We are in a moment in history when, as one CNN anchor put it, “2020 is being defined in part by this long-overdue reckoning about race.” So when President Donald Trump decided to issue an order banning sensitivity and diversity training based on “critical race theory” and “white privilege,” this was widely denounced as one more example of the administration seeking to divide Americans along racial lines. It was also seen as insensitive in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that have been going on over the past three months since the death of George Floyd.
Many Jews, including the majority who identify as political liberals, believe the move to be an affront to their belief in social justice and the need to work for a society that expunges racism.
But whatever you think of Trump, it is a mistake for anyone—white or black, gentile or Jew—to oppose the president’s order. To the contrary, his demand that the government cease spending taxpayer dollars on training programs rooted in ideas about white privilege and the critical race-theory genre from which they sprung is not only right. Opposing these programs is a defense of liberal ideas that is just as, if not far more important, than the question of which septuagenarian white male will serve as president for the next four years. Moreover, it’s also exactly the kind of pseudo-intellectual snake oil that those who purport to be speaking up in defense of the Jewish community ought to be standing against rather than supporting.
The field of “anti-racism” training was a booming business even before the summer of Black Lives Matter. In the wake of the Floyd killing and other incidents that were interpreted as proof of the systemic racism that supposedly pervades American society, it is one of pandemic America’s few true growth industries. It’s not just government agencies that are buying into the need for these programs. Corporations have lined up by the thousands to pay exorbitant fees to people whose mission it is to indoctrinate Americans about the toxic insidious whiteness that they teach is the answer to all of the nation’s problems.
Neither the triumph of the civil-rights movement nor the election of an African-American man to the presidency completely erased racism. America is still an imperfect nation whose history of past injustices is still relevant to our contemporary struggles.
But the answer to these problems cannot be ideas that start from the same damaging premise about human beings as those embraced by racists. Despite the popularity of anti-racism training and the widespread perception that these sessions are liberal efforts to eradicate racism, they are not progressive. Though you’d never know it from the criticisms aimed at Trump’s order, far from eradicating prejudice, these fundamentally illiberal programs perpetuate it.
The catechism of this fad is the best-selling book White Fragility. Written by anti-racism trainer Robin DiAngelo, it is a guidebook to a way of looking at America and race whose premise is that all white people are racists, whether they know it or not. Though it is rooted in a kernel of truth about the relative advantages that those who are not defined as “people of color” may benefit from, it goes far beyond that anodyne observation.
Though written in some of the most turgid prose set in print in recent decades and overflowing with simplistic cant devoid of intellectual rigor, it has the simple virtue of enunciating a dogma that allows for no dissent. Like any effective religious cult, it condemns anyone who questions the dubious assumptions on which it is premised.
Those who resist the training sessions that are based in its ideas are defined as ipso facto racists. If you defy DiAngelo’s demand to “strive to be less white,” that merely confirms her assertion that you are racist, even if your life, relationships and record prove that you are anything but that. As journalist and author Matt Taibbi wisely pointed out, this is the “intellectual equivalent of the “ordeal by water” method of judging people that held that “if you float, you’re a witch.”
White privilege training is the bedrock upon which cancel culture exists and is the driving force behind the assault on free speech that has gained momentum in recent months. But the real tragedy is that, as he points out, this absurdity “is orthodoxy across much of academia.”
Like most terrible things that originate on college campuses, the contagion of belief in “white fragility” indoctrination and “struggle sessions”—in which all must berate themselves for their “privilege”—has now crossed over into mainstream society. Frauds like DiAngelo and the many other charlatans engaged in this racket are raking in big bucks as government agencies, private businesses and corporations gladly pay them millions in order to be labeled as sufficiently woke to pass muster in the brave new anti-racist world in which we now live.
But the problem here is not the rise of a class of woke profiteers selling a new religion about white guilt. It’s that the anti-racism classes that unfortunate employees are forced to suffer through are promoting a faith antithetical to liberal beliefs, in addition to concepts like meritocracy and individual rights.
DiAngelo shares a frame of reference about America with the authors of The New York Times’ equally fraudulent “1619 Project” that depicts America as an irredeemably racist nation. But it goes much further than that effort to falsify American history.
In the world of White Fragility, even well-meaning white progressives are no different from white supremacists or Ku Klux Klan members. White toxicity is in the air they breathe and baked into their DNA, regardless of whether they believe in equality and oppose prejudice. Indeed, as is the case with a whole range of intersectional ideas, “whiteness studies” challenge the validity of concepts about objective scholarship, scientific truth and individualism. They are all viewed as part of a system geared towards reaffirming white supremacy.
While Jews are eager to support anything that represents itself as a way to advance social justice, this new faith threatens the foundations upon which the security of Jews and every other minority rests. A world where only race, as opposed to individuals, matter is not one that is friendly to Jewish rights. That’s especially true when Jews are regarded by the Black Lives Matter movement as just another variant of white oppressor that must undergo re-education.
By denigrating positive attributes like intellectualism and the use of data as “white values,” anti-racism training also hurts African-Americans and other minorities because it treats them as unable to advance in the same manner as anyone else. Few concepts better describe the soft bigotry of low expectations as programs about white privilege.
Most importantly, the entire point of these training sessions flatly contradicts the goal of the civil-rights movement so eloquently articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
We do not yet live in a nation where that hope has been fully realized or universally accepted. But the United States is a very different and far better country with respect to the struggle against racism. While we should continue to strive towards that goal, anti-racism training is so immersed in ideas about the immutability of race that it treats King’s vision as not so much difficult to achieve, as it is neither possible nor desirable. Whereas the whole point of the civil-rights movement was to take race out of the law in order to advance the cause of equality, the ideology of White Fragility takes us in the opposite direction by making it the center of every conversation.
Trump’s effort to rid the government of training sessions that promote these toxic ideas was long overdue and should be emulated in the private sector. But as long as con artists like DiAngelo are treated like infallible popes of popular culture, few businesses will dare to refuse to go along. It is nothing less than a tragedy that opposition to this sham has become inextricably tied to politics. Yet that is all the more reason why liberals. and especially Jewish liberals, must reject an ideology that is sacrificing American liberalism in the name of the false god of anti-racism.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.