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Stopping Sensitivity Training?

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 7, 2020

Happy Labor Day. If you work for a company or non-profit, volunteer to teach kids learning, or just started kindergarten this year, you’ll run into some form of training to remind us that people come in all shapes, sizes, colors and circumstance.

The programs, which may be more directed or just a guided set of reminders at whatever passes for water cooler in these pandemic times, are called by different names — diversity or sensitivity training among them. In substance, they may touch not only on our overt workplace or organizational practices like hiring and promotion, but some of our usage of language or more subtle actions and behaviors that can transmit even unintended signals of bias or meanness towards one another.

For most of us, the good news is that there is more of a general effort to pay attention to such buried cultural signaling. The bad news, of course, is that real life shows that such training is so needed, from policing organizations to my volunteer reading tutors program, starting with any resentment for “politically correct” references to others.

Now comes the Trump administration upper-cut: The White House has directed federal agencies to cancel race-related training sessions which it is calling “un-American propaganda.”

A memo to executive branch leaders from Russell T. Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, says Trump has directed significant changes to “divisive” sensitivity training sessions across the government, telling agencies 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.”

Obviously, this memo comes as Trump is pressing his Law & Order re-election themes and during a time when urban streets are filling with protest over social justice from racially identifiable attacks by police.

Evolving Attitudes

How we teach ourselves and our children to recognize the needs of an increasingly multi-cultural society is a subject requiring several thoughtful books and experimentation, of course, not to be directed in this column.

But I will argue that a White House order essentially to stick American heads in the sand about race in a time requiring more sensitivity rather than less is nuts — morally, historically, practically and even politically nuts.

Trump has the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality into a “symbol of hate” and has insisted we focus on the localized overnight violence that has broken out in Portland or Kenosha rather than on the underlying reasons. Trump rails against so-called cancel culture, defended the Confederate flag and military bases named for Confederate generals, and accused people of trying to “erase” American history.

Trump cannot recognize that problems in policing extend to racially identifiable trends in housing, education, health care, jobs — even to uneven effects of pandemic contagion.

And he resists seeing any of these trends as systemic, preferring a time in which he thinks people did not discuss such things openly.

So, “The President has directed me to ensure that federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions,” Vought’s memo states. Vought added that “it has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date ‘training’ government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda.” Vought then refers to press reports that say federal employees “have been required to attend trainings where they are told that ‘virtually all White people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say that they ‘benefit from racism.’ ”

News organization could not immediately be learned to what training sessions Vought was referring, though recent Fox News segments have heavily criticized “diversity and inclusion” efforts in the federal government started under the Obama administration.

Do We Need It?

It seems logical that Trump, who routinely has publicly trashed women over their looks when he is not crowing about grabbing at them, or publicly sought to ridicule a reporter with a disability, or who goes to Kenosha and never tries to meet with those who feel victimized, would see no reason for sensitivity training.

Like his discomforting remarks about serving in the military, what would be the gain for Trump to become more sensitive about public policies affecting Muslims and non-Christians or women or minorities, or heaven forbid, Democrats.

But the police killings of George Floyd, Jacob Blake and so many others in otherwise routine stops should be shouting at us that America has a race problem.

That Facebook felt compelled to take down a post from Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican candidate for Congress and a professed QAnon conspiracy believer, a post that showed rifle-toting Greene seeming to threaten Congressional women of color, should be raising serious questions.

That the Department of Homeland Security is issuing a report labeling white supremacists as the most serious terror threat facing the United States should be a wake-up call.

Our daily reality demands about multi-cultural sensitivities demands that diversity understanding is needed, ideology notwithstanding.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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