Trump Bans ‘Critical Race Theory’ in Federal Training

As Election Day draws closer, the President is doubling down on stoking racial resentment.

The Trump administration has issued an executive order vaguely banning vague concepts in mandatory anti-racism training given federal employees.

CNN (“Trump bars ‘propaganda’ training sessions on race in latest overture to his base“):

President Donald Trump on Friday night banned federal agencies from conducting workplace training sessions on race that constitute “divisive, anti-American propaganda,” the latest overture to his political base two months before the presidential election.

Citing “press reports,” Russell Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, decried the “millions of taxpayer dollars” spent on such programs “across the Executive Branch” in a two-page memo.
It’s unclear to what extent such trainings exist, or if, as the memo purports, they instruct participants that “virtually all White people contribute to racism.” But, like Trump’s threat this week to yank federal funding from cities in blue states that he says are permitting unrest in the streets, Friday’s memo provides another talking point for his reelection campaign as it seeks to highlight culture war issues.

Such trainings “not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce,” Vought wrote, adding that “We cannot accept our employees receiving training that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.”

Vought pointed to an order from Trump as the source for directing federal agency heads to stop using federal funds for such training, promising additional details to come. He also urged agencies to seek out legal courses of action “to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these unAmerican propaganda training sessions.”

Rather clearly, this is a hasty reaction to some half-cocked news story from a right-wing outlet rather than an actual examination of mandatory training requirements. And, indeed, he confirmed as much on his personal Twitter stream this morning:

The feed has multiple retweets of those lauding the decision and referring to “critical race theory.” I haven’t seen the Tucker Carlson episode in question but a recent New York Post column gives what one presumes is the background for all this.

Christopher Rufo, July 16 (“Obscene federal ‘diversity training’ scam prospers — even under Trump“):

Critical race theory — the far-left academic discourse centered on the concepts of “whiteness,” ”white fragility” and “white privilege” — is coursing through the federal government’s veins. Under a GOP ­administration, no less.

Last month, a private diversity-consulting firm conducted a training titled “Difficult Conversations About Race in Troubling Times” for several federal agencies. The training called on white employees at the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Credit Union Administration and the Office of the Comptroller to pledge “allyship [sic] amid the ­George Floyd Tragedy.”

According to a trove of whistleblower documents I’ve reviewed, the training begins with the premise that “virtually all white people contribute to racism” and hold narratives that “don’t support the dismantling of racist institutions.” Therefore, the trainers argue, white federal employees must “struggle to own their racism” and “invest in race-based growth.”

The trainers then ask “white managers” to create “safe spaces,” where black employees can explain “what it means to be black” and to be “seen in their pain.” White staffers are instructed to keep silent and to “sit in the discomfort” of their racism. If any conflicts arise, the trainers ­insist that whites “don’t get to decide when someone is being too emotional, too rash [or] too mean.” Whites are told they can’t protest if a person of color “responds to their oppression in a way [they] don’t like.”

Howard Ross, the consultant who created the training, has been a fixture in what might be called the ­diversity-industrial complex. Since 2006, he has billed the feds more than $5 million for trainings.

In 2011, he billed the General Services Administration $3 million for “consulting services.” NASA coughed up $500,000 for “power and privilege sexual-orientation workshops.”

I’m sympathetic to arguments that much of the “white fragility” and “anti-racism” literature is scientifically dubious hucksterism. I’m even more sympathetic to the notion that training people in this manner is more likely to spark resentment and defensiveness than change attitudes for the positive by making people more aware. That’s especially true in the case of federal employees, who are loaded up with so much poor-quality annual training that they are predisposed to resent it to begin with.

But, of course, the order isn’t based on any systematic review of the literature, evaluation of the training, or anything else that policy changes ought be based on. Rather, it’s a politician reacting to a media segment designed to outrage rather than inform and playing to the worst instincts of his supporters.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Bottom line: this is a waste of money. Federal employees already detest training and approach it with, at best, an attitude of quiet resentment as an imposition on their already stretched ability to perform their actual duties. Beyond that, if it’s being described accurately it’s pushing a viewpoint instead of facilitating conversations. That isn’t training – it’s indoctrination.

    If they feel they actually have to do something about this (which I disagree with, but…), then they should devote time to facilitating actual workplace discussion. People listening to an indoctrinator leads nowhere. People listening to each other might.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m sympathetic to arguments that much of the “white fragility” and “anti-racism” literature is scientifically dubious hucksterism. I’m even more sympathetic to the notion that training people in this manner is more likely to spark resentment and defensiveness than change attitudes for the positive by making people more aware.

    That’s funny. I always found those reactions as proof that there is nothing more fragile than that white persons vision of themself as atop the racial pyramid.

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  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Find me an example – any example – of training that successfully motivated people to consider a new idea by smugly lecturing them about how they’re wrong thinking and must change their ways. Nobody – and I’d wager that includes you – would actually listen or engage for more than a few seconds before tuning out and waiting for it to be over.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    While I conceptually support the idea behind this type of training, the reality is that it is mostly poorly developed and presented and is a CYA tool for management. It would be far more productive and successful to focus on specific incidents within departments. But that’s difficult.

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  5. On the one hand, most training like this is lame.

    On the other, we clearly have made progress on things like sexual harassment in the workplace, and surely some of that has been the result of the relentless training.

    But above all else, this is just Trump again making policy based on right-wing media gripes and nothing more, which is continually disturbing.

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  6. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    On the other, we clearly have made progress on things like sexual harassment in the workplace, and surely some of that has been the result of the relentless training.

    And, its worth noting that training was just as derided by the right wing media complex when it was introduced in the 90’s.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Google’s implicit bias training was pretty great, and fascinating. Here’s a video of one presentation of it.

    https://youtu.be/nLjFTHTgEVU

    I also remember the sexual harassment training where the lawyer running it explained that you’re really screwed if a claimant can show a pattern of behavior creating a hostile workplace, but no one has quite defined what a pattern is… just that it’s more than one. So, you get one. Save that one for something really good.

    When you’re about to send out the offensive joke, stop and think about whether this joke is good enough to be your one.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    People listening to an indoctrinator leads nowhere. People listening to each other might.

    @Gustopher touches on this, but what you’re missing is institutional pressure. It doesn’t matter if it changes minds, it sends a message that X behavior won’t be tolerated. It’s not about changing minds, it’s about changing behavior. This training is essentially a memo from management: knock it off. Most will knock it off.

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  9. RCCA says:

    The author claims, “But, of course, the order isn’t based on any systematic review of the literature, evaluation of the training, or anything else that policy changes ought be based on.”

    Is this true? How do you know the process behind this measure? What is the presumed “anything else that policy changes ought to be based on?” Why does the author reject the measure without any systematic evaluation of the original premise that CRT is counter productive to American ideals? In short, isn’t the author’s assumption a biased opinion?

    For instance, why doesn’t the author consider if CRT hurts the work place if hiring is not based on ability but on identity politics and no one can object?

    1
  10. mattbernius says:

    @RCCA:

    For instance, why doesn’t the author consider if CRT hurts the work place if hiring is not based on ability but on identity politics and no one can object?

    I’m curious if you can explain a bit more about how CRT leads (or might lead) to hiring not based on ability but on identity politics. Do you have some examples of this taking place?

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  11. Lounsbury says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: As Leftist Self Congratulatory about how woke one is, in fact there’s rather a good basis in proper literature putting in question the utility of lecturing on wrongness to achieve changed attitudes in socially sensitive areas. Rather more broad than racial attitudes, a broad psychological feature. Rather similar to the partisan reaction to direct fact checking contra indirect (non direct challenge) bringing factual knowledge as correction

    So if one has a goal other than Self Congratulation on one’s own superior views and superiority, having a critical attitude to such efforts in substance for actual effectiveness is rather well merited

  12. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: As someone who works in the world of big institutions (and generally rather regulated ones), whereas you I believe are an author with more of a petty idiocy life experience, I would not agree. Avoidance of certain more obvious and egregious behaviours impacted, but it becomes nothing more than a running joke without real impact.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:
    It’s not about psychology, it’s about actions. After a lecture on #MeToo is an employee less likely to grab a co-worker’s ass? Yes. Ditto lectures on race. Minds are not the point, actions are, and in the end actions are reinforced by peers and tend to become beliefs.

    People – very much including me – tend to assume a degree of defiance in others that is simply not there in reality. In the workplace most people comply.

    Example One: smoking bans. I did not believe Americans would be so passive and accepting of smoking bans, and yet, they were.

    Example Two: lady Bird Johnson’s litter campaign. The results of that attempt to alter long-established patterns of behavior worked quite well. People pretend they’ll be defiant, but then they get the dirty looks when they toss a McDonald’s bag on the road, and they back down, absorb the change and come to champion it.

    Example Three: campaigns to get movie-goers to STFU. I used to avoid theaters because of people chatting, but in the last few years it’s been no problem.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:
    One more point. You and I are dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are not the demographic best-positioned to understand changing times. So various sensitivity trainings are dismissed by you and the Stegosaurus at the next desk, but the times they are a changin’ just the same.

    (For the record back in the day I’d have quit a job before I sat for these sorts of lectures. I walked out of HS because a teacher insisted I use the proper door. And I once quit a restaurant that insisted I describe a semi-sweet wine as ‘dry.’ But I am seriously ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and thus not representative or even normal.)

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @RCCA:

    For instance, why doesn’t the author consider if CRT hurts the work place if hiring is not based on ability but on identity politics and no one can object?

    I’m curious about where you have seen hiring based on ability. Very often it’s just hiring people who the folks working somewhere know, usually someone very much like them in background, with ability taking a back seat.

    It’s really, really hard to measure whether someone is going to be able to do a job, especially for the softer skills. You end up not with a best candidate, but a pool of likely-qualified candidates, and are picking among them. And, there’s a strong bias to pick someone who “fits in” — someone like you.

    I know someone who runs a transgender software company. One of the early hires was a transgender woman, she was good at her job, and treated with respect, and when another opening came up, she recommended someone she knew… and then you watch the classic old boys network play out.

    Now the company has a reputation for being very supportive for transfolk and they apply even if they don’t know anyone working there, and some cis-folk who interview there feel very uncomfortable and excluded. And since they likely have multiple offers, they usually go elsewhere.

    Now, it’s also a very effective company. Better at delivering software than most. All the people were good hires. But, it’s a bizarre microcosm of society that utterly unreflective of society at large. And a lovely example of how hiring tends to work.

    Also, lunch table discussion, back when people went to offices, often brought up transition surgery.

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  16. Gustopher says:
  17. Modulo Myself says:

    White Fragility sounds like a terrible book. But there are a lot of good books about race. And you know what? These books are going to piss off the same people angry about White Fragility. Erase the industry-strength academic blather about systemic racism and America is still a racist country in thousands of ways that transcend bigots using the n-word, and conservatives have no answer to that or anything about this country. All they can say is that ‘critical race theory’ is causing people to believe in systematic racism. Which is hysterical–if you think that a college course or a seminar can indoctrinate someone, what do you think being white might do?

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  18. mattbernius says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    White Fragility sounds like a terrible book.

    Honestly it is. And a lot of the folks I know who are involved in Critical Race Theory discussions agree with that assessment as well.

    For the record, I think CRT is a really useful analytical tool for looking at the evolution of institutions, programs, and actions. I also honestly don’t know how it would work as something that can be conveyed in a seminar format (like a lot of other really useful analytical lenses). And boiling it down leads to the type of visual aides that get circulated and then totally misinterpreted.

    That said, I haven’t been through a CRT seminar (I’ve had to learn it the old fashioned way).

    My concern is that there is a lot more basic racial awareness training (grounded in CRT ideas) that can be really helpful in starting people thinking about more equitable working environments that will get caught up in this type of order.

    But hey, “CRT” basically is now accepted code for “teaching from a BIPoC point of view” and that doesn’t exactly play well with a party that is increasingly defining itself as ethnonational.

    1
  19. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “That isn’t training – it’s indoctrination.”

    Yes, “don’t be a racist asshole” is a kind of indoctrination. I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with this — but then I don’t refer to minorities as “lazy” and “shiftless.”

    You are so smart about so many things… if you could only stop talking about race…

    8
  20. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “On the other, we clearly have made progress on things like sexual harassment in the workplace, and surely some of that has been the result of the relentless training.”

    There have been times when I’ve had to do the sexual harassment training three times in one year for three different institutions. And I complained about it just like everyone else, and put it off as long as I could, because it’s a useless pain in the ass — especially since I have never harassed anyone.

    And yet, I actually have learned from the trainings. There have been things I’ve never really considered and am happy to understand now.

    Of course if I decided going in that it was all “smug lecturing,” I could I’d end up dismissing it all. That would allow me to feel superior to the terrible bureaucrats trying to force me into rightthink — but it wouldn’t make me a better person or a better teacher.

    7
  21. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: And if you wrote that in English, what would it say?

    4
  22. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “Avoidance of certain more obvious and egregious behaviours impacted, but it becomes nothing more than a running joke without real impact.”

    It’s easy to treat all this training as nothing more than a running joke as long as you despise everyone who isn’t of the ruling elite and feel any consideration that you might want to treat others as you treat your own is Marxism. No one can force you to take it seriously, just as no one can force you to be a decent human being.

    They can force you not to act like an asshole, though, and these trainings do lay out how the institution defines that.

    4
  23. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds: @wr:

    This. As someone who works in an industry that has been historically sexist and racist, the YEARLY HR training has made a HUGE difference in our industry. Yeah. No one likes to do it, but like wr, I’ve had to take three or four in a year while working different shows. The reality is that behaviour that was allowed only 10 years ago now gets you fired, and rightly so. Studios will fire a lead actor and cancel a show, rather than deal with the lawsuits that will come with bad behavior. Took too long, but HR training has been a big part of the change

    11
  24. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    That isn’t training – it’s indoctrination.

    Just to pile on, but from a different direction… is being told what behavior will get you fired really indoctrination?

    Sure, you likely don’t need to be told not to set the building on fire, but there aren’t people setting their offices on fire, so they don’t have to include “don’t commit arson.”

    If people weren’t being regularly committing harassment, then they wouldn’t have to tell you not to do that.

    It’s a waste of my time to go through most of these trainings — although as I point out above, the Google ones were very good — but it’s not a waste of time for the guy three desks over who is a complete asshole.

    ——
    Now that I think about it some more, the Google anti-bias training was very similar to the mindfulness/watered-down-secular-Buddhism taught to people with anxiety. You have emotionally-driven reactions (fear of spiders, belief black folks can’t do the job) that are very ingrained (society, past trauma, you’re just fucked in the head), but if you recognize them and put a pause between having that reaction and acting on it, it doesn’t control you.

    4
  25. senyordave says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It’s not about changing minds, it’s about changing behavior.

    Dead on. Someone once said you can’t legislate morality but you can legislate behavior. There are some people in this world who will only do the right thing if they are threatened.

    3
  26. An Interested Party says:

    That isn’t training – it’s indoctrination.

    As is so much of going to school, going to church, even often going to work…the key is not accepting everything uncritically, and realizing that when you’re being an asshole or are tempted to be an asshole, it’s probably best for everyone concerned to avoid such behavior…

    There are some people in this world who will only do the right thing if they are threatened.

    Hell, I’d say it’s more than just “some”…and this is the biggest reason why we need certain laws, like those against aggressive driving, theft, assault, etc….

    2
  27. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: Exactly the same thing, aside from your rather boring and pathetic attempt at rejoinder and usual Left ideological knee-jerking.

    @wr: as usual your petty partisan knee-jerking leads you to fail to distinguish between a criticism of ineffective approach and methods, and a disagreement with the actual goals.

    Your boring dimness aside, I expressed no disagreement with the goals my dear knee-jerking Lefty twit, only incompetent and poorly thought through methods – such as notably badly done, badly conceived and poorly designed ‘trainings’ that end up being nothing more than running jokes.

    Even amongst those who rather do actually share the desired values.

    But I suppose Partisan Party Line means one must applaud the ideologically correct action and never mention it’s bungled and buggered up in implementation.

    My comments however are inclined to the recognition that such trainings are typically painfully wrote ass-coverings – and the suggestion that there are indeed better approaches and methods. In fact if one wishes to achieve things, in my world drawing data and science to figure out at minimum less-ineffectual, if not even actually effective, approaches is typically considered rather better than knee-jerk cheerleading and excuse making. (to think you lot critique the Trumpist crowd over their blindness)

    One can note I expressed no disagreement with the goals – neither the goal of addressing racial discrimination nor in recognition of the other example raised, avoidance of gender discrimination. Given the company I founded and run has near gender parity in professional staff and management (I have a regrettable favouritism to women managers) and I am distinct minority as a White euro anglo in the overall staff, well hardly the person who’s against the goals.

    But being favourable to the goals does not mean being a blind Beni Oui Oui unable to note that particularly the stuff churned out by USA Land and its blando HR diversity machines is pathetically tedious and lacking effectiveness (as well as ironically being rather culturally blind we find).

  28. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “as usual your petty partisan knee-jerking leads you to fail to distinguish between a criticism of ineffective approach and methods, and a disagreement with the actual goals.”

    Actually, what leads to my failure to distinguish is your inability to construct a clear, cogent sentence instead of throwing every single word you can reach into a stew in hopes that it will ake you sound like an upper-class Englishman. Subject. Verb. Object. It’s really not that hard.

    Pip pip, old chap!

    4
  29. Gustopher says:

    @Lounsbury: Bugger me with a badger! You showed him, chappie!

    You really cannot be real. There’s some kind of stereotypical twit filter on the internet you run this stuff through before posting, isn’t there?

    2
  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @HarvardLaw92: to consider a new idea by smugly lecturing them about how they’re wrong thinking and must change their ways.

    Oh, I’d expect that of you and me both, but for entirely different reasons. I once got into an argument with a corporate apparatchik because he kept trying to tell me how “we are all one big family on this job site”.

    Aaaaack aaaaaaaack…. gag me with a spoon. “Fuck you, I already have a family, you ain’t in it.”

    But when it comes to white privilege? I don’t need a lecture, I have fucking lived it. Every dawg damned day of my life. And so has every other white person born in the 50s, whether they know it or not. I can’t count the number of jobs I got because I was white. What is more, I can’t count the number of jobs I got because I wasn’t black. I’m sure you think those are the same thing. Let me assure you, the reasons behind those decisions aren’t.

    Not knowing your race, I would bet you are the very picture of white privilege and yet you can’t even begin to see it, just like so many others I have known.

    4
  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Lounsbury: Read @OzarkHillbilly: above.

    1
  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: I’ve been wondering for a long time, but I think I see it now. Definitely Tory Lite. And of pseudo-noble blood.

    @Gustopher: This is possible, too, I suppose. 😉

    1
  33. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’ve got to do 40 hours of CPE per year for my professional license, plus all of the College’s professional development. None of it is great.
    Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Some of it is wretched.

    I used to be very resentful of the annual HR trainings. But at some point I realized that it was nice to start the school with annual reminders of whether it is appropriate to help a student get a referral to Counseling Services versus a report to the Title IX Office. What exactly it means to be a mandated reporter and what student behaviors can be an indicator of abuse. Etc.

    My job is so mentallg all-consuming, and I don’t have a need to think about those things every day, but each time I go through the annual trainings, I internalize them a little bit more. And when I do need the info in real time, I at least know what I don’t know and where to go to find the answers.

    2
  34. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    As someone who works in an industry that has been historically sexist and racist, the YEARLY HR training has made a HUGE difference in our industry. Yeah. No one likes to do it, but like wr, I’ve had to take three or four in a year while working different shows. The reality is that behaviour that was allowed only 10 years ago now gets you fired, and rightly so.

    Yes, but that’s very different. It’s useful—even essential—to let people know what workplace behavior is and is not acceptable. It’s even more critical when, as you say, the bar has steadily moved.

    But that’s very different than telling people that they, personally, are inherently racist and sexist and didn’t really earn their place in society. It may well be true! But it’s counterproductive to do that in half-assed training sessions.

  35. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    We disagree. Anything that gets people to realize that n**ger jokes aren’t funny any more, or that you can’t call people spics and wetbacks any more are good things in my book.

    You might be surprised how many people still get butthurt when they’re called out on their racist jokes or pet racist nicknames.

    1