WASHINGTON, D.C. - As our nation continues to reckon with the stark and undeniable evidence of persistent racial inequity, and despite the earnest efforts of so many to eliminate it, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is deeply disappointed and troubled by the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping issued on September 22 by President Trump. The order, with its litany of purposeful distortions of the facts of our nation’s history and broadly understood concepts such as “systemic racism” and “White privilege," is a thinly veiled part of the President’s overall strategy to stoke racial division in an already fractured country for his own political purposes.
This order purports to remedy a contrived offense that the President calls a “pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemable racist and sexist country." The remedy the order prescribes is to forbid federal government contractors and grantees from providing workplace diversity training to its employees. It expands a recent ban against such training by federal agencies. In a Tweet this week, President Trump stated his strong opposition to "efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex and race-based ideologies," and further that "Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don't there's nothing in it for you!"
A close reading of the order reveals that the President proclaims that any notion of institutionalized systemic racism in America is tantamount to reverse racism against Whites. The president uses plainly flawed and revisionist assumptions and conclusions about the racial history of this country to make his case. For example, the order states that “Our Founding documents rejected these racialized views of America, which were soundly defeated on the blood-stained battlefields of the Civil War.” In fact, the Constitution included the Three-Fifths Compromise, which declared that enslaved Black people had a worth of no more than three-fifths of a White person. This language remained in the Constitution for almost a century until it was removed by Reconstruction-era amendments.
The order also erroneously suggests that the Civil War brought an end to racist views espoused by 19th century politicians, including Steven Douglas, who once said that our government was “made on the white basis, by white men, for the benefit of white men." The end of the Civil War did no such thing. With the failure of Reconstruction only 11 years after the Civil War, any hope for the end of institutionalized systemic racism of that era died. It is a well-known fact that the end of Reconstruction ushered in a long period of ultra-racism (an American apartheid) and domestic terrorism with the rise of the Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan.
To scapegoat the content of workplace diversity training as being a cause of racial conflict in the nation is sinister. Our country can only meaningfully advance racial equity if its leaders, especially the president, first recognize that it existed historically and continues to exist today. As evidenced by this executive order, Mr. Trump has failed to do so. Therefore, we must make sure that this president is not reelected for another four years and emboldened to continue infusing racist policies throughout our government.