On Sept. 4, President Donald Trump banned training exercises aimed at educating federal agency workers about the realities of racial, systemic and institutionalized violence and disparities still present in the country. Russell Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, complained in a memo of the "millions of taxpayer dollars" spent "across the Executive Branch" on programs supposedly driving a wedge between communities.
The precedent this sets is characteristic of an administration unwilling to cooperate with organizations who hope to tackle oppressive systems still marginalizing communities today. It comes as no surprise that this announcement makes its debut just months before a presidential race for the ages. It also proves even more damaging amidst growing public concern over police brutality and racial discrimination in the workplace, schools and health care systems.
The argument for this move, as Vought points out in his two-page memo, is that such training supposedly “engenders division and resentment within the Federal workforce.” Vought continued by adding commentary fit for the current administration:
“We can be proud that as an employer, the Federal government has employees of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We can be proud that Americans from all over the country seek to join our workforce and dedicate themselves to public service….However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.”
According to the order, as well as the memo, racial sensitivity training stands counter to what Trump and his administration hope to accomplish in making the country “great again.” Early this week, Trump went on the record to say he did not believe systemic racism existed at all in this country. The problem this poses not only undermines efforts by academics, researchers and scholars whose job it is to compile data on systems of oppression, but it also overlooks decades-old laws, bills and executive orders that disenfranchised communities.
The 2018 North Carolina Health Equity report released by the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services may shed some light on the realities of systemic racism. In the state of North Carolina, the overall rate of unemployment in North Carolina is 3.8%, with whites having the lowest rate of unemployment in the state at 3%. However, rates among African Americans, American Indians and Hispanics exceed that at 6.1%, 5.4% and 4.4%, respectively.
While COVID-19 has devastated the economy and seen job losses skyrocket for all communities, fewer than half of all Black Americans had a job in April and May, according to a report by Business Insider. When the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) opened in April, countless Black-owned businesses saw themselves unsupported by an initiative whose purpose was to bolster the efforts of small businesses. According to the reports by Time magazine, “a set of conditions that have favored larger businesses, including many banks only approving loans for existing customers and delaying the application of sole proprietorships, have shut out many minority-owned businesses.” Experts fear that although some have qualified and received loans through the PPP, its conditions would make it impossible for these businesses to avoid years of mounting debt.
Jessica Fulton, who is the vice president at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC, said that so much of this stems from the disparities derived when Black communities are not involved in the necessary conversations on policy change.
This single instance of economic disparity facing Black-owned business is just a dot on the line of a fast moving history of systemic racism. When the administration refuses to acknowledge the present implications for overlooking history, the damage could prove irreversible, and if American core values stand opposite that, then there must be a greater conversation about equality and civil rights.