Feb. 22, 2021

But I live in Canada! Why the former Trump administration’s order banning diversity training matters here too

The UCalgary Psychology Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Blog

Part 3 – Debunking the arguments

The Trump Executive Order has three main arguments. These types of arguments also underlie the types of statements made in Canada that we reviewed in Part 2. It is important that we understand these ideas, so that we can address them.

Argument 1: Diversity training “is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country”

  • This argument is partially true. On the one hand, America and Canada are both countries that were founded in a colonialist (read: White), patriarchal (read: male) framework. This means that historically, the most power in Canadian society was granted to White, male, heterosexual, Christian people. And, the legacy of that framework (in the form of things like racism and sexism) continues to this day. For example, think about the ongoing gender pay gap; the violence that trans Canadians and Indigenous women and girls face on a daily basis; or the continuing struggle to practice non-Christian religions. On the other hand, we recognize that change toward a less racist and sexist society is possible and that the great strides that have already been made demonstrate our ability to work toward redemption. But, to find this redemption, we need the exact kind of training and dialogue this executive order (and others like it) are against.

Argument 2: Diversity training teaches that “some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors”

  • It is true that some groups in society are automatically granted more privilege (and power) than others (e.g., royalty, the majority, the wealthy), often by design. Scholars in this area call these macro-level beliefs. And, it is also true that race and sex have become bound up in these macro-level beliefs in ways that we recognize now are unfair and racist/sexist. For example, not sure if you’ve been granted unearned privilege based on your race? Click here for a useful reflection piece. Another great tool for visualizing these arrangements is available from the Canadian Council for Refugees.
  • However, just because these arrangements are driven by macro-level beliefs and ideas doesn’t mean individuals are off the hook. Individuals who hold more power than others in Canadian society (like White Canadians) have a responsibility to understand the decisions of their ancestors, how decisions their ancestors made secured privilege and power for their descendants, and where corrections or innovations are necessary given how our moral sensibilities have evolved over the past 500 years. The current language to reflect a commitment to this process is anti-racism and anti-oppressive living. Trainings that help to facilitate this process in a constructive way are an asset, particularly in organizational spheres where diverse employees, clients, patients, students, and employers need to get along.  

Argument #3: Diversity training teaches that “Racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings”

  • This is false. Racial and sexual identities are important because we, as humans, have ascribed them extreme social importance (e.g., through slavery, the banning of gay marriage). And because – in a White, heterosexist culture – we have given them this importance, we now need to address it. Approaches that ignore the consequential realities of these social categories are not effective, and will not advance the well-being of all people. Placing our common status as human beings at the top of the hierarchy is aspirational, but unfortunately not descriptive of current social arrangements.

One last argument: Diversity training based in a critical race perspective “perpetuates racial stereotypes and division and can use subtle coercive pressure to ensure conformity of viewpoint”

  • While it is true that there are contingencies of people who overgeneralize or misapply concepts related to race, and that some of these contingencies claim critical theory and even use coercive tactics to convince others, this depiction does not apply to all, or the majority, of diversity trainings or critical theorists.
  • Put simply, critical race theory states two main things. The first is that white supremacy exists. Which it does. Even in multicultural Canada. The second is that it is possible to change this arrangement, and in the process free all people from the constraints of racial hierarchies. But again, the second part relies on training and dialogue – the exact thing the order prevents.
  • Critical race theory (and trainings based on anti-oppression more broadly) does not try to ensure conformity of viewpoint. In fact, these types of trainings generally try to promote something that scholars in this area call critical consciousness, or creating your own in-depth understanding of the world through reflection and action.

While the Executive Order that prompted this blog series is American, the types of ideas that underlie it are present in Canada. As psychologists are tasked to be anti-racist, it is critical they are aware of the ideas underlying the arguments in this order, so that they can be ready to tackle these arguments in their own field.

Thanks to Aisha Taylor (https://jonesinclusive.com/), Keith Yeates, Anna MacKinnon, Cara MacInnis and Joshua Bourdage for their feedback on this blog.

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Calgary nor do they reflect official University of Calgary policy