By Sarita Pillai and Ginni Spencer
On September 22, 2020 President Trump issued Executive Order 13950 titled “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” This Executive Order followed a previous communication to all executive departments and agencies that: “It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch Agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date “training” government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda.” According to the memo, “…employees from across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism or where they are required to say that they “benefit from racism.” It appears that the Executive Order is targeting any training that suggests white privilege and unconscious racial bias are legitimate concepts that can be used to teach sensitivity about differences that may exist between one’s own and another’s experience and point of view.
This Executive Order applies to all Federal agencies and all Federal contractors and sub-contractors and certain grant recipients. Non-compliance may result in the cancellation, termination, or suspension in whole or in part of a Federal contract. A contractor may also be declared ineligible for further government contracts.
The text of the Orders is equal parts shocking and confusing. We encourage everyone to look up the Executive Order online (https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-combating-race-sex-stereotyping/) and study it carefully. An article prepared by an employment law firm can also provide additional context (https://www.employmentlawwatch.com/2020/10/articles/employment-us/executive-order-13950-on-diversity-training-hidden-traps-for-employers/) Legal experts that we have consulted with find the Order poorly written overall and likely challenging to enforce given the numerous probable Constitutional violations, including free speech.
As a Bedford resident employed by an organization that receives Federal contracts, this news hits close to home and worries me (Sarita Pillai) greatly. Does my professional compliance with these orders compromise my personal commitment to social justice and equity? As a first-generation immigrant and a proud naturalized US citizen I worry about the implications of this Order on my voice, my standing and my value in our society.
As a former human resources professional (Ginni Spencer) who has reviewed and selected training materials on topics such as racial bias I believe the concepts barred in the Executive Order are legitimate and constructive tools for opening up meaningful discussion. To label these concepts as “propaganda”, “anti-American” and “divisive” is neither constructive nor defensible.
As life goes on about us more or less ‘as normal’ even in these dramatic times, we are perhaps experiencing an illusion of safety inside our own local bubble. However, we wonder if we are just numb from the grind of a contentious election, racial tensions, and the pandemic. We may think we see no guillotine falling across the neck of our democracy…but are we ignoring the nicks of a thousand tiny blades – like this Executive Order — that will have the same result?
Editor’s Note: Both Pillai and Spencer serve on the Board of Directors of The Bedford Citizen but are speaking as individuals, not on behalf of the Board or The Bedford Citizen.)