Diversity training goes overboard

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza attends a City Hall news conference about school funding in April 2018.
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza attends a City Hall news conference about school funding in April 2018. Photo Credit: Rush Perez

Are “objectivity,” “perfectionism” and “worship of the written word” aspects of “white-supremacy culture” that need to be eradicated from our public schools? According to the New York Post, a slide making that extraordinary claim was included in a mandatory seminar for New York City school administrators held by the city Department of Education as part of a pro-diversity program.

The report on the seminar is part of a series of Post stories alleging that, under the stewardship of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, a $23 million anti-racism initiative in the school system has taken a bizarre and toxic turn that some would consider more racist than anti-racist. Critics claim that anti-bias training sessions, many of them mandatory for school personnel, promote hostility toward whites and Asian Americans — and sometimes minimize anti-Semitism.

Thus, a DOE-sponsored workshop organized by the Center for Racial Justice in Education — an advocacy group which gets about $400,000 from the city for these sessions — featured a speaker who reportedly claimed that Asian American students “benefit from white supremacy” and enjoy “proximity to white privilege.” Another speaker was quoted as saying that school interventions should focus on helping middle-class black students over poor white students in the name of “racial equity.”

Meanwhile, a Jewish educator told the Post that when attendees at ameeting were asked to share experiences that inspired them to work for racial justice, she talked about her grandparents’ ordeal as Holocaust survivors — only to be “verbally attacked” for making this about “being Jewish” rather than about “black and brown” students.

Other people unhappy with the training say its focus on “interrogating whiteness” makes white people feel “belittled and harassed” instead of promoting understanding, and that people who complain are accused of being “fragile.” The materials used at such sessions include “white privilege exercise” worksheets in which people are asked to rate their own privileged status, sometimes based on highly questionable claims. Is “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to ‘the person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race” really a statement that applies to white people in New York in 2019?

The DOE has not commented on the material or content of the anti-bias training. But comments from supporters of the initiative, including Matt Gonzales, an outside adviser on the DOE’s school diversity task force, suggest that the criticism is well-founded. Gonzales told the Post that the program “requires discomfort” and that “having to talk about someone’s own whiteness is a requirement for them to become liberated.” Meanwhile, Carranza himself has said that people who don’t think the initiative is beneficial “are the ones that need to reflect even harder upon what they believe.”

Most people agree that racial prejudice against African Americans, Latinos and other groups remains a problem that needs to be addressed. But this particular brand of “anti-racist” ideology does more harm than good. It rejects the goal of treating people as individuals and stresses group identity. It also assigns racial labels to cultural values that have nothing to do with race (such as individualism and the work ethic), and then defines whiteness as conformity to those values. It presumes that white people, and many if not most members of minority groups, are infected with a white supremacist mentality and that constant self-policing is needed to root it out.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.

This is a guest column. Mark Chiusano will return in June.