The U.S. Department of Energy has suspended racial sensitivity training for its employees, including those at its national laboratories, while it investigates how public money was spent and whether the programs imparted divisive messages.

The agency created a team in late August to investigate its diversity and sensitivity training and ordered all related materials to be retained so they could be examined for objectionable and even unlawful content.

“The training sessions involved methods and content offensive to employees and their personal values and common notions of diversity and inclusion,” William Cooper, the agency’s general counsel, wrote in a Sept. 4 letter.

Energy Department officials would not comment beyond the letter and said it could not be distributed publicly.

President Donald Trump earlier this month ordered a halt to federal spending on diversity training that addressed topics such as white privilege and critical race theory, contending it fosters resentment in the workplace. He has said systemic racism is exaggerated by protesters and Democratic Party leaders.

“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,” wrote Russell Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a Sept. 4 letter.

Citing unnamed media reports, Vought said many federal employees were required to attend “trainings” where they were told that “virtually all white people contribute to racism” or where they must say they “benefit from racism.”

The move to scrap diversity training comes after months of protests following George Floyd’s killing while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

“It’s a shame that the Department of Energy would discontinue programs that help attract a diverse workforce and teach employees from all backgrounds how to better communicate and collaborate with each other,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “This is simply another attempt by the Trump administration to sow division in our communities and distract the American people from its failed leadership.”

In an email, Sen. Martin Heinrich also denounced the decision.

“The move to halt federal diversity trainings at our national labs is clearly politically motivated and prevents important efforts to create more fair and inclusive work environments for New Mexicans,” Heinrich said.

Sen. Tom Udall’s office released a statement saying diversity, equity and inclusion are essential values that must be upheld in the workplace, especially in federal agencies at a time of “reckoning on racial justice.”

“He [Udall] has worked hard to encourage New Mexico’s national labs to diversify their workforce and hire more New Mexicans from all backgrounds to fill their important positions,” Udall spokesman Ned Adriance said in an email.

Joseph Cotton, head of the New Mexico NAACP, said Trump is trying to appeal to “a certain group of people” in his reelection bid.

“I think it’s sad that we’re in the place that we’re in right now,” Cotton said. “We’re better than that in America, and we should be bigger than that.”

Unless people are taught as children about diversity and racial injustice, they need to learn about it somewhere, such as the workplace, Cotton said.

“Anyone can be discriminated against on the job,” Cotton said. “Everybody needs the sensitivity training.”

(15) comments

Khal Spencer

A nicely written piece on this subject written by Cathy Young.

The No-Win Battle of Trump vs. “Critical Race Theory”

Michael Welsh

Has anyone looked at the curriculum of the training at the labs? Maybe that will illuminate the discussion more than visceral reactions.

Khal Spencer

I posted a link in an earlier comment. I guess you missed it.

Robert Bartlett

What kind of new work do you think critical race theory "trainers" will be able to get? Would you hire one for your business? I think not.

Khal Spencer

Katherine, I don't know much about the SNL training as an example of this stuff other than what was in the included links, but if the point of the training was to make people aware of how race (I would include class) nuances workplace interactions, some good can come of it. Its too easy to either praise or lampoon this stuff based on what is in our polarized media, without knowing much about it (see the two political quotes above by Heinrich and Lujan, or Russell Vought's tasteless memo).

I think the warning on the training rings true: simply reading Powerpoint slides or the text on those big white scribble sheets on easels is not equivalent to being there.

That said, having been to more than a few focus groups and canned training modules in my work life, one has to treat these like panning for gold: be patient and realize that to find the valuable nuggets, one has to sift through the gravel. I guess that is where the hard work and individual initiative come in. To deny that institutional racism and cultural barriers to equality exist is rather naive. None of us just fell out of the turnip truck.

Maybe in lieu of training, folks could have been asked to watch Raoul Peck's "I Am Not Your Negro" based on James Baldwin's work, and read Radley Balco's work on the use of policing for profit and how that disproportionately affects PoC. Different learning tools for different folks.

Khal Spencer

I would offer that calling a module White Men’s Caucus Materials or White Men & Allies Learning Lab Materials is already looking like it was written by a graduate of The Institute of The Hopelessly Tone Deaf.

Mike Johnson

This kind of thing has become rampant in the PC world of academia of late. I suspect these kind of ridiculous "training" schools are an outgrowth of it all. To quote:"English as a subject, the department says, has provided 'aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction and anti-Blackness'.

The statement goes on to deem the 'collective responsibility' of the faculty to be 'undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our disciplines and in our institutions.'"

Khal Spencer

Well, that kinda narrows down the scholarship, doesn't it?

Katherine Martinez

Khal, "Awareness" is one thing; and I wholeheartedly agree that there are some dim- witted folks that can be made 'aware' of their stupidity. But to mandate, sanction, or hold your employment hostage, and otherwise humiliate people because of their race or gender is a different kettle of fish. Asking particular genders and races to write letters of apology or to bow down and lick the boots of other races or genders is not my cup of tea. No thanks.

Khal Spencer

If letters of apology was what is being asked, I wholeheartedly agree.

On a related subject, David French wrote a pretty good essay on Critical Race Theory from his Christian and conservative viewpoint. Worth reading if it is not behind a paywall.

Khal Spencer

More from David French.

American History and the Battle Between 1619 and 1776

Katherine Martinez

You can not 'train' or legislate what is in a persons heart. This comes from your upbringing and from home. I agree that to propagandize race in the work place does create resentment, and in effect has a type of reverse or diminishing return.

Khal Spencer

Albuquerque Journal article.

Khal Spencer

Some of the details of this training have been posted online. I suspect the devils and angels are in the details. See link below. Meanwhile, I wish the politicians would not recite the usual partisan claptrap.

Katherine Martinez

She profits from white fragility, and has no minority friends. Hypocritical.

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