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The New Civil Rights Movement

Trump Kills Diversity Training

After decades of addressing workplace bigotry, hostility is now encouraged

Brian Young's picture
Sep 09, 2020

On Friday, September 4th, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) notified federal government department heads that they would no longer be allowed to conduct diversity and inclusion trainings. The OMB, on a directive from Trump, called these trainings “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”

The training's focus on teaching workers about things like white privilege and implicit bias. While conservatives have said they are anti-white, the focus of these trainings is often on teaching workers that some things they do, and have done for their entire lives, may not be perceived the same way by someone who is not white, male, or straight.

According to the Washington Post, Trump came up with the idea after watching a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. Many of the claims in the OMB memo are directly from Tucker’s show.

Diversity training isn’t new either. According to the Federal Times, the federal government has been issuing contracts for decades to do diversity training. However, it did ramp up under President Barack Obama who began standardizing the process in 2011 and then signed the Governmentwide Inclusive Diversity Strategic Plan in 2016 which called on agencies to “provide training and education on cultural competency, implicit bias awareness and inclusion learning for all employees.”

“Diversity and inclusion programs in the federal government help us understand one another’s perspectives and build a workplace where every employee is treated with dignity, fairness, and respect, regardless of their background,” AFGE President Everett Kelley added. “As racial injustice continues to rock this nation, we ought to be building more bridges of understanding. But all this president seems to know how to do is build walls of division.”

Before it was a federal policy, AFGE was a leader in creating a diversity program for their members. This included establishing a department specifically to advocate for government workers’ civil and human rights, the Women’s and Fair Practices Department.

The move also comes at a time where there is a national reckoning over race. The federal government is also dealing with racism from within its ranks. Just last month, AFGE released a report that showed 76% of their members at the VA had personally experienced racially charged actions and of the remaining members who hadn’t personally faced racist attacks, 75% of them had witnessed racism on the job.

“You get called [the N-word], you get called a slave, and you get harassed to the point where you’re seeking therapy for psychological damages,” said Marcellus Shields, president of AFGE Local 342 in Wilmington, Del. “I’ve seen chairs thrown at people by a supervisor, and when we go to management, we can’t get any results.”

VA employees have even faced attacks from Trump, who has referred to them as sadistic and thieves.

Diversity training is also becoming commonplace in the private sector. Over the last five years, there has been a 113% increase in companies hiring a full-time executive in charge of Diversity and Inclusion. Many Fortune 500 companies also take part in diversity and inclusion training and following the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, many have pledged to do a better job at hiring a diverse staff and creating more executive-level positions for diversity and inclusion officers.

Even other unions like the Communications Workers of America do these trainings.

"At the CWA, both Nationally and at Local 1298, we support and understand the importance of human rights," said Louise Gibson, Secretary-Treasurer of CWA Local 1298 in Connecticut.  Our Local 1298 Civil Rights, Equity and Women’s Committee developed and presented several in-person workshops on implicit bias and racism for our members. This workshop was birthed over 2 years ago and has been recently updated and relaunched virtually as we knew that this was an incredibly important topic and that the systemic and pervasive nature of racism in this nation must be addressed."

"As union leaders, we knew that we needed to be part of bringing forth this topic. Research on implicit bias offers at least two pieces of good news.  One is that individual neural associations can be changed through specific practices (debiasing).  And, if those biases can be changed at the individual level, by definition they can be changed at the societal level given sufficient will and investment. The other is that making people aware of the concept of implicit bias seems to open them up to discussions about structural racialization and privilege in new ways. This has been a particularly useful way of engaging with some of our members that were previously reluctant to participate in those discussions. We know that civil and human rights is a fight that the Labor movement must be a part of. This is not a political issue, it is a human rights crisis and we are committed to doing our part."

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