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Statement on White House Memo Barring Federal Agencies from Race-Related Trainings

READ: White House memo barring federal agencies from race-related training sessions

“The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals within the United States….The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.”

On September 4, 2020, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a memorandum calling on Federal agencies to “cease and desist” using taxpayer dollars to fund any trainings on “critical race theory” and “white privilege.” Calling Critical Race Theory “divisive, Un-American propaganda,” OMB Director Russell Vought promised that he would issue more guidance to implement the President’s directives to agencies.

Critical Race Theory is not propaganda. It is a scholarly framework that describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality organize American life. As such, it is foundational to anyone who practices law, policy, social work, or medicine, or examines inequities in educational achievement, wealth, or other indicators of success in our society. Critical Race Theory offers an important analytical lens through which to view the larger structures and cultural assumptions that guide American society. It helps explain why, for example, Black people die in the hands of police at a much higher than average rate, even though most individual police officers have never killed a Black person. There are structural reasons why, historically and in the present day, Black people have been disproportionate victims of police violence. Critical Race Theory explores and explains these structures.

Vought’s memo is as misleading as the President’s directive is dangerous. Both mischaracterize Critical Race Theory as a way to teach white people that they are inherently racist. In doing so, the President is politicizing the study of race and racism. He has taken a valid subject of academic inquiry and weaponized it to fuel a broader culture war. The effect is to promote white heteropatriarchy as the only authentic American experience, delegitimizing all other histories as un-American, inauthentic, and threatening to our core values.

The truth is that Critical Race Theory affirms the most fundamental of American values: freedom. A free press, freedom of speech, and free inquiry represent the backbone of our democracy, and they are the cornerstone of a good education in the United States. An education grounded in truth, critical thought, and academic inquiry–not polemical attacks–is crucial to informed citizens making decisions for the benefit of society. This is the goal of Critical Race Theory, and it is why it is studied and taught from the classroom to the boardroom. For a president who has staked his political reputation and reelection hopes on sowing division and hatred, it is clear why he fears the prospect of a more critically engaged citizenry.

The undersigned members of the Department of History at UNC-Chapel Hill stand with our colleagues in and outside the academy who teach and write about the history of racism in the United States and the construction of whiteness and privilege. We condemn the President’s politicization of the scholarship of race and racism, and we repudiate his misuse of an executive agency for his own political gain. If he is able to do so with impunity, he will have eroded the very freedoms we all hold so dear.

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