The Social Order

'Antiracism' Comes to the Heartland

Christopher F. Rufo

By Christopher F. Rufo City Journal

Published Jan. 20, 2021

  'Antiracism' Comes to the Heartland
A middle school in Springfield, Missouri, recently held a diversity training program that forced teachers to locate themselves on an "oppression matrix" and watch a video of "George Floyd's last words."

According to whistleblower documents and teachers who attended the program at Cherokee Middle School, the training began with a "land acknowledgement," claiming that "Springfield Public Schools is built on ancestral territory of the Osage, Delaware and Kickapoo Nations and Peoples." (At the time of publication, Springfield Public Schools had not responded to a request for comment.) The diversity trainers, Jeremy Sullivan and Myki Williamson, asked the teachers to "acknowledge the dark history and violence against Native and Indigenous People" before engaging in the day's program of "social justice work."

The trainers then forced the teachers to watch a nine-minute video of "George Floyd's last words." The film is silent, showing only white text on a black screen, illustrating Floyd's final utterances, including his cries for his mother. Such videos are a common technique in many diversity-training programs — and cult indoctrinations. The intention is to overload the senses of the participants and create an "emotional anchor" that serves to justify subsequent political arguments, even if they're non sequiturs.

Next, Sullivan announced the agenda: "We're going to look at three large concepts and those concepts are oppression, white supremacy, and systemic racism." He and Williamson provided the teachers a handout to locate themselves on an "oppression matrix," which defines white heterosexual males as the "privileged social group" and women, minorities, transgender, and LGBT people as "oppressed social groups." Presumably, those at the top of the oppression matrix, including many of the teachers in the room, are responsible for the "racism, sexism, transgender oppression, heterosexism, [and] classism" against disfavored groups.

The diversity trainers then narrowed the focus to race, distributing another handout that outlines the concepts of "overt white supremacy" and "covert white supremacy." The document claims that "lynching, hate crimes, KKK, neo-Nazis, [and] burning crosses" are "socially unacceptable" forms of white supremacy, while "education funding from property tax, colorblindness, calling the police on black people, BIPOC as Halloween costumes, not believing experiences of BIPOC, tone policing, [and] white silence" are "socially acceptable" forms of white supremacy.

This is a dangerous conflation. The trainers are attempting to extend the stigma of true social evils — slavery, lynching, Nazism — to any deviation from progressive political preferences, from property taxes to criminal justice to Halloween costumes. According to one teacher who attended the training, the handout originally listed "MAGA" as a form of "covert white supremacy," but it was removed after public outcry. The principle, however, has remained: diversity trainers use the emotional overload of historical evils to justify the imposition of current dogma.

Even more cynically, diversity trainers such as those at Springfield Public Schools have begun to insist on a standard of "affirmative consent." This means that teachers must not only accept the tenets of the training — in some cases even condemning themselves as white supremacists or oppressors — but also actively vocalize that acceptance. When one teacher said that he was "afraid to say anything," Sullivan quickly shut him down, telling the teacher that he must think what an "underrepresented or under-resourced student [might] say of our fear of speaking up." Remember: under the new ethics, disagreement is verboten; silence is transformed into an admission of guilt. "White silence" is a form of "white supremacy."

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Finally, after more than an hour of training, one white teacher, who was raised by a black stepfather began pushing back, asking: "Is the district saying that we should be Marxists?" He continued:

While I don't think there's a person in the room who doesn't agree that this is an important topic that should be dealt with, the way that it's being framed comes from Herbert Marcuse who took and stripped all of the economic policies of Marxist theory and turned it into [cultural Marxism]. . . . I grew up the son of a black man, he raised me to believe in Dr. King's teachings. Dr. King did not teach the kind of vitriol that we see out of Marxism, [which] has a long replete history of countries being bigoted and prejudiced against others and then murdering millions as a result.

The diversity trainers, both white, were stunned. At first, Sullivan acknowledged the Marxist orientation of the diversity training program. "I know that that's the roots, I'm aware of all that information," he said. Then, perhaps realizing that teaching Frankfurt School Marxism in a Missouri public school could be controversial, he distanced himself: "The goal here is to take a stand against racism, it's not to be totalitarian. . . . There's not some big political agenda. It's certainly not Marxism. It's just let's make sure that all of our kids are truly valued and celebrated."

This is the tell. Many diversity training programs — and the political movement known as Black Lives Matter — operate on the principle of bait and switch. Following Marcuse, they predicate their rhetoric on the "emotional anchor" of racial suffering, then use euphemisms to make their political arguments. In the Missouri training program, the school district proposes "empowerment" as the solution, which sounds anodyne, even appealing.

However, in the documentation, the district defines "empowerment" as training students to "refuse to accept the dominant ideology and their subordinate status and take actions to redistribute social power more equitably." The district defines a euphemism with more euphemisms, but the deeper meaning is clear: that American society is white supremacist and must be replaced with a regime of race-based redistribution.

For years, Americans have watched as educators have pushed deeply divisive "antiracism" programs in coastal cities such as Berkeley, Portland, and Seattle. Now "antiracism" has come to the heartland.


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Christopher F. Rufo is a filmmaker, writer, and policy researcher. He's the executive director of the Documentary Foundation and a research fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Wealth & Poverty. This first appeared in City Journal.