were black, as were the staff. We said we’d take the place, and Eleanor the manager apologetically asked if we really meant it – in the past, other white couples had said the same thing but then reneged. She was genuinely keen to diversify the nursery, but was struggling to do so and hoped that finally recruiting her first white child would be the start of that process.

    Sadly, Eleanor’s vision didn’t come to pass in the year before our daughter left to start infant school. Whilst she was there our child mostly enjoyed her time at the nursery, but was occasionally upset by taunts from the other kids about being a “green-eyed ghost”. The staff handled these incidents well, but it was an interesting experience of the “reverse racism” that I’m now assured doesn’t exist. Yeah, right…!

    1. A few years ago I was sharing the office with two statisticians from two neighbouring countries in West Africa. They would never say a word to each other during the six months they worked there, while they had no problems speaking to me. I finally discovered that there was some kind of ethnic conflict between them. One of them told me that racism among ethnic groups in Africa could be worse than what he had exprienced as an African in Europe. Yes, black people can be racist.

  13. I liked Kaminer’s take on Jodi Shaw and Smith College’s president:

    McCartney, Smith’s white female president, seems afraid to challenge the students she’s supposed to lead; she exemplifies white fragility much more than Jodi Shaw. Fighting back and making herself a pariah on campus, Shaw exemplified strength, the courage of her convictions.

  14. All of this diversity “awareness” is fostering more hate and resentment within those who are the alleged “oppressors.” There are plenty of underprivileged whites out there who work as pavement layers, gas station attendees, bus drivers. Plus, like the student referenced in the blog, many of these “whites” are actually of mixed race. I went to a comedy show before the shutdown featuring a Filipino comedian. First thing he did was go up to a guy in the front row, and say “You look white. You’ll have a nice life ahead of you.” There was an awkward silence for a moment, and he said somewhat angrily, “I’m HALF VIETNAMESE.” Take in addition other people who are a small percent Native American, but who still strongly identify with their culture and history. In addition, recent “white” immigrants may have a much different experience than Anglo whites who have been in this country for generations, and these recent immigrants may have been through similar struggles to overcome assimilation and bias. This new paradigm has done nothing to foster inclusiveness and instead trains people to see the “otherness” in their neighbors and even themselves.

    Moreover, not only can this “training” be traumatic for those involved, I do believe it is unfair to force people into an indoctrination program in which they are not allowed to express dissent or an alternative opinion. Higher education is supposed to foster independent thinking. Suppression of alternative opinions is incongruous with this goal. Good to see that the left is finally waking up to the dangers ahead.

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