President Trump threatens to cancel anti-racist training

The quiet part is officially a full-throated roar.

On Friday, the Trump administration directed all federal agencies to identify and eliminate their anti-racist, historical, or other bias trainings via a memo issued by the Office of Management and Budget.

The framing is ominous.

“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,” the memo begins.

The memo specifically calls out training or material related to “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” where people are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism,” or “benefit from racism.” The American dream is on the line, clearly.  “[I]n some cases, these trainings have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.”

The administration is stoking the flames of white grievance at a granular level—even choosing to capitalize the word “white” in the memo—while leaning into white fatigue on the issue of race. Although interest in and engagement on tough issues around race and justice has been extraordinarily high in the time since George Floyd was killed, a recent NPR/Ipsos poll published on August 27 finds that white people were less likely than any other ethnic group to “take concrete action to better understand racial issues,” or attend a protest than any other racial group.

We tend to agree that racism is, in fact, a deeply American issue.

“Most Americans acknowledge that there is racism built into American systems,” Ipsos pollster Mallory Newall told NPR, but “at the core there is still a significant gap in willingness to do the work between white Americans and people of color.”

And now, the president has placed himself atop the white anger-and-inaction food chain as the defender of the race.

In a tweet amplifying a Breitbart story on his critical race theory “purge,” the president added, “This is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue. Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish!” Then, amid a tweet storm of images purporting to be BLM-led violence, Trump took the time to answer a fan complaining that the California school system had implemented the New York Times’s 1619 Project into their curriculum. “Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!” he tweeted.

Stepping once more (and more and more and more) unto the breach, are the anti-racism educators.

#ScholarStrike For Racial Justice has been unfolding online yesterday and today, a movement described as both “an action and a teach-in,” designed to call awareness to systemic racism in the U.S. and elevate the conversation around police shootings and other racialized violence. Right now, teachers in the U.S. and Canada are stepping away from their scheduled work to hold anti-racism Zooms, and post videos, syllabi, research, and other resources for anyone who wants to understand, teach, or support justice-themed material.

While not timed to answer the president’s remarks, the action is the response we need, functioning as a crowdsourced archive of necessary information, and a living directory of the educators, researchers, teachers, grad students and others whose expertise should be tapped and work elevated. 

I look forward to seeing them on a corporate conference Zoom near you.

Here’s their YouTube channel. Looking for a place to start? I recommend University of Miami law professor’s Osmudia James six-minute video on the link between racist, anti-Black education and racist, anti-Black policing. (Quick preview: Segregated schools are bad for everybody.)

#ScholarStrike was started via tweet by Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and launched with help from Dr. Kevin Gannon, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and history professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

The president’s attempt to shut down equity-themed dialog should alarm you—it’s a direct shot at the heart of the work that you do. But, I predict, if you spend some time following the #ScholarStrike hashtag, you will find the friends and resources you’ll need to press ahead through every breach yet to come.

Ellen McGirt
[email protected]

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