The recent Executive Order 13950 prohibits federal agencies, contractors, and grant recipients from using training that integrates specific content such as critical race theory or white privilege. These have been deemed by the administration as “…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” and 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.” The National Law Review published an article titled “What Federal Contractors and Federal Grant Recipients Should Know About Executive Order13950: Prohibiting Training that Includes ‘Race and Sex Stereotyping or Scapegoating’”.
I whole-heartedly disagree with the Executive Order. At a time in our country’s history that many citizens are striving to understand how they can be a part of dismantling the racist systems that were largely created by white men in the past two centuries, this order prevents us from having the important but uncomfortable conversations that are required.
I’ve participated in and facilitated conversations on racism, privilege (white and other forms), prejudice, and power. Are they difficult? Yes. Do they make me uncomfortable and feel guilty about the advantages I’ve had in my life, based on my skin color? Yes. Do I learn facts about US history that I wasn’t taught in my K-12, undergraduate, or graduate schooling? Absolutely. Does it make me feel that I was inherently racist due to my skin color? No. Rather, it opens my eyes to some truths that I had been blind to. Humans learn and grow through constantly challenging ourselves. These conversations challenge me and help me learn and grow.
The executive order is based in what I consider some faulty assumptions or conclusions; for example, that this type of training implies that an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex. In my experience, the types of training I’ve been involved in does NOT make this implication. We learn that we experience privilege of different types based on our identity. I have had certain privileges or advantages in my life because I am a white, Christian, straight, able-bodied American. But as a woman, I have not had privileges based on my gender – men have more privilege than women in most countries. Is my moral character defined by any of these facets of me? No. They are simply parts of the body I live in. My moral character is determined by my beliefs and values, and the way I translate them into actions. I choose what to believe, value, and how to act.
Training that includes critical race theory, white privilege, and the like aren’t inherently racist – they are helping people to understand how the laws, regulations, and systems that govern our country were created over its 400+ year old history to favor those in power – white men, and more broadly white people. These are uncomfortable but necessary conversations that we must all challenge ourselves with if we are to create a democracy that serves and is inclusive of all of its population.
By preventing federal agencies and contractors to federal agencies and those who receive federal funding (universities, colleges, contractors) from having these discussions, the divides that these systems have created over time will be sustained rather than dismantled.
The only way we can move forward as a country with regard to racism, sexism, and other forms of bias is to have difficult conversations where we try to empathize with others’ experiences and commit to doing the hard work needed to create true equality and equity. It is only then that we can build the climate in our country where we can begin to fulfill the full potential of our democracy.