Trump's anti-racism training prohibition is already having stupid real-world consequences

Two weeks ago (which frankly feels like a lifetime ago), President Trump issued an executive order banning most popular diversity and anti-racism training programs from being used by federal workers and federal contractors. And the order, which bans programming that suggests the "United States is an inherently racist or evil country or that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil"—a dramatic misrepresentation of what racial bias training based on critical race theory actually teaches—is already having some ridiculous real-world consequences.

Actor William Jackson Harper, best known for playing the anxious philosophy professor Chidi Anagonye on "The Good Place," shared a story on Twitter that illustrates one of the many problems with the order. Harper, who works with the charity Arts in the Armed Forces ran into problems with a group of military personnel watching and discussing the movie "Malcolm X" together.

The thread reads:

"So I've had a rather disturbing experience this past week. I agreed to a virtual event with one of the charities I'm involved with, Arts In The Armed Forces (AITAF). As the son of a Marine I have a deep respect for those who serve in our military.

The event was an all-academy virtual screening of a movie I selected, that cadets would watch on their own, which culminated in a Talkback/ Q&A session via zoom. I thought this was a great idea.


I think exposure to and interaction with the arts is a necessary part of any education. Furthermore, I think watching a movie with an eye toward discussion is an effective way to explore differing viewpoints, mindfully interrogate our own responses to a piece of art, and to expand our capacity for empathy.

I gave them a list of three films for AITAF to choose from. American Honey, Citizen Kane, and Malcolm X. Malcolm X was selected and I couldn't have been happier. I love this film. I have a very specific and deep connection to this film.

It's arguably the greatest biography committed to film. Washington's performance in this movie is a thing to behold. The restraint, the fire, the commitment, the physical and intellectual rigor of his work is beyond anything I've ever seen.

Additionally, I was happy to discuss the themes of this movie, the historical significance of the man, and hoping to have a wider discussion about how we view our past, and how those we venerate or revile were just people, complex, flawed people who were full of contradictions.

Now the disturbing part. Two days before the event, I was informed that students at two of the academies would not be taking part for fear of running afoul of President Trump's 'Executive Order Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping' which requires that federal and military institutions refrain from training material that promote a 'pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors…'

Which meant they possibly couldn't watch Malcolm X.

I would encourage everyone to go and read it in its entirety here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/ex...

I don't disagree with the idea of combating race and sex stereotyping. But that is not what this order is about. This is censorship. This executive order is an attempt to censor certain difficult truths that still haunt our society.

This executive order denies the very real experiences of so many minorities in this country. This executive order is rooted in the fictitious idea that the scourges of racism and sexism are essentially over, and that the poisonous fallout from centuries discrimination isn't real.

But all of these things are real, and they remain to this day some of the most salient malignancies in our society.

The film Malcolm X is history. American History. This film is not propaganda meant to teach one to favor one race or sex over the other. It's History. It's an admittedly thorny history, but it is history.

I believe that the selective censorship of certain chapters of our country's because we find it disquieting, or because it disrupts our narrative and tarnishes our self-image, is cowardly at best, dangerous at worst, and dishonest either way. And honesty is paramount if we are to ever continue to progress as a society.

I feel we have a collective duty to engage in self-reflection, and to hold ourselves accountable when we don't live up to our professed American ideals. However, I feel we cannot do that without a thorough, unflinching, unpleasant dialogue with our past.

A dialogue that so many brave educators and activists are attempting to have right now. A dialogue that this President and his administration are trying their damnedest to silence.

In the end three of the four slated academies did participate. We had a lively discussion, and there were some very incisive questions from the community.

However, one did not for fear of potential consequences of stemming from an Executive Order from the White House. The fact that the film that the film Malcolm X could be considered "Anti-American" by this administration is very frightening to me.

We can't let this slide. I would encourage us all to stay vigilant, to question every single decision this administration makes, and every single word out of their mouths. Most importantly, WE HAVE TO VOTE. If we don't, we are whistling past the graveyard. K. Bye."

Trump has tried to paint the more inclusive and accurate history that academics have brought to the forefront in recent decades as a "revision" of history, when the actual revision of actual history has always been the whitewashed versions many of us grew up with. It's a bafflingly bad take to claim that being realistic and truthful about the racism that permeates American history is somehow un-American, or even worse, anti-American.

Time to return to reality and keep moving forward. Vote, vote, vote.

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Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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