President Donald Trump issued a directive via memo to stop antiracism training after it was criticized.Photo//Evan Vucci/Associated Press

On September 4, Russell Vought, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, sent out a memo to federal agencies detailing a directive from the president that “federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.”

Vought’s memo suggested the training sessions centered around critical race theory, white privilege, and whiteness is propaganda that “the United States is an inherently racist or evil country.”

Coincidently, on September 1, Christopher Rufo, a Discovery Institute Research Fellow, urged the president to “immediately issue” an order to “destroy it within his own administration.” ‘It’ references critical race theory as it is being practiced by offices of diversity within federal agencies. Rufo has previously documented training and workshops teaching critical race theory at various governmental and non-governmental institutions and has described on twitter the theory as being “toxic, pseudoscientific, and [a] racist ideology” being weaponized against the American people. 

He writes in the imperative, “Conservatives must push back,” and further claims that his investigations “inspired President Trump’s recent executive action.” Other well-known individuals also expressed their support for the president’s decision: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a human rights activist, took to twitter to express how she was “thrilled and amazed” of the act.

Further stating how critical race theory is an “absolutist ideology,” she adds, “People confuse it with critical thinking. Critical thinking is a cornerstone of liberalism.” Within a day, Fox News reported that a source had notified them that the “Trump administration is working to halt training exercises designed to educate employees about white privilege and other issues.”

In an older New York Post article, Rufo describes critical race theory, CRT, as a “left-wing academic discourse” grounded on concepts of whiteness, white fragility and white privilege, and unconscious bias.

While these remarks are important to note, it should be added that the article purports to expose Howard Ross and what Rufo calls the “diversity-industrial complex,” which provides workshops or training incorporating CRT and teaching the ideology of antiracism to governmental or nongovernmental institutions. 

According to Rufo, such an ideology is “a rigid and simplistic account of race, in which minorities are permanent victims and whites are forever tainted by racism.” While holding these events, Ross alone has generated more than $5 million in revenue. “What can be done? First, the Senate Finance Committee should immediately launch a probe into the Treasury Department training and Ross’ massive contracts.

Second, Trump should issue an executive order banning federal agencies from teaching the toxic principles of critical race theory, race essentialism and “neo-segregationism”. And the rest of us must brace for a long war against the diversity-industrial complex and its profiteers,” says Rufo. 

In early February of this year, NPR published an article reporting how there are demographic disparities in the share of business participation of public contracts. It cites a federal study released in 2017 that “analyzed 100 disparity surveys done by cities and states across the country,” and found that the black, indigenous, or people of color-owned businesses encountered significant barriers to attaining public contracts. 

In a 2004 briefing by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Ian Pulsipher stated that “minority businesses continue to receive a much smaller percentage of government contracts than do other firms,” despite programs to ensure procurement.

These briefings and studies suggest there are biases and symptoms of white privilege at the federal level, and long before Trump took office this issue loomed and so the workshops or training, in principle, addressed these issues. 

Rufo, as well as Trump who reportedly plans to cut the budget for Minority Business Development Agency by 76%, make one subtle point but miss the more nuanced one. Dana Brownlee at Forbes writes about the benefits of diversity training in the workplace and lists a number of numerical summaries representing the demographic disparities impacting African Americans as a lack of such training.

In mentioning these shortcomings, she argues in favor of antiracism training but eludes saliently to what Rufo suggests, namely, that the intention and execution of these programs need to be guided and managed by specialized, well-educated individuals. She goes further to mention that these efforts need to be prolonged and sustained initiatives rather than momentary guides. 

Related but dissimilar, J.C. Pan of the Jacobin magazine writes on the shortcomings of anti-racist training which “seeks to educate employees on the far-reaching effects of racism in the United States, and encourages them to acknowledge and atone for any biases or privileges they unearth over the course of the training.”

Contrasting Rufo’s disputes against such training programs, Pan argues that such programs fail to actually reduce bias and are formal means to legally protect firms or organizations from potential discrimination lawsuits. 

Several studies are cited which show how such programs either produce unintended adverse outcomes between individuals or that the preferred outcomes are short-lived and do take effect in the long-term. Instead of such programs, it is suggested that unions or more diverse labor populations can reduce bias and prevent prejudice from intoxicating the workplace.