“We have to go back to the core values of this country. They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country, and I’m not gonna allow that.”
These words were said by President Trump in response to being questioned about his ban on racial sensitivity training during last Tuesday’s debate.
The executive order prohibits federal contractors and grant recipients, i.e. any institution that receives aid from the federal government like the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, from facilitating race and gender-based sensitivity training on the basis that it “promotes divisiveness,” “perpetuates racial stereotypes,” teaches people to be ashamed of our country and its history and, most notably, implies that diversity training is nonessential because racism doesn’t exist in the United States anymore.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The protests this year surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others, as well as the mere existence of organizations such as Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People all challenge this assumption since they were created to combat racism and its manifestations in our policing, education and workplace.
The bottom line is if racism didn’t exist, neither would these organizations.
The notion that the United States has progressed beyond the need for race and gender sensitivity training surrounding marginalized identities implies that we live in a “post-racial society” where individuals do not experience race-based discrimination and its ramifications. This is not the case.
According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of the nearly 73,000 claims of workplace discrimination that were filed in 2019, just shy of 24,000 or 33 percent of them were claims filed on the basis of racial discrimination, with 26 percent of claims coming from Black workers despite them only making up 13 percent of the U.S. population.
And while there is no “one size fits all” solution to racism, I can assure you that pretending it doesn’t exist is not one of them. In fact, it’s actually quite racist.
By actively ignoring the discrimination that people of color experience, you are inherently telling them that they don’t matter and that since this discrimination doesn’t affect you, you won’t do anything to prevent or stop it.
Unfortunately, racial prejudice will always exist in the world because we are humans that have implicit biases; and while there isn’t much we can do about this, educating individuals is the first step in preventing people from acting upon these biases and prejudices so that we can create an environment where people feel safe, welcomed and valued, despite their differences.
By banning such training, the president is robbing us of a more equitable nation and further obstructing the immense amount of racial work this country needs to undergo to ensure that all citizens are treated equally.
He is allowing racism to run rampant throughout our society and is permitting perpetrators to remain unpunished for their behavior, the same way he has since the day he launched his presidential campaign in 2015.
And before you write this off as an insignificant issue that doesn’t affect you, it does. As an institution that receives federal funding, and one in which 52.1 percent of the student population are people of color — a defining feature that UMBC takes great pride in and one that sets us apart from other schools — a ban on sensitivity training will prevent us, as a university, from learning how to cater to our diverse population.
As racial tensions within this country have reached an all-time high, UMBC has continually condemned racism and expressed its support for the communities of color on and off campus, and has even gone so far as to identify itself as an institution that “… values safety, cultural and ethnic diversity, social responsibility, lifelong learning, equity, and civic engagement.” In addition, it has also established a Discrimination and Equal Opportunity Policy that protects students and faculty from prejudice and inequity.
However, this ban would only prevent our university from making any more progress. While the administration’s stance on these issues is admirable, it doesn’t diminish the fact that we still have more work to do as it relates to diversifying our faculty and amplifying the voices of students of color to ensure that they have access to the resources they need to be successful and feel secure.
The reality is, the only effective way to address an issue is to face it head-on. As confusing or uncomfortable discussions surrounding race may be, racial sensitivity training is necessary to ensure an environment where everyone feels welcome.
Written by Oluwasijuola “Siju” Oshin, Psychology B.A. major and Music and Sociology minor, Class of 2020