Wendy McElroy – October 27, 2020
On September 22, President Trump signed the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. The order speaks of “race or sex stereotyping,” which is defined as the act of “ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex.” Federal agencies or entities that receive federal funds are prohibited from stereotyping in their training or educational procedures. If an organization wants federal money, for example, its material cannot claim that individual males are racist, sexist, or oppressive simply because they are male, white, or heterosexual. Doing so is racial and sexual stereotyping.
The order has teeth in two ways. Presumably, the executive can compel compliance within its own federal agencies. Tax recipients, including contractors, who do not comply can be defunded or stripped of “licenses”; a university could lose federal money, student access to federal loans, or accreditation.
People object to government involvement in issues of discrimination, and justly so, because individuals have a right to freedom of association. The law has no business regulating peaceful interactions or refusals to interact. But government is already involved to the hilt, and the executive order seeks to take several steps back. Moreover, the dynamic of discrimination or stereotyping changes when it is a government agency or tax-funded entity that is discriminating. They are accountable to the public for how tax money is used, or they should be. And the pool of money should never be used to promote the unequal treatment of people because of their race or sex. (Whether the laws or funding should exist at all is an important but separate discussion.)
Discrimination against males is currently commonplace in government agencies and with federal tax recipients. Recent decades have turned men into an underclass who are virtually shut out of federal services, such as DOJ-funded domestic violence (DV) programs.1 The executive order’s redefinition of discrimination—race and sex stereotyping—is a long-overdue challenge and rejection of identity politics and its dogmatic mantra that men oppress women, that men and women are class enemies, and that men have it coming. Only after discrediting the ideology of identity politics can the laws, policies, and institutions based on it be dismantled.
What specifically does the order redefine?
It begins with Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous statement. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Today, King’s dream has been turned inside out so that justice to his children is said to require discrimination based on race and sex. The content of character is secondary, at best.
Two ideological trends accomplished this feat: identity politics and critical race theory. Identity politics claims individuals are not defined by their choices or character but by the class(es) to which they belong—white or minority, male or female, for example. Critical race theory is a postmodern framework by which all institutions and dynamics of society are analyzed in terms of race and hierarchy. The executive order summarizes these trends, “Many people are pushing a different vision that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual.” This vision sees America as “an irredeemably racist and sexist country” in which “some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors.” By contrast, the executive order returns to King’s dream by defunding the tax-paid diversity and antiracism training that is based on identity politics and critical race theory. In theory, the order means that all such federally funded training will cease.
This seems to be a serious push. A September 4 memorandum issued by the Office of Management and Budget broke ground for the executive order. “Training in Federal Government” instructed agencies to “begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on critical race theory” or institutional racism. The memo outraged and alarmed its targets, of course, who seem equally serious about resisting the push. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents seven hundred thousand federal and DC employees, quickly condemned it. “As racial injustice continues to rock this nation,” the AFGE national president declared, “we ought to be building more bridges of understanding. But all this president seems to know how to do is build walls of division.” Obstruction in some form is likely.
To ground the coming conflict in practical reality: Which sort of agency is being targeted, and specifically for what? Three examples are instructive. The order singles out:
- The Department of the Treasury, an executive department, which held a seminar that argued “virtually all white people…contribute to racism.” Attendees were instructed to avoid advocating either color blindness or letting people’s “skills and personalities be what differentiates them.” Judging people on merit is considered racist.
- Argonne National Laboratories, a federal entity, which stated in its material that racism is “interwoven into every fabric of America” and described “color blindness” or advocating a “meritocracy” as “actions of bias.”
- The Smithsonian Institution, heavily funded by federal money, claimed that concepts like “[o]bjective, rational linear thinking,” “[h]ard work,” and the “nuclear family” were divisive “aspects and assumptions of whiteness.”
Clearly, the new policy will apply aggressively across the board.
The most interesting institutions to watch may well be universities. They are wellsprings of identity politics and critical race theory, as well as pioneers in the demonization of men. Virtually all universities receive federal funds—if not directly then indirectly through mechanisms like student loans. In theory, this means all of them will drastically alter both their training material and probably their curricula. Academics have also reacted with outrage and alarm. In a joint statement, the deans of all five University of California law schools gave an unusually passionate defense of critical race theory, calling Trump’s “rhetoric redolent of McCarthyism and the Red Scare.” Obstruction in some form is likely.
The universities have reason to be scared, because a day of reckoning may be nigh. Consider just one way in which this policy change could alter the American campus. Every women’s studies program promotes the theory of patriarchy, which is defined as an “unjust social system that subordinates, discriminates or is oppressive to women.” The oppressors are males as a class; the victims are women and minorities. This makes every women’s studies program guilty of the sex stereotyping described in the order. In theory, these programs need to abandon their ideology or face defunding and the possible loss of accreditation.
The words in theory must be emphasized when discussing the executive order’s impact, because a bureaucratic backlash is inevitable, and it will be fierce. Universities are bastions of impenetrable infrastructure that closes ranks when under attack. Exposing the system as intellectually corrupt, rawly discriminatory, and vicious toward young men in its care will make the wagons circle. Universities are the hill on which this executive order may die.
The bill is due. This time the cost is falling on universities rather than male students. Will the system pay up? If [it] happens on campus, then it will happen everywhere else.
Or universities could become the springboard for a saner method of how people should associate with each other—that is, as individuals who connect based on their own assessment of each other’s merit. Social justice spilled out of the campus onto Main Street; perhaps the same can be true of reason and a respect for the individual.
Originally published at Mises.org.
Image source: Getty
- And yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have consistently found that men and women are victimized by DV at the same basic rate. The report Most DV Educational Programs Lack Accuracy, Balance, and Truthfulness summarizes the results of the CDC and other studies on this point.[↩]