Nebraska update, site upgrade, and a new home for our posts on censorship and banning teaching about racism

Hey, it’s a positive update for once! In fact, there are a couple of them to share.

You’re seeing the most obvious one – our new site format. We haven’t updated the site since we created it… IN 2008, and while we value history and being old-school, we felt the time had come. We hope you like it.

We’ve also updated our Pages, most notably to include a one-stop shop for all of our continuing coverage of the anti-democratic attempts to censor K-12 and college education in this country by forbidding people to teach about racism or any other “problematic” features of our past and our present in America.

We hope you enjoy both of these upgrades, and that they help you locate the information you need more easily. Maybe we won’t wait another 13 years to make some changes on the old HP.

Meanwhile, we celebrate a positive update on Nebraska, the most recent state we posted about making attempts to ban instruction about racism and other “divisive” facts: the University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted against regent Jim Pillen’s resolution that critical race theory should not be “imposed” on academic curriculum or staff training.

It was close at 5-3, and undoubtedly another attempt will be made after those who did vote against it are worked over by the press and by lobbyists. Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts “strongly urged” the regents to support the resolution, so this battle is not over–both Ricketts and Pillen have “vowed to continue fighting on the issue”. Pillen plans to run for governor, a race that doesn’t seem to be starting in good faith:

Despite the vote, Pillen expressed optimism that Nebraskans have a better understanding of the issue now and that there will be accountability if critical race theory is imposed on students in the future. When asked, he did not provide any examples of such impositions in the past.

Pillen added that “critical race theory should not be forced on our students and staff as an unquestionable fact. They should be free to debate and dissent from critical race theory without fear of silencing, retribution, or being labeled. They should also be free to avoid the concept of critical race theory altogether without penalty, if that’s what they choose.”

This type of unbearable double-speak is so unbearably common now: people should be free to debate and criticize this theory freely, and also free to choose not to do so, and that’s why I want censorship to step in to take away that freedom to debate and freedom to choose.

This censorship as freedom, censorship as freedom of choice, is only gaining momentum.

But it’s a moment of triumph for Truth in its never-ending battle against Myth, and we have to celebrate it. Here’s what NU president Ted Carter said:

Speaking before the vote, NU President Ted Carter told the regents to hold him accountable if there are problems with critical race theory at the university in the future.

“If something actually is being imposed on our students and it’s wrong, we’ll fix it,” he said.

But Carter emphasized that critical race theory is not required for graduation, and he defended the integrity of the faculty and the ability of the students to deal with the subject appropriately.

“Our students are not children,” he said. “Our students are not at threat of having this discussion. They’re there to think for themselves.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education (no public website to link you to) makes the important note that students who are not white “spoke about the importance of discussing topics of race and racism in the classroom”. It’s maddening that the people who are most impacted by racism past and present are so rarely given the chance to speak to the people making the rules about what they can learn, and how free their speech is.

Stay with us in this new format and this new fight for real history and real democracy.

Oklahoma and Kansas ban diversity education

…if it seems like the HP only rears its head when another state legislature or university initiates a crackdown on democracy, in the form of banning instructors from teaching American students that racism was, and is still, a real thing that we are all a part of, some of us benefiting from it even without trying to, others of us suffering from it, then… you’re right!

That is what we’re devoted to this year, ever since we began a series on 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.

We’ve always been about civics here, and the ever-lengthening roll call of states in the list below is an abject object lesson in how sometimes democracy is chipped away at bit by bit, and sometimes it falls in an avalanche. If you’ve ever seen a glacier bridge calving in-person or on YouTube–an unfortunately common sight as climate change rages on mostly unchecked–you’ll see that small bits fall off, then much larger pieces, then enormous shards, and then the whole structure falls.

We’ve been seeing small bits and larger pieces falling in our democracy for years, as dedicated efforts to shore up and protect white power began in this country in the 1970s, when the impact of legislation from the most recent Civil Rights Era (1950s and 60s) began to be felt. It only took a few small instances of non-white Americans benefiting from equal rights to send those white Americans who are racist into a rage, and the effort to undo all of that Civil Rights legislation began under Nixon, and his touting of the “silent majority” of Americans who were not on board with revolution, rioting, drugs, and all the other fearsome things he associated with Americans living up to our founding principle of liberty and justice for all. There was a break in the action under Ford and Carter, and then neo-conservative forces regrouped under Reagan, and the fight to keep the “real” America–white people–safe from welfare queens and drug dealers and everything else non-white began in earnest.

Now enormous shards are falling. The attempted racist coup on January 6 hit the water hard. But multiple shards are falling in individual states, where it should be so much easier for people to fight back, because it’s their local legislatures hacking away at democracy. This very learned helplessness is itself one of the tools that right-wing conservatives use constantly, telling Americans that their government is corrupt and dangerous at every level, and they should just a) elect a strong-man to go in and “drain the swamp” for them, then b) stay far away from their governmental institutions and let the strong men go to work unchecked and unquestioned.

Perhaps this seems like editorializing rather than history. People often make the mistake of conflating objectivity with neutrality. When we study the atrocities of human history, the failures, the wars, the greed and destructiveness that characterizes all eras, we have to do all we can to gather all the data available to us, so we know what really happened, and we’ve gotten enough information from all sides to understand how the actors in those events defined what they were doing and their reasons for taking action. We then draw conclusions from the evidence about whether those actions helped improve human life, or whether they contributed to making it more miserable, narrow, and hopeless. We are, after all, studying human beings, not electrons or tectonic plates. We’re studying human actions born of human intention. No one takes action without hoping that the action will have a lasting impact on their own life, lives immediately near to them, and, sometimes, on their society or even the world as a whole.

History describes, then assesses those intentions and impacts. The objectivity part is in the work of reading critically and gathering all available data, not just from a few actors, and not just the parts that confirm your theory, or the parts you agree with, or want to hear. The assessment is necessarily subjective, because “impacts” are felt and borne by human beings, objectively (people can’t vote) and subjectively (people feel inferior). Historical actors want to achieve both objective and subjective impact in order to make the change wrought by their actions more impactful, and long-lasting.

So when people attempting to pass, and succeeding in passing, legislation that forbids Americans to learn that racism against black citizens was and still is carried out by white citizens make very clear, plain, unashamed statements about their desire to protect white people from ever feeling implicated in racism at all costs, including the cost of censorship, silencing of black people, and continued racism, we gather that data. It’s in all of these sources:

  • On May 14, we posted about New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal.

And then we analyze those statements and draw our conclusions from facts. And the conclusions are, necessarily, objective descriptions of attempts to subjugate black Americans, which can only provoke a subjective response, whether that’s positive, because you want black Americans to be subjugated, or negative, because you don’t.

We don’t. So we will add to our list this week, and feel the alarm of adding not one but two states to that shameful roll call:

  • Oklahoma: Governor Keven Stitt signed legislation to ban critical race theory from being taught in schools. “The bill prohibits public schools and universities from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another,” and that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” Proponents say it also bans the teaching of critical race theory, which examines systemic racism and how race influences American politics, legal systems and society. The Oklahoma GOP called on Stitt, a Republican, to sign the bill to “ensure that children are not indoctrinated by dangerous leftist ideologies.” The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have announced their student diversity trainings can no longer remain mandatory under the new law, and the first course has been “paused” – a euphemism for “shut down forever.”
  • Kansas: On June 2d department chairs at Pittsburg State received an urgent email: “Good evening. I have received an email this evening from Dr. Pomatto inquiring for the Provosts office if Critical Race Theory is being taught in any PSU classes. The specific information would be 1. yes or no and 2. if yes which course(s). The response needs a short timeline as I need to have this information to the Dean’s office by the end of the day. Please reach out to the faculty within your programs and have them, or you, get back to me ASAP by the end of the day tomorrow.” Why this information was needed so urgently is unclear, but given our growing list, it seems that someone at Pittsburg State is anticipating inquiries from the Kansas state legislature.

In each of these cases, there is pushback, but it’s very weak. The Oklahoma City Board of Education has protested the new law, but that will not do much to overturn it. And some faculty at Pittsburg State are angrily commenting on Twitter, which is equally impotent. Unless Americans can shake off the political paralysis they are rewarded for, existing laws will not be overturned, and more will come.

Perhaps you will say these new laws must represent the wishes of the majority, and so must be honored as truly American, and consonant with what America is all about and meant to be all about. In reply, we steer you firmly to the original of our “tyranny of the majority” posts: Court decisions are not democracy? It focuses on the judiciary, not the legislature, so after you read that, go to one of our many “tyranny of the majority” series posts that covers state legislation banning gay marriage being overturned by state judiciaries–try Gay marriage in Alaska v. Tyranny of the majority.

We’ll be back with more; that seems clear.

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.”

Trump is not gone – silence = death

We’re back once again, unable to move on from 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–just 5 days ago–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.

Now, we find the same effort being taken up by the Idaho state legislature. Coincidentally, the Chronicle of Higher Education article from which this quote is taken was published on March 18:

Boise State University officials say their suspension of diversity classes this week was motivated only by reports of an unspecified incident, but the action comes amid a pointed attack by Republican state lawmakers on the university’s efforts to educate students about racism.

The university on Tuesday abruptly suspended 52 sections of a diversity and ethics course, citing concerns that “a student or students” were made to feel “humiliated and degraded” in class “for their beliefs and values.” No official report has been filed, and officials said they have only heard about the incidents second- and third-hand, but the university is investigating.

The Idaho State Senate made its decision-making process very explicit:

The course suspensions at Boise State came the same week that the Idaho State Senate passed a higher-education budget that cut $409,000 from Boise State’s appropriation — the amount the university said it spent on social-justice programs — and shifted the money to Lewis-Clark State College, the Idaho Statesman reported on Wednesday. Some Republican lawmakers had wanted to cut much more in order to send a clear signal to the university that they were against its efforts to educate students about racism and social justice.

…it’s hard to imagine an American legislator publicly saying “I am against educating students about racism and social justice” and still considering themselves a) a good American and b) supported by our founding principles.

“We don’t want funds expended for courses, programs, services, or trainings that confer support for extremist ideologies, such as those tied to social justice, racism, Marxism, socialism or communism,” Rep. Priscilla Giddings said earlier this month, according to Boise State Public Radio. In 2019, 28 House Republicans signed a letter to Marlene Tromp, who was then the new president of Boise State, urging her not to support initiatives intended to promote diversity at Boise State, Idaho Ed News reported.

It’s almost impossible to parse this ridiculous statement, which says that social justice is an ideology, and that social justice and racism are the same thing. Social justice and racism do represent opposite extremes of humanity, from good to evil, but that is their only connection. To place social justice (a good thing) in a list with racism (a bad thing), and then Marxism, socialism, and communism (as practiced so far by humans, bad things), is a bold statement of hatred. We hope that since she feels this way, Rep. Giddings does not say the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends, of course, by pledging allegiance to a nation that stands for “liberty and justice for all”.

Apparently, the Republicans in the state legislator took the opp presented by a single student saying they felt uncomfortable in the Boise State diversity and equity course to shut everything down.

One might wonder why the feelings of a student quoted in the article as having enjoyed the course did not carry equal weight. But one already knows.

Trump is “gone”, not gone. Take a look at your own state’s legislation and see what they may be doing. Check the institutions of higher ed that you care about. The time to act is now, while there’s still some room to breathe.

Wondering what “silence = death” means? Check out Neutrality isn’t Justice, silence = death

Neutrality isn’t justice, silence = death

Just when we thought we were done with 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, we get pulled back in.

Attempts to deny equality of opportunity by acknowledging racism do not die when an Order is rescinded. One proof is that the Iowa state legislature is 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. Here’s a report from Inside Higher Ed:

With very similar language to the Trump order, the Iowa bills prohibit race and sex “stereotyping” and “divisive concepts” in diversity training. Such ideas are that one race or sex is “inherently superior” to another, that the state of Iowa is “fundamentally” racist or sexist, and that a person, by virtue of race or sex, is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Other prohibited concepts: that a person, based on race or sex, “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” and that anyone should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” for similar reasons. Meritocracy and “traits such as a hard work ethic” cannot be described as racist or sexist under the bill.

The bills apply to public colleges’ and universities’ staff or student training, led by employees or contractors. Institutions may continue training that fosters a “respectful” workplace or learning environment for all.

You can revisit our series on the Trump order, where we explain how this language bars people from acknowledging racism by saying that doing so is racist–that calling out white racism against black people is, itself, racist because it identifies white people as “fundamentally” racist. It also firmly locates all white racism “in the past”, safely removing white people today from any association with it.

One quote in particular from the story on Iowa sticks with us:

Representative Sandy Salmon, a Republican, argued that there still “needs to be a paragraph in there about requiring a public institution of higher education to attempt to remain neutral on current public policy controversies.”

Neutrality. We understand the disequilibrium our nation is going through as it attempts its boldest reckoning with racism since the 1950s and 60s. We know how painful it is to everyone to disturb the equilibrium of an entire nation, to call a halt to business as usual, including all the coping mechanisms people have relied on for centuries to deal with and survive racism and sexism. That coping state is identified as neutrality, and it can seem like neutrality, a grey area between violence and safety, but it isn’t neutral. It’s charged with fear and hate. It’s the medium in which cells of injustice grow and multiply.

So there is nothing noble or helpful about calling for neutrality on “controversies” that are tearing our nation apart, and that we are finally stopping all the machinery to address and redress. It doesn’t “calm things down”. It only perpetuates the medium for injustice by refusing to call it out and destroy it.

First they force universities to go along, then K-12 schools, then businesses, then everything else. Neutrality isn’t justice, in Iowa or anywhere else. All of us have to stick with the exhaustingly difficulty work of derailing what is corrupt in our society and nation, and then, when all injustice is indeed safely “in the past,” we can figure out how to keep it that way.

There was a slogan back in the 90s amongst gay Americans fighting the unwillingness of the U.S. government–and most of society–to do anything to stop the AIDS epidemic.

Silence=Death was a quick, efficient way to get the message across that not talking about AIDS, or “gays”, was a way to guarantee that the death rate just kept rising. Gay Americans who had adopted the coping mechanism of silence about their sexuality, concealing it in some way, to some extent, in order to survive had to be mobilized for public protest, public political action. It was not easy. But momentum grew with the death rate, and heroic gay Americans put their lives on the line to stand up and demand equal medical treatment and attention. It was dangerous, it was hard, it put all of American society into disequilibrium as “mainstream” America was forced to acknowledge gay people as human beings with equal rights (and as people–regular people who had jobs and pets and went on vacation and hated broccoli, etc.).

Neutrality in that situation was not the answer. It’s never the answer when justice is at stake. We all need to revive this slogan for today. Find a new shape to replace the pink triangle that represented homosexuality and get those t-shirts and buttons out there on every American who knows that “neutrality and silence for all” is not our national slogan.

Truth v. Myth: Biden Order on equity needs our help

It’s part the last of 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. We left off in part 2 looking at the end of Section 4 and its directions for identifying methods to assess equity.

Sec. 5 Conducting an Equity Assessment in Federal Agencies tasks the head of each agency, or someone they deputize, to consult with OMB to carry out a review of their agency that identifies:

(a)  Potential barriers that underserved communities and individuals may face to enrollment in and access to benefits and services in Federal programs; 

(b) Potential barriers that underserved communities and individuals may face in taking advantage of agency procurement and contracting opportunities;

(c) Whether new policies, regulations, or guidance documents may be necessary to advance equity in agency actions and programs; and

(d) The operational status and level of institutional resources available to offices or divisions within the agency that are responsible for advancing civil rights or whose mandates specifically include serving underrepresented or disadvantaged communities.

–What we like about these four categories of inquiry is that they incorporate correction to the very Order they’re part of. A and B address the potential–and likely–problem that benefits may exist but the people who need them will be presented with constant obstacles when they try to access them. C accepts that the existing policies and guidance may prove to be incomplete in advancing equity, and new ones will be needed. D accepts that agencies may likely need more resources–money and people–to carry out the Order. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation in which passing an Order solves all problems. It’s not a magic wand, and it needs to be the beginning of a large collaborative effort. That means there will be changes and it will be expensive and there will have to be real enforcement. All of this should inspire people to do this good work, rather than turn them off, because it’s a healthy and helpful acknowledgement of the real world in which change takes place.

Section 9 – Establishing an Equitable Data Working Group – is a call to gather more data on our population, as “Many Federal datasets are not disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, or other key demographic variables.  This lack of data has cascading effects and impedes efforts to measure and advance equity.  A first step to promoting equity in Government action is to gather the data necessary to inform that effort.” The Working Group is established, and will go about the difficult business of gathering data from people who have every right to feel threatened by federal requests for their personal information and scared to provide it lest they be fired, deported, or harassed. This small section is very important, and calls for the most thoughtful work.

Thankfully, Section 10 – Revocation – revokes the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year.

This is a good start, and we welcome it. But we fear for it, too, as America continues to go through ever more violent pendulum swings right to left with every presidential election. The specter of the EO on equity that the next Republican president might sign is menacing. The next four years must be spent moving the nation back to its established central base, where it is assumed the the United States is meant to provide liberty and justice to all. That founding principle was openly and explicitly rejected by the Trump administration, and too many Americans resonated with that trashing. Let’s let this Order be a step toward getting back where we belong. Do your part by asking what’s being done at your workplace to provide the data we need to broadcast the fact that “hardworking American” is not code for “white”, and to pull back at that pendulum before it swings away from us.

Truth v. Myth: Biden Order defines racism as racist! (and anti-racism as anti-racist)

Hello and welcome to part 2 of our 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. We left off in part 1 looking at the end of Section 1 and its framing of equality of opportunity in positive economic terms.

“Sec. 2 Definitions” establishes the same for “equity” and “underserved communities”:

Sec. 2.  Definitions.  For purposes of this order:  (a)  The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.

(b)  The term “underserved communities” refers to populations sharing a particular characteristic, as well as geographic communities, that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life, as exemplified by the list in the preceding definition of “equity.”

We know that this Order is specifically addressing racial inequity, so we will not complain that being female is omitted here from categories of Americans who have been denied equality of opportunity. It’s good to have an Order specifically focused on race. But we do expect the Administration can do two things at once and also address sexual discrimination and sexism in America as well, and as soon as possible.

The main difference here between the Biden Order and the Trump Order is that the Trump version had 9 separate definitions of the term “divisive concepts”, all of which stated that anti-racism and anti-sexism training were, in themselves, divisive concepts based on lies and, of course, anti-white racism. So we’re on better footing already here with the Biden Order, as it is short and common-sensical and acknowledges reality.

Sec. 3 Role of the Domestic Policy Council states that this DPC will “coordinate efforts to embed equity principles, policies, and approaches across the Federal government. This will include efforts to remove systemic barriers to and provide equal access to opportunities and benefits, identify communities the Federal Government has underserved, and develop policies designed to advance equity for those communities.” Again, a 180 from the Trump Order which focused on prosecuting government departments that continued diversity training that attempted to address “divisive concepts.”

Sec. 4.  Identifying Methods to Assess Equity says that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will work with federal agencies to “[assess] whether agency policies and actions create or exacerbate barriers to full and equal participation by all eligible individuals. The study should aim to identify the best methods, consistent with applicable law, to assist agencies in assessing equity with respect to race, ethnicity, religion, income, geography, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. … Within 6 months of the date of this order, the Director of OMB shall deliver a report to the President describing the best practices identified by the study and, as appropriate, recommending approaches to expand use of those methods across the Federal Government.”

So far so good; we can say that by 2021 it’s a little late to say you’ll begin to assess “whether” there are barriers to equity and then “recommend approaches” to dismantling them… but if this really happens by August, we’ll be happy to wait one last time.

Next time: defining obstacles to equity

Truth v. Myth: Biden Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity takes on Trump EO on same(?)

As 2020 drew to a close, we did a Truth v. Myth close-reading series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.

Today, as 2021 rolls into its second month, we bookend that series with this: an examination of 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.

As you’ll recall, the Trump Order was a naked attempt to misrepresent anti-racist diversity training in government and education as a “destructive ideology”. As we say in part 2 of our previous series:

“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… 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.

It’s unclear how much traction this Order got, since it was issued in September 2020 and now a new Administration has begun, so it’s not clear how much damage has to be undone. But let’s take a look through the new Biden Order and see what it holds, starting with Section 1: Policy.

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered: 

Section 1. Policy. Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths.  But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach.  Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied that equal opportunity to individuals and communities.  Our country faces converging economic, health, and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism.  Our Nation deserves an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face.

–Just about every new attempt at guaranteeing civil rights in America begins with an encouraging statement about how much we’ve already done, how peerless we are as a nation in working to offer liberty and justice to all. Sometimes this can have the chilling effect of making the new call for action seem like an extra, a nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have in a country where fundamental justice is already established, and now we just want to tie up a few minor loose ends.

This Order, then, is refreshing in its limiting that encouragement to a single short sentence and then moving on to acknowledge in plain language that we are not doing well enough, we are not in a good place and just need a slight push to an even better place. We have slipped backward in America over the past 40 years, as the backlash against the civil and human rights wins of the 1950s-70s began with Reagan and relentlessly gained momentum wit the help of both Bush presidencies, the Tea Party during the Obama presidency, and the Trump presidency. Those who call liberty and justice for all treason led an attack on our Capitol on January 6, 2021, and their supporters and members in Congress sit safely, in no fear of censure from their colleagues, refusing to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting a treasonous coup. We’re in a very dangerous place and that has not come out of the blue. Complacency about how strong our democracy is allowed too many Americans to treat right-wing extremism as normal and powerless, even as its basic structures fell apart.

A case in point is the very Executive Order we’re reviewing here. The Executive Branch–the presidency–does not legislate in our three-branch system. The Legislature–Congress–writes and passes laws. The Judiciary–the courts–test whether those laws are constitutional, and can overturn them if not. The president does not have the power to write laws. They do have the power to write Executive Orders: directives describing how laws should be enforced. They are part of the president’s discretionary power. No EO can violate the Constitution, and all EOs are subject to Judiciary review to make sure that they don’t. Basically, once a law is passed, an EO can determine how, and how seriously, it will be enforced.

Most presidents use EOs are low-key and uncontroversial: formalities (to inaugurate Presidential Commissions or Presidential Advisory Councils, for instance); to designate emergencies (declaring a city or region a disaster area after a hurricane or flood), to award an honorary medal (the Purple Heart) or to create task forces (for ecosystem restoration or terrorism prevention).

Other EOs are major: Trump’s “Muslim ban” of January 2107 prevented citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. until it was overturned as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June 2018.

EOs remain in force until they’re canceled by the president who issued them, or their successor; they’re found to be unconstitutional by the courts; or they hit their expiration date (if they have one). And therein lies the problem we are experiencing, and the challenge to our democracy. During the Obama presidency, the use of EOs fundamentally changed for the worse.

Faced with a Republican-led Congress that openly stated its intention to block any legislation the Democrats introduced, President Obama began writing Executive Orders to get around Congress. A good example is his EO to grant limited amnesty to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors (the “Dreamers”). Congress would not pass immigration law that protected this population, so Obama went around Congress. While the end goal was just and good, this use of the EO was dangerous because it set protections in place that were then quickly and easily overturned by the next president. It also allowed Congress to abdicate its role of writing laws. This erases the check between Legislature and Executive, and allows Congress to remain impotent and harmful. Whether an EO promotes justice or obstructs it, it cannot and should not substitute for legislation.

When it does, we go into a deadly pendulum-swing, where a Democratic president signs Orders that are then revoked by a Republican president, who then signs new Orders that are revoked by a Democratic president, and so on. Real American lives are impacted, as protections come and go. And Congress lies stagnant and dormant, refusing to take action. Americans begin to look to the president for laws. This is not how our system works. It turns the president into a monarch or a dictator.

So while we applaud this Biden EO so far, the fact that the first thing the new president did was sign 19 EOs, many of them deliberately overturning Trump EOs, is unsettling. The one we’re examining now is a case in point: this Biden EO on Advancing Racial Equity seems clearly positioned to overturn the Trump EO on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. The nation cannot be whipsawed back and forth between policies for decades without our very democratic system deteriorating under the strain and the neglect.

With all that said, we’re going to keep close-reading this EO, but in the back of our minds we know how fleeting it may turn out to be, and how negative and anti-democratic an EO it may provoke from the next Republican president in 4 or 8 years.

It is therefore the policy of my Administration that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.  Affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our Government.  Because advancing equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes, executive departments and agencies (agencies) must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.

–This is a welcome return to logic, history, and reality after the double-speak of the Trump EO. Here, the obvious is acknowledged: America has allowed systemic, institutional racism to create inequality of opportunity for those who are not white. This honest assessment was rejected by the Trump EO as a “malign ideology [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.” As we said then, we say now, that this is more of the same idea that acknowledging race and racism is racist, that 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.

Again, it’s a visceral relief to read the Biden EO, but one tempered by the knowledge that this is just an Executive Order, not a law passed by our Congress, and therefore it’s a frail and temporary bulwark against injustice.

By advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone.  For example, an analysis shows that closing racial gaps in wages, housing credit, lending opportunities, and access to higher education would amount to an additional $5 trillion in gross domestic product in the American economy over the next 5 years.  The Federal Government’s goal in advancing equity is to provide everyone with the opportunity to reach their full potential.  Consistent with these aims, each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups.  Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all.

–It’s depressing that the idea that helping the poor helps everyone is so often rejected by Americans today, while the idea that helping the rich helps everyone is so eagerly embraced. Here, the Biden EO frames equality of opportunity in positive economic terms to help reach those who believe that rich Americans should fund economic growth (through “trickle-down” or “job creation”) out of their largess, which requires the rich to become even richer, to even astronomical levels. Instead, all Americans could help each other, which redistributes not wealth, but the opportunity to gain wealth, to all.

How can advancing racial equity make this happen? We’ll find out next time.

Next time: Section 2 – definitions

Truth V. Myth: Trump Executive Order On Diversity Training, concluded… we hope

Today, part the last 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). We race through the concluding sections, noting the final problematic statements therein.

Sec. 8. Title VII Guidance. The Attorney General should continue to assess the extent to which workplace training that teaches the divisive concepts set forth in section 2(a) of this order may contribute to a hostile work environment and give rise to potential liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. If appropriate, the Attorney General and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shall issue publicly available guidance to assist employers in better promoting diversity and inclusive workplaces consistent with Title VII.

–More of the same here; the noble Civil Rights Act of 1964 is perverted to support anti-diversity training and the debarment (see Sec. 7(b)) of contractors who provide real diversity training.

Let’s hit the final section for an ill closure:

Sec. 10. General Provisions. (a) This order does not prevent agencies, the United States Uniformed Services, or contractors from promoting racial, cultural, or ethnic diversity or inclusiveness, provided such efforts are consistent with the requirements of this order.

b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to prohibit discussing, as part of a larger course of academic instruction, the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order in an objective manner and without endorsement.

(c) If any provision of this order, or the application of any provision to any person or circumstance, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this order and the application of its provisions to any other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

(f) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

DONALD J. TRUMP

THE WHITE HOUSE,
September 22, 2020.

–One might laugh aloud if it weren’t for the sheer malice and evil intention of this final section. Subsection a represents a terrible perfection of perversity, saying this order purporting to describe diversity training does not prevent any entity from providing diversity training. It’s so clear that the Order precisely does prevent all agencies from promoting diversity and inclusion that the authors are either subconsciously driven to defend themselves or just enjoying their terrible power. Subsection b follows the same. Subsection c is a logical fallacy, and Subsection d is, we hope, boilerplate text, and not something assembled for this particular and particularly anti-democratic Order.

This Order may well be rescinded by the incoming Biden Administration, but that is cold comfort. The wedge has been driven into our democracy from the top down by a small number of people who are all too happy to destroy our democratic traditions. They are easily split from democracy. Let’s hope that as the wedge goes down into the full population, we find that Americans as a whole will resist the fracture.

Truth V. Myth: Trump Executive Order On Diversity Training, or, a return to McCarthyism

Hello and welcome to part 5 in 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). This time, we slog through Sections 4-6.

Section 4 is Requirements for Government Contractors. This Order is, after all, directed toward “Executive departments and agencies (agencies), our Uniformed Services, Federal contractors, and Federal grant recipients”, so here’s where it gets very specific by outlining policy.

During the performance of this contract, the contractor agrees as follows:

1. The contractor shall not use any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating, including the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (e) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (f) 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; (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (h) 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 “race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex, and the term “race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.

–This is copied and pasted from Section 2: Definitions, which we covered all-too-thoroughly in part 4. As we said there, “We do not believe in good faith that the context of diversity training in the U.S. provides or supports [eight] separate, and often completely opposing, definitions of “divisive concepts.” In a nutshell, this is the third restatement in this Order of the idea that acknowledging the existence of racism and sexism is racist and sexist.

Now we get to what this means in terms of actions that federal contractors must take. First, they must send a copy of the Order “to each labor union or representative of workers with which he has a collective bargaining agreement or other contract or understanding” and each union office must “post copies of the notice in conspicuous places available to employees and applicants for employment.” We pass over the sexist language in this ostensible Order against sexism… for now.

The next item swerves from what the contractors should do to a warning that if they are non-compliant “this contract may be canceled, terminated, or suspended in whole or in part and the contractor may be declared ineligible for further Government contracts”.

Back to tasks: the contractors must “include the provisions of paragraphs (1) through (4) in every subcontract or purchase order unless exempted by rules, regulations, or orders of the Secretary of Labor, so that such provisions will be binding upon each subcontractor or vendor.” The Department of Labor will “establish a hotline and investigate complaints received” against any contractor who is “utilizing such training programs in violation of the contractor’s obligations under those orders. The Department shall take appropriate enforcement action and provide remedial relief, as appropriate.”

Unlike the usual lip service that accompanies any civil rights protections, the DOL is very likely to follow through with this for as long as the Trump Administration lasts. All the energy it never has for providing enforcement and relief for victims of race and sex discrimination will be poured into prosecuting people trying to fight race and sex discrimination.

Finally, “Within 30 days of the date of this order, the Director of OFCCP shall publish in the Federal Register a request for information seeking information from Federal contractors, Federal subcontractors, and employees of Federal contractors and subcontractors regarding the training, workshops, or similar programming provided to employees. The request for information should request copies of any training, workshop, or similar programing having to do with diversity and inclusion as well as information about the duration, frequency, and expense of such activities.”

The constant theme here is Soviet- or McCarthy-style encouragement of informants. Instead of going to your company or union first, go directly to the government and report your employer or union. Secretly inform the government about any violations you perceive. Again, if this administration had ever protected whistle-blowers for justice, this would be less infuriating. Only informants, not whistle-blowers, will be protected.

Section 5 leads, for the third time, with the same cut-and-paste 8-part (re)definition of terms and statement that acknowledging racism and sexism is racist and sexist. In fact, that’s all Section 5 includes after the brief intro text “Sec. 5. Requirements for Federal Grants. The heads of all agencies shall review their respective grant programs and identify programs for which the agency may, as a condition of receiving such a grant, require the recipient to certify that it will not use Federal funds to promote the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; …” We are perhaps meant to be hypnotized by this repetition.

Section 6 mixes it up by not repeated the cut-and-paste.

Sec. 6. Requirements for Agencies. (a) The fair and equal treatment of individuals is an inviolable principle that must be maintained in the Federal workplace. Agencies should continue all training that will foster a workplace that is respectful of all employees. Accordingly:

(i) The head of each agency shall use his or her authority under 5 U.S.C. 301, 302, and 4103 to ensure that the agency, agency employees while on duty status, and any contractors hired by the agency to provide training, workshops, forums, or similar programming (for purposes of this section, “training”) to agency employees do not teach, advocate, act upon, or promote in any training to agency employees any of the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order. 

…(ii) Agency diversity and inclusion efforts shall, first and foremost, encourage agency employees not to judge each other by their color, race, ethnicity, sex, or any other characteristic protected by Federal law.

…(b) The Director of OPM shall propose regulations providing that agency officials with supervisory authority over a supervisor or an employee with responsibility for promoting diversity and inclusion, if such supervisor or employee either authorizes or approves training that promotes the divisive concepts set forth in section 2(a) of this order, shall take appropriate steps to pursue a performance-based adverse action proceeding against such supervisor or employee..

–More cultivation of informants here, as any employee that dares to “promote in any training to agency employees any of the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order” will be informed upon and the Director of OPM “shall take appropriate steps to pursue a performance-based adverse action proceeding against such supervisor or employee…”

Three sub-steps reinforce this message, and part ii, requiring “the agency inspector general [to] thoroughly review and assess by the end of the calendar year, and not less than annually thereafter, agency compliance with the requirements of this order in the form of a report submitted to OMB” is particularly irritating; how we wish that there were at least annual, and ideally monthly, reviews to ensure enforcement of real civil rights laws in the workplace.

Next time: the bleak conclusion