President Trump has repeatedly attacked efforts to educate people, both young and older, about the legacy of slavery and white privilege.
Thanks to President Donald Trump, there seems to be no end to the assault on the psyche of people of color in this country. If dying disproportionately from COVID-19 isn’t enough, Trump has gone on the offense against efforts to educate people—both young and experienced—about racism, slavery, and white privilege.
“Critical race theory, the 1619 project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that if not removed will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together,” Trump said Thursday at the White House Conference on American History. The 1619 Project from the New York Times centers American history around the notion that the country really began the year enslaved Africans were brought to what would become the US; the project now offers a curriculum for schools.
“It will destroy our country,” Trump said.
It’s obviously not the first time the president has tried to portray recognizing the stark realities of being Black in America as “unpatriotic.” Earlier this month, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed federal agencies to cancel employee racial sensitivity training that may be considered “divisive” and “un-American.” The way a Sept. 4 memo framed it was that “employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that ‘virtually all White people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say that they ‘benefit from racism’” and that these “propaganda training sessions” must end.
In other words, there’s no room in the Trump administration for anything that shows white people in an unfavorable light.
Seriously—the caucasity of the president making diversity training, a pretty benign practice, out to be something horrible to validate his racist paranoia and agenda.
This centering of whiteness in discussions about diverse populations is exactly why you need better education in schools and diversity training. To riff off of the words of the great composer and singer Carly Simon’s iconic song, “You’re So Vain,” the president and his cronies actually think diversity training is about them. It isn’t.
Diversity training is not about white people. Rather, diversity training is about the populations that have been historically disenfranchised, marginalized, and discarded in both society today and history books.
Diversity training is about creating cultural awareness, cultivating knowledge, and improving communication. It is about validating the lived experiences, historical contributions, and presence of people of color here in the United States, despite having been maligned, subjugated, or made invisible by those in power, includingTrump.
We need diversity training to teach people that just because you happen to “find” something that already exists doesn’t mean it is yours. Just because you wielded war and disease to wipe out indigenous folks and literally push the remaining 2% of the population to the physical margins of the country, does not mean their lives, histories, and experiences do not matter. Just because you forcefully brought in, enslaved, brutalized, and disenfranchised people of African descent—whose free labor was foundational to the economic prosperity of the country—doesn’t mean you get to pretend the descendants are undeserving of being included in the dominant narrative of America.
Thus, we also need initiatives like the 1619 Project.
When Trump attacks the merits of the 1619 Project and racial sensitivity training, he is signaling one thing loud and clear: that he is the candidate for white Americans.
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In a country whose demographics are quickly changing, the current occupant of the White House believes learning about those diverse cultures and their histories would cause more division. It is exactly the attempt to make these populations invisible that causes the division—not the knowing of their experiences.
President Trump and others like him—who have built their entire lives and identity on the fallacy of racial superiority—freak out when someone dares to have a conversation that does not center whiteness. They wonder: What does the exploration of diverse cultures mean for me? Will I no longer matter?
But America was built on a solid foundation of white supremacist ideology, capitalism that requires one to forget that a permanent underclass is essential for the economic system to actually work, and the policing of knowledge about people of color at every educational level. So Trump and his ilk are safe—for now.
Learning about diverse populations is not going to necessarily make people behave differently. Diversity training in the workplace has been around for decades and unfortunately does not have the goal of causing disruption. Diversity training is about creating cultural awareness and competency, educating people about groups with whom they may have had little to no contact with in their lives, and ultimately improving communication between groups. The 1619 Project is about inclusion and giving people factual information about the founding of this country they may have never had before in school systems throughout this country.
Trump has long shown us that he’s not interested in hearing what Black Americans and people of color have to say. But calling African and Caribbean nations shitholes, calling former President Obama unintelligent, saying that you have no interest in understanding Black people’s pain and denying white privilege will not stop the browning of America. It is happening, and none of the public tantrums, Twitter rants, public abuse of reporters of color, trying to tank the educational efforts of the 1619 project or the defunding of diversity training initiatives at the federal level will stop it.