By Matthew S. Schwartz/MPR News
The Trump administration has instructed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity trainings that address topics like white privilege and critical race theory, calling them “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
In a letter to federal agencies in September, the director of the Office of Management and Budget said the president recently became aware of the racial sensitivity programs, which encourage frank conversations about race in the workplace and discuss potential actions to combat systemic racism.
The memo, issued by OMB Director Russell Vought, reads in part:
“All agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory,’ ‘white privilege,’ or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.”
The memo said agencies “should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these un-American propaganda training sessions.”
Citing “press reports” of training sessions at which employees were allegedly told “virtually all white people contribute to racism,” Vought wrote that these sorts of trainings perpetuate misguided views and contribute to racial division. It was not clear which specific agencies or training sessions he was referring to.
The directive was issued against the backdrop of the ongoing national conversation around police brutality and systemic racism. It’s a debate in which Trump has sided with law enforcement over advocates for racial justice and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. As demonstrations were at their peak earlier this summer, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that two-thirds of Americans believed the president has made race relations worse.
Racial sensitivity training has long been conducted on college campuses and across much of corporate America. It’s unclear how long they’ve been going on at federal agencies. But their existence has gotten more attention in conservative circles in recent months.
One of the more prominent critics, Christopher Rufo, director of the Center on Wealth and Poverty at the conservative Discovery Institute, argued on Fox News that Trump should end the programs immediately.
“It’s absolutely astonishing how critical race theory has pervaded every institution in the federal government,” Rufo told host Tucker Carlson. “What I have discovered is that critical race theory has become, in essence, the default ideology of the federal bureaucracy and is now being weaponized against the American people.”
Trump retweeted Rufo’s appearance on Fox, arguing that diversity training is a threat to American unity. In response to a person who wrote that “critical race theory is the greatest threat to western civilization and it’s made its way into the US federal government,” Trump responded: “Not any more!” In another tweet, Trump called critical race theory “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue.”
While many conservatives applauded the move, others decried the continuing racism that they see pervading many aspects of American society, including the awarding of government contracts.
“If we are going to live up to this nation’s promise – ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ – we have to see each other as human beings, and we have to do whatever it takes, including taking whatever classes make that possible,” M.E. Hart, an attorney who has run hundreds of diversity training sessions for businesses and the federal government, told The Washington Post. “These classes have been very powerful in allowing people to do that, and we need them more than ever. There’s danger here.
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