Idaho bans diversity training, or, Trump is not gone

Here we are once again, forced to return to our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.

Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Now, less than 2 months later, comes the terrible update: they did.

The Idaho House on Thursday approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.

…The measure, which passed with a 57-12 vote and no Democratic support, would prevent educators from making students “affirm, adopt or adhere to” belief systems claiming individuals of any race, sex, ethnicity, religion or national origin are responsible for past actions done by members of the same group. It also would prohibit teachers from forcing students onto belief systems that claim a group of people as defined by sex, race, ethnicity or religion are inferior or superior to another.

Republican Idaho lawmakers are concerned federal authorities could force belief systems on Idaho students through school curricula — calling the ideas often found in critical race theory “contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being” of the state.

Backers said the bill is an anti-discrimination measure intended to spell out expectations for Idaho schools and universities following an executive order by President Joe Biden issued in January titled Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities.

–We’ve written a lot already, in the posts linked above, about this abuse of language that calls a law designed to prevent people from talking about and acknowledging racism an “anti-discrimination” law. By locating racism or other prejudice safely and firmly in the past (people today are not “responsible for past actions done by members of [their] group”), the law makes discrimination against non-white Americans seem dead, a relic of the past, and something people today would only bring up in order to hurt innocent Americans, make the U.S. “seem” racist, and destroy the nation.

To say that addressing our problems is “contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state” is openly weird. The “well-being of the state”? This sounds more like language from the Soviet Union, Animal Farm, or some Unabomber-type manifesto than language from a U.S. legislature.

The nation’s well-being springs from… actually being well. The U.S. is strong when we live up to the principle of liberty and justice for all. The U.S. is weak, and in danger, when we don’t. Dictating that the health of the nation is something floating in the ether that exists separately from our daily lives on the ground, what we do and say, how we treat everyone in our nation, the laws we pass and the people we elect, is contrary to the well-being of our state.

This quote from one Idaho lawmaker is frighteningly transparent about the real goals of this bill and its supporters:

Republican Rep. Lance Clow, chairman of the House Education Committee, supported the measure. …“I’m sure,” he continued, “minorities were feeling compelled to take certain beliefs and certain directions that now, on the flip side of that, you know, this white Anglo Saxon Christian feels like, well, maybe the tables have turned, and maybe we should have recognized there were problems in the past, and maybe we didn’t.”

…hearing this white man say he’s “sure” about what “minorities” have gone through, their being forced to “take” “certain” beliefs and “directions” is already bad. When he goes on to say that the “flip side” of this is “white Anglo Saxon Christians” “turning the tables” on other people–we presume “minorities”–it gets a lot worse.

Stay with us here, because the “logic” of the last part of his sentence is tortured: if we recognize that racism and other prejudice against non-“Anglo Saxon Christians” happened in the past, and we realize that was wrong, then we don’t want to make the mistake of allowing the prejudice that is taking place against “Anglo Saxon Christians” right now in the present go on any longer, lest we fail to learn from our past experience.

Anglo Saxon?? It’s astonishing and infuriating to see constant reminders that white supremacy has taken deep root in every part of our nation. What will these white supremacists do when, relatively soon, demographic trends will result in an America where white people are the “minorities”? We need only to look as far as the racial oligarchy in South Africa under apartheid for an answer.

As recently as 30 years ago, people who tried to bring up “reverse racism”–the allegedly widespread racism against white people that was robbing them of opportunity–would be laughed out of the room. Times have changed, and that 30-year timing is relevant, as it was the Reagan administration in the 1980s that began the drastic backlash against civil rights that resulted in, among other things, the growth of the religious political right and anti-democratic hate masquerading as protecting “real” Americans and the “real” America–with “real”, of course, meaning “white”. It used to be that people had to say “real” as a code for “white” because they would get in trouble if they paraded their racism. Again, times have changed, to the point where this legislator can openly refer to “Anglo Saxons”.

The 2020 Census data is being parsed right now, and it is, as predicted, being used to re-apportion and shift political representation in Congress. It’s no secret that these anti-American, racist bills are being written and passed by Republican-majority legislatures. There’s a long road ahead of every American who believes in democracy to fight and overturn these laws, before standing up for democracy is “controversial”:

Democratic Rep. Steve Berch said the legislation would have the opposite effect. “What this bill winds up doing in practical terms is intimidation,” he said. “This bill, not necessarily intended, but for sure there are people who will use this bill to intimidate teachers, school administrators, school clerks to make sure they don’t do anything that might in any way be considered controversial.”

Truth v Myth: Trump Executive Order defines fighting racism as racist

Welcome to part 2 of our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. You can find the official White House version of this executive order here. Today, we move on to the Order’s misrepresentation of anti-racism as a “destructive ideology.”

This destructive ideology is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world. Although presented as new and revolutionary, they resurrect the discredited notions of the nineteenth century’s apologists for slavery who, like President Lincoln’s rival Stephen A. Douglas, maintained that our government “was made on the white basis” “by white men, for the benefit of white men.” Our Founding documents rejected these racialized views of America, which were soundly defeated on the blood-stained battlefields of the Civil War. Yet they are now being repackaged and sold as cutting-edge insights. They are designed to divide us and to prevent us from uniting as one people in pursuit of one common destiny for our great country.

–The duplicity here makes one want to cry out. Here is the pretzel: acknowledging racism at work in America today is actually racist. To bring up race is, somehow, to have a “racialized view” of America, and, beyond that, to bring up racism is to be an apologist for slavery.

Where to begin? Well, perhaps with the common knowledge that fighting racism and working for civil rights is hardly represented as new, revolutionary, or cutting-edge. We’ve been doing this work in this country since 1787, at least, and the association of “civil rights” with “fighting racism against black Americans” has been very much a part of our life as a nation since 1865. Perhaps the author(s) of this order remember the NAACP, SNCC, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Shirley Chisholm, John Lewis, the NACW, and, greatest of them all, Mrs. Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Maybe they can recall the desegregation of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. The March on Washington. Brown v. Board of Education. The Great Society. All of these movements, organizations, events, and people of the past 160 years that we all read about at every grade level in our textbooks.

Fighting racism and working for civil rights is also not racist. To claim that fighting racism forces people to think about race, and only race, and therefore is racist, can only be the product of a deep stupidity or a deep evil. It’s very hard to say which would be worse.

Unfortunately, this malign ideology is now migrating from the fringes of American society and threatens to infect core institutions of our country. Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors. For example, the Department of the Treasury recently held a seminar that promoted arguments that “virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism,” and that instructed small group leaders to encourage employees to avoid “narratives” that Americans should “be more color-blind” or “let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.”

–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.

It’s hard to imagine that many Americans would claim that they are “color-blind.” They might say they themselves are not racist, or that they try not to be. But they wouldn’t claim that they never think about race unless forced to do so by a workplace diversity training. In reality, all people–whatever their race–have racist thoughts and feelings. Most of them know that, and work to fight that human tendency. Some of them know that and don’t care, and some of them know that and deny it. While one might find fault with a diversity training program that singles out white people as racist, when we know that it’s a part of human nature the world over, we are talking about the U.S., where centuries of institutional racism have worked to promote the interests and well-being of white Americans at the expense of black, Latinx, Asian, and Native Americans. So in a U.S. diversity training, the focus will indeed be on how white people can renounce the privileges racism offers them. If white Americans don’t do that, they cannot “let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.”

Training materials from Argonne National Laboratories, a Federal entity, stated that racism “is interwoven into every fabric of America” and described statements like “color blindness” and the “meritocracy” as “actions of bias.”

–Again, the first statement is very familiar to Americans. We spent the last 70 years learning again and again how racism distorts housing, employment, incarceration, health care, and education. You either oppose or support this, but you can’t prove a case for denying it. That’s why pushing “color blindness” and “meritocracy” are indeed tools of racism: they ask people to assume a level playing field that does not exist. Meritocracy means “we all start with the same opportunities, and those who take advantage of them and work hard will succeed.” But we don’t all start with the same opportunities, the same equality of opportunity, as the Founders put it, and therefore meritocracy is not truly possible.

Materials from Sandia National Laboratories, also a Federal entity, for non-minority males stated that an emphasis on “rationality over emotionality” was a characteristic of “white male[s],” and asked those present to “acknowledge” their “privilege” to each other.

–Here the author(s) play into people’s willingness to roll their eyes at “political correctness”. They pull very small quotes from some larger document to prove that Sandia is denigrating white men, representing them in a negative way and, therefore, engaging in what white racists traditionally call “reverse discrimination.” See? they say; Sandia is encouraging racism against white men! Shouldn’t every individual be judged on their actions, not their race? This is pretty unforgivably deceitful. If one group have worked to institutionalize racism, then yes, they participate in racism and benefit from it, even if they’re not fully aware of the full extent of that participation and benefit. It become so normalized that it’s just the fabric of life. Sexism works the same way. Making people aware of the benefit, or privilege, they experience is a first step in teaching the basic lesson that discrimination must be actively opposed, and that can’t happen until it is personally acknowledged. The work doesn’t stop there. Acknowledging one’s own participation in discrimination is just the first step to fighting it, and being part of the solution.

A Smithsonian Institution museum graphic recently claimed that concepts like “[o]bjective, rational linear thinking,” “[h]ard work” being “the key to success,” the “nuclear family,” and belief in a single god are not values that unite Americans of all races but are instead “aspects and assumptions of whiteness.” The museum also stated that “[f]acing your whiteness is hard and can result in feelings of guilt, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, or fear.”

–One of the concepts we learn as we move into adulthood is that words can have many meanings. We learn about codes, and code-switching. We find through personal experience that potentially explosive messages cannot be bluntly stated, but have to be filtered. It’s what we call a “dog whistle” – most people hear nothing, but those who are in the know hear the message.

Well-known examples include “the right kind of people” and “our kind of people”. 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.

And so when the Order complains that the Smithsonian claimed that the phrases “[h]ard work” being “the key to success,” the “nuclear family,” and belief in a single god are not values that unite Americans of all races but are instead “aspects and assumptions of whiteness,” it is pretending that these have not become thoroughly encoded dog-whistles.

We would criticize the Smithsonian–if it is being quoted correctly–for saying that only white people value the nuclear family. Black American families in particular have been targeted for destruction by policies that keep black Americans poor, physically unhealthy, exposed to drug use, and more likely to be sent to prison, all of which prevent nuclear families from forming and/or persisting.

All of this is contrary to the fundamental premises underpinning our Republic: that all individuals are created equal and should be allowed an equal opportunity under the law to pursue happiness and prosper based on individual merit.

–The horrible irony of this statement is clear: acknowledging and fighting the racism that prevents equal opportunity under the law is racist. All anti-racism is anti-American and is itself what is preventing equality for all Americans. And, before we close, let’s all remember that the Declaration of Independence that the Order purports to quote here by using the phrase “pursue happiness” says NOTHING about individual merit:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

How does America achieve happiness for all? Is it through assuming a meritocracy? No: Americans achieve this by forming a government that supports happiness for all (“these ends”). And if that government “becomes destructive of these ends,” we the People must alter or abolish it to create a new government built on “such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”.

That’s how we create and maintain and safeguard happiness in this country. Through the hard work of creating a system of government that does not allow systemic, institutionalized discrimination, and through the hard work of monitoring that government and correcting it if it goes wrong. The Founders knew how hard it would be to keep the government fair and to keep it dedicated to preserving our natural rights. They did not recommend or describe a fantasy about everyone having all the resources and opportunities they needed, like magic, and just taking advantage of them, easy as pie. It’s about rights, not magic.

Next time: define merit