by Christopher Paslay
Schools, businesses, and government organizations need not be locked into the ridged tenets of modern anti-racism. An informed and respectful dialogue on alternatives can broaden perspectives on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
For the past three months, I’ve been producing videos and writing about some of the pitfalls and drawbacks of modern anti-racism and white fragility. A common misperception is that because I criticize these approaches, I somehow oppose the fight for racial justice — specifically, the quest for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This could not be further from the truth.
As a Philadelphia public schoolteacher, certified counselor and coach, my very livelihood is centered around these goals. Each day I work to educate my students and athletes to become critical thinkers and informed members of society, modeling the kinds of principled behaviors I’d like to instill in them. With that said, there is more than one way to skin a cat — which is to say there are other ways to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion outside of the current trendy anti-racist approach.
The core tenets of anti-racist scholarship-activism, when you study them closely, are not without controversy. They are as follows:
- Racism exists today in both traditional and modern forms.
- Racism is an institutionalized, multilayered, multilevel system that distributes unequal power and resources between white people and people of color, as socially identified, and disproportionately benefits whites.
- All members of society are socialized to participate in the system of racism, albeit in varied social locations.
- All white people benefit from racism regardless of intentions.
- No-one chose to be socialized into racism so no-one is bad, but no-one is neutral.
- To not act against racism is to support racism.
- Racism must be continually identified, analyzed and challenged. No-one is ever done.
- The question is not Did racism take place? but rather How did racism manifest in that situation?
- The racial status quo is comfortable for most whites. Therefore, anything that maintains white comfort is suspect.
- The racially oppressed have a more intimate insight via experiential knowledge into the system of race than their racial oppressors. However, white professors will be seen as having more legitimacy, thus positionality must be intentionally engaged.
- Resistance is a predictable reaction to anti-racist education and must be explicitly and strategically addressed.
The truth is, not everyone believes racism works this way, myself included. Anti-racism is simply a theory of the dynamics of racism in America, one that is subject to flaws like any other. Likewise, so-called “anti-racist” work is simply one method of achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion, and many people believe they should have the right to oppose racism from their own political, religious, or philosophical worldviews. Unfortunately, the anti-racist approach itself makes offering alternative solutions to racial justice nearly impossible, as any form of disagreement is itself evidence of so-called “aversive racism” or oppression.
However, as scholars Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay write in their article “How to Talk to Your Employers About Anti-Racism,” it is “possible to push back at authoritarian overreach in the names of ‘Social Justice’ or ‘anti-racism’ and persuade employers and coworkers to expand their scope to include a broader range of worldviews in their anti-discrimination initiatives.”
Pluckrose and Lindsay suggest writing a letter to your employer to address your concerns about anti-racist trainings, explaining that you are familiar with the main tenets of Critical Social Justice and are not coming from a place of ignorance; and that you fully support the fight for diversity, equality, and inclusion, and are not coming from a place of bigotry. Here are eight things to consider in your letter:
- Begin with acknowledgement of the issue and why your organization is making a response at all.
- Indicate concern in a broad sense, beginning with the concern for the underlying issue, need for dialogue and action, and then expressing broader concerns, especially that hasty decisions could create unintended problems.
- Demonstrate that this concern is well-founded by explaining your familiarity with the fundamental tenets of CSJ (see, for example, our forthcoming book, Cynical Theories, explaining this) and examples in which it has been put into practice (e.g., The Evergreen State College).
- Illustrate some specific problems with the proffered approach, both theoretically (e.g., contradictions, unfairness, kafkatraps, etc.) and in application; express concern about these damaging the organization and its mission.
- Acknowledge the underlying problem again and suggest/remind that there are other ways to approach it.
- Provide some examples from liberal, egalitarian principles, make suggestions for genuine leadership training or alternative approaches to engaging diversity successfully (i.e., IKEA effect exercises, antifragility models, and so on).
- Express plainly that you believe the current course of action is a mistake that, while it signifies intention to take on the problems of current concern, could exacerbate the issues or create other new ones.
- Close with a thank you and invitation to more discussion and a willingness to take leadership roles with regard to navigating the issue, if needed or appropriate.
Being tactful and exhibiting a professional tone is very important. Pluckrose and Lindsay also state:
That you demonstrate your competence with Critical Social Justice ideas is very important. The training session or whatever you are being compelled or strongly encouraged to attend works on the assumption that you have biases you are not even aware of and that you will need to be trained to see them. This is because the worldview at hand believes people with systemic power on their sides are socialized — literally brainwashed by the power dynamics of society — to believe that they earned their dominance and that it is appropriate and natural, thus invisible to them. The training will assume that you will be resistant and defensive because you are fragile or reactionary and won’t want to confront your racism. It will label you not just ignorant but willfully ignorant — you don’t know and you don’t want to know. This means that all disagreement can be dismissed or even turned against you.
Obviously, this is not the best way to have open, honest, and productive discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools or businesses. However, when you take an honest look at the underpinnings of modern anti-racism and whiteness studies, this is exactly how these things operate. Any administrator, supervisor, or manager genuinely open to racial equality should welcome alternative points of view as long as they are stated respectfully. And Pluckrose and Lindsay have offered a plethora of resources for doing just that.
In summary, disagreeing with a modern anti-racist approach to fighting racism doesn’t mean you’re against equity and racial justice. On the contrary, you’re forwarding the cause by broadening its scope.