Truth v. Myth: Trump Executive Order on diversity training redefines in order to mislead

Part four of our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (find the official White House version of this executive order here) concerns “Definitions”.

Every document has to define its terms. But when it redefines commonly used and accepted terms, be on the lookout for acts of bad faith.

Sec. 2. Definitions. For the purposes of this order, the phrase:

(a) “Divisive concepts” means the concepts that (1) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (2) the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist; (3) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (4) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (5) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (6) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (7) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (8) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (9) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. The term “divisive concepts” also includes any other form of race or sex stereotyping or any other form of race or sex scapegoating.

We do not believe in good faith that the context of diversity training in the U.S. provides or supports nine separate, and often completely opposing, definitions of “divisive concepts.”

(1) is a neutral definition of racism and sexism

(2) uses the word “fundamentally” as a subjective motivator for the reader to define any attempt to address discrimination in the U.S. as an attack on their nation that they should patriotically reject; here, “fundamentally racist or sexist” is a cartoonish statement that “the U.S. is bad” that all patriotic Americans are pressured to reject. This one-dimensional, cartoonish definition of “fundamental” is deliberately harmful. Fundamental means “foundational”–built into the foundation of something. That something cannot exist without its fundamentals. While there are well-known, constant arguments made that “racism is America’s original sin,” and that sexism was enshrined in the line “all men are created equal,” this is only part of the story of America and the U.S. The real message of good diversity training is “of course there is institutional racism and sexism in the United States that we must oppose and dismantle–just like the many millions of Americans who have done just that, from 1776 onward; our present-day sense of needing to fight that battle is the result of their work, and is their legacy to us. Fighting for liberty and justice for all is America’s original mandate.” Alongside fundamental discrimination in this country is, and always has been, a fundamental commitment to justice. You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t acknowledge the good fight without acknowledging that there is something that needs to be fought.

(3) this is simply true, and while difficult truths are uncomfortable, they must be faced. No one is innocent when it comes to prejudice. The only lie in this definition is the word “inherently”. Prejudice is not biological. There’s not a gene in your body that makes you prejudiced. It’s 100% nurture. Human beings, like most mammals, are clannish. We are trained to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., from infancy up, just like our parents and grandparents etc., were. Usually this is completely unspoken–no one tells a little boy that women are inferior. Instead, they teach him that boys play kickball at recess and girls play four square, and if a girl wants to switch, he should prevent that by tormenting her with name-calling. No one tells the boy about homosexuality–instead, he learns that a boy who wants to play four square instead of kickball must be tormented with name-calling. If you are white and you use a mortgage app and it says you and your wife can borrow $1 million, it likely never occurs to you that a black couple using the same app in the same city will be told they can borrow $200K. It doesn’t occur to you to think about what other people might be experiencing. The whole point of diversity training is to wake people up, to make the invisible visible.

By putting “inherently” in this re-definition, the Order attempts to turn a proven sociological fact about how we acculturate children so fully that they grow up never realizing they’ve been acculturated into some indefensible nonsense about genetic prejudice that of course the logical person must reject.

(4) we cover this in Part 2 – “Here is the pretzel: acknowledging racism at work in America today is actually racist.”

(5) (6) this is also covered in Part 2 – “This is more of the same idea that acknowledging race and racism is racist. We should all be allowed to be “color-blind”. This phrase, as used in this Order, represents a false assumption, which is that America, or at least most Americans, are not racist and do not ever made judgments about people based on their race. Therefore, being told to think about race is ruining this paradise by introducing race-based thinking, and therefore, racism.”

(7) this re-definition is just another dog-whistle to panic and redirect white people in the U.S. away from fighting racism by threatening that if they fight racism, they’ll end up being forced to pay restitution to black people for slavery. Good diversity training does not tell men that they are responsible for sexism in the 17th century. Nor does it tell white people that they are responsible for racism in the 1800s. What it does tell people is that if they do nothing to stop discrimination today, in their own time, they are part of a longstanding problem instead of part of the longstanding solution. If you don’t reject racism today, you are no different from those who accepted it in previous centuries. You may not be participating in race-based slavery, but you are adopting the same mindset as those who did enslave others based on race.

(8) this builds from (7), and is just a restatement of (3). Asked and answered.

(9) this is so warped and deliberately harmful. The ignorant language is all over the place: is working hard really a biological “trait”? There’s a gene in the human genome labeled “hard worker”? Can a biological trait be “created”? The term they are searching for is not “trait” but, ironically, “concept”. The “hard work ethic” (known before this Order to all as “the Protestant work ethic”) is a dog-whistle concept in the U.S. for “white people”. Again, we cover this in Part 2: “In the U.S., the words and phrases “patriot,” “real Americans,” “honest, hardworking Americans,” and “middle-class” have been turned into dog-whistles for racism since the 1970s, when the conservative backlash against the civil rights movement and gains of the 1950s and 60s began, and were fully gelled by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. All of these have become code expressions for “white”, and it was a horribly effective mis-use of meritocracy: start with the false assumption that everyone had the same starting point and resources, and then when racism ensures that people who aren’t white don’t succeed, the only way to explain it is by blaming the non-white people for being lazy, dishonest, and treacherous. If only white Americans succeed, it must be because only whites are hard-working, honest, and patriotic.”

There are three more re-definitions in Sec. 2 of this Order, two of which simply reiterate points above about how identifying racism is racist, and describe fighting prejudice as “race or sex stereotyping,” or the scourge of “reverse-discimination,” which is somehow not just discrimination and worse than discrimination.

Section 3 defines “United States Uniformed Services” very briefly and objectively.

Next time, if you can bear it: Sections 4-5-6

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