Public and private-sector employers often require their employees to undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training. But a recent White House memo indicated that President Donald Trump wants to end that type of training for federal employees.
The memo, sent on behalf of the president by the director of the Executive Office of the President’s Office of Management and Budget, said, “Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date ‘training’ government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
Peniel Joseph strongly disagrees with that characterization. He’s Barbara Jordan chair in ethics and political values at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He told Texas standard that Trump’s memo is an “attempt to halt anti-racism training amid the growing Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.”
Joseph said it’s also an intentionally divisive effort by Trump to “ratchet up his base.” Trump has criticized Black Lives Matter, and related efforts like “The 1619 Project” by The New York Times that explores the long-term, far-reaching effects of slavery on American life. Joseph said Trump and his base see those things as threats to their vision of American history.
“[They] have really been looked upon by the president and his allies as assaults, not just on the United States, but assaults on their conception of the United States as, really, this bastion and birthplace of white nationalism,” Joseph said.
Joseph disagrees that it’s anti-American to talk about racial slavery or social justice, as Trump’s memo suggests. He said taking the time to look more closely at those issues is “really giving us a much more holistic understanding to why we arrive at the place we have this year, with Black Lives Matter and the largest social justice movement, mobilization, in American history.”
Joseph said Trump’s criticisms about anti-racism training aren’t the same as activists’ and advocates’ critique of systemic racism.
“I don’t think there’s a moral equivalency,” Joseph said. “When somebody’s trying to root out racism … I think that’s different from somebody who’s saying, ‘You know what, I’m fine with white supremacy, or color-blind racism.'”
By focusing on stopping anti-racism training, Joseph said Trump is missing an opportunity to build consensus and expand his political base in a moment when social justice activism is surging in America. And that activist movement includes Black Americans and other Americans of color, as well as white Americans.
“We’ve seen a great upsurge of national mobilization that is anti-racist than that is willing to double down on the status quo,” he said.