On Sept. 4, Russell Vought, director of the United States Office of Management and Budget, issued a memo to federal agencies telling them to “cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars” for trainings that are centralized around critical race theory — also referred to as CRT. The memo implies that trainings held for federal employees that are based on CRT are teaching “divisive, un-American propaganda.” Nineteen days later, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from providing trainings that have anything to do with CRT. The executive order specifically listed these topics as being off limits for employee training:
- "One sex or race is superior."
- "An individual is inherently consciously or unconsciously racist or sexist by virtue of their race or sex."
- "A person should be discriminated against because of their race or sex."
- "That a person's moral character is determined by their race or sex."
- "A person's race or sex makes them responsible for past transgressions of that race or sex."
- "That a person would feel 'discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.'"
- "Hard work ethic is inherently racist or sexist."
In doing this, Trump and his administration have declared war on critical race theory. CRT was developed in the early 1970s post-civil rights era, when scholars and activists were becoming aware that new approaches to take on racism were necessary to, according to "Critical Race Theory: Past, Present, and Future" by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, “cope with a less sympathetic public and the more nuanced forms of racism that were developing.” The nuanced forms of racism that CRT scholars describe is the kind of racism that the Trump administration perpetuates.
Trump’s attack on CRT is not surprising. In the light of the upcoming election, Trump is enacting policy that is appealing to his voter base and is treading carefully as to not alienate them, even if it means going to extremes like not condemning white supremacy. This tactic did not emerge from the Trump campaign for the 2020 election. In fact, it has been a tool his entire political career. Trump has relied on attention grabbing statements that are the definition of racially divisive, whether it was calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, banning travel from predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. or referring to countries such as Africa and Haiti as shithole countries, Trump has been the vessel of racial divide in this country for the past 4 years.
CRT recognizes that systemic racism is part of the American life, and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish. Teaching such subject matter is not divisive; it is critical to be aware of the experiences of those around us as well as the history that has brought us to this point in time.
CRT is also vital to those who don’t experience racism as it makes them aware of how they may be unknowingly perpetuating racism, especially unconsciously, in their everyday lives. CRT is an academic essential, and to make a conspiracy of it through this executive order is insulting. To equate CRT to “divisive, un-American propaganda” is completely undermining the movement in which CRT was built on and those who built it.
In light of the reckoning of racial injustice in America, this decision made by Trump is yet another means of injustice towards marginalized groups in this country. Eliminating diversity trainings that are based on CRT is a means of erasure to those who experience racial violence and discrimination in this country. Trump’s administration is making it clear on their complicity with racial disparities in this country by purposefully getting rid of these trainings. Not only are they being complicit, but by no longer including CRT in these trainings, they are further enabling violence against marginalized groups. Limiting this type of education from federal agencies is undoing the work that has been made to get this type of theory included in diversity trainings in the first place.
CRT as a component to employee trainings for federal agencies was implemented with the purpose of bringing attention to how race plays a role in our everyday lives whether you are BIPOC or white. These CRT training were an attempt at equity for those belonging to marginalized groups, especially in the federal system that is deeply entrenched in old beliefs of white superiority that it continues to perpetuate today. CRT is not divisive or un-American, it is the exact opposite. In the land where we believe that everyone is created equal, CRT helps us bridge the gaps that were created long ago to hold this fact true. With this legislation, President Donald Trump sent a clear message on how he feels about racial disparities in America. I wonder how else he will send these types of messages before election day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.