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Stop the CRT BS!

Back in 2013, I had just left corporate America to hang out my shingle.  I was a writing fool, taking every silly thing I’d experienced in corporate America to task.

One article that is still dear to my heart was “I Need Three Gallons of Yellow Training, Please.”  I used a quote from Roger Kaufman that still resonates:

You can have the perfect training, executed flawlessly.  But if the training is aimed at rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and not at navigation in freezing waters, your priorities are wrong, and you are wasting energy and money on the wrong “needs”.

With decades behind me as the head of corporate Learning in some pretty big companies, I grew so tired of people thinking they could “fix” serious interpersonal problems (you know….conflict, leadership, teams, etc.) with a training session.  Oh, and for heaven’s sake, don’t make the session longer than an hour.  We have important “real” work to do.

Nine-hundred and ninety-nine times out of 1,000, training wasn’t the answer.  It would have been (maybe) a band-aid on a gaping wound, but the blood would keep seeping through.

Training doesn’t change behavior. Period.

Enter corporate training on unconscious bias

I said that politely:  unconscious bias.  Apparently, some organizations have less polite names for their training:  how about a “three-day whiteness retreat for white male executives?” Yeah, that’ll make me feel singled out!

In 2018, Starbucks closed their stores for a day to hold “Unconscious Bias” training after a Philadelphia store denied a black customer access to their restroom.  The consultant who designed the training admitted that the effort would only be as good as leadership who hold folks accountable for behavior.  So at least she “got” that training is only a nano-part of what might actually bring change.  She probably couldn’t “sell” anything more.  Been there, done that.  Yessir – we’ll pour everything into an hour of training so you can get back to the “real” work.

The events of the past year have everyone jumping on the bandwagon with anti-racism training.  Companies are outsourcing training to consultants who claim they can “teach” those pesky white males how they have been horrible people for centuries.   Ouch.

Talk about resistance – I’m not sure I’d want to be called out about being biased in front of my peers.

Then there are the states that are spending time enacting laws that prohibit teachers from teaching “critical race theory.”   Back to the band-aid on the gaping wound….do we know they really are teaching “critical race theory?”  And if the curricula content for critical race theory spans every single action of every white, black, purple, green, yellow or <insert any unique feature> individual who has “dissed” another of a different race or gender, which specific action do we leave out?  Which action do we include?  Who decides?

Where did Critical Race Theory come from?

Okay, I’m gonna use a left-leaning MSM (aka mainstream media) source here.  If you don’t trust it, I’d suggest doing your own research, but it seems pretty fact-laden to me and clearly is worth more exploration and dialogue.  According to a New Yorker article in June 2021, a legal scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw and colleagues founded a critical race theory workshop in 1989 to study the premise that the so-called American dilemma was not simply a matter of prejudice but a matter of “structured disadvantages that stretched across American society.”  Oops….sounds like systemic racism.  Now, you can argue that there is no such thing.  I would invite you to read Isabel Wilkerson or Emmanuel Acho.  But you probably won’t.

In reality, that concept was positive, as it seemed to give a pass to individual prejudice in favor of structural mores that were in place that may have framed thoughts and actions.  Maybe we (individually) weren’t that bad; we just had external influences.

Let’s go back now to CRT and fast forward to 2018 when a journalist recognized a trend in anti-racism training in the news and decided to dig into the history of critical race theory, then wrote about it.  He got A LOT of attention from Fox News, and ultimately from the President, himself.  His writing was profoundly timely, as “liberal” movements such as BLM and MeToo were grabbing the headlines and he sensed a rising tide of resistance.

This self-professed “brawler” spotted kindling and took out a really big bellows to stoke the fire that had been simmering for years…decades….centuries.  He took a scholarly concept and gave “the issue” a name:  Critical Race Theory.

He travelled to the White House to help draft a law that prohibited the teaching of “critical race theory.”  You know, there is a part of me that says, “Right on, brother! We know that stuff doesn’t work.” But that is based on my feelings about training, not on whether we do or do not have systemic racism.

So, let’s just stop the CRT BS

We have a new label; a new “thing” to make a group of people righteously indignant.  Let’s put that in the new Dictionary alongside Identity Politics, Patriots, Red States/Blue States, Socialism, Radicalism, or….real Americans.

With each “label” that we don’t agree with, our blood pressure and defensiveness escalate to unhealthy levels.  Our finger gets stuck in the “pointing at them” position and our brain turns off any inclination we may have had to listen.

We begin to avoid “them” – those who might say something we don’t agree with (was there once a time when we could actually be friends with someone who “leaned” differently? And did we even know their leaning?)

We could change things

It is not out of the realm of possibility that we could change things.  How? 

We could start by putting our fingers in our ears and saying “Na na na na na” when we hear a label.  Then, after a few deep breaths, we could ask the speaker to avoid using labels and talk directly about issues.  Oh, and then both sides would have to listen.

We could have a serious talk with ourselves about who we have become, and how we may have lost our individuality to a pseudo-identity.  This takes some guts.  I know.  I’ve had the conversation.  It’s painful.

We can learn to look at our friends and family without the red or blue lens.  It’s hard.  We believe strongly in what we believe.  But why?

There’s a meme floating around that goes something like this:  If you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes truth politics.  Yeah.  Sounds right.  We are all brainwashed, whether we watch MSM or dig deeper into “our own research.”  Whether we are red or blue.  Whether we are conservative or liberal.

Carol Andersonhttp://andersonperformancepartners.com
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Carol —
    Thanks for so cogently laying out your thoughts on a critical and complex topic. As a life-long educator — teacher, publisher of school textbooks and technology, and professional development, and consultant — my mind went to a very specific thought: laws that eliminate or minimize historical discussions pass up a great educational opportunity.

    An example: when I was a graduate student (M.A.T.) in the early 70s, I was either given the assignment or self-selected it of reviewing the book ATOMIC DIPLOMACY written by a young (revisionist) historian, Gar Alperovitz. Alperovitz’s thesis was that at the Potsdam Conference (~July 25 1945), Truman used our development of a “terrible new weapon” — the atomic bombs — as a sort of verbal warning to caution Stalin on his post-war designs on Eastern Europe. The bombs were dropped shortly after the conference and while Truman made the historical argument that they were dropped to prevent a costly invasion of Japan, Alperovitz and others argued that it was also to prevent a Russian invasion of Japan and, again, to make him more careful about territorial grabs in Eastern Europe. These were radical theses at the time, and I could have easily absorbed them as “fact.”

    But as you argue in your piece, and as Mark O’Brien has rightfully argued on other occasions, the assignment was intended to pull back the curtain on the author’s argument and potential biases. And so I began an exhaustive study of his sources and footnotes. What I found was that a number of his sources didn’t hold up and some were stretched to accommodate the narrative.

    The lesson here is what I gained as a student by my examination. So…instead of states passing laws to forbid or restrict the discussion of CRT, why not allow history teachers to assign older high school students – not teacher delivered lectures – the task of examining CRT without prejudice? The examination would 1. clarify what CRT really speaks to and not what opportunistic opponents and proponents have said about it and 2. have kids examine whether structural systemic racism exists. The teacher’s role would be to facilitate the examination from a neutral standpoint. “Let’s find out what CRT is really saying.” Educators talk incessantly about kids needing to develop critical thinking skills. Well, here’s a great opportunity.

    The same type of examination could be applied to other “controversial” topics such as climate change or BLM as a radical Marxist group.

    Now, am I just being really naive here by suggesting an alternative to the limiting or, er, canceling of discussion around CRT? Maybe. Probably. But as a pre-eminent historian of totalitarian systems, Timothy Snyder, argues in an exhaustive article published just today — https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/29/magazine/memory-laws.html
    — there is a real danger to Democracy in the passage of what he calls “memory laws” — laws that deliberately reshape what happened in history. For example only, Poland passed a law in 2018 that made it illegal to argue that the Polish state or people had any involvement or responsibility for the Nazi occupation during World War II. Poland, thus, could not bear any responsibility for the death of some 3 million of its Jewish citizens. And if you think it was dangerous when the Soviet Union airbrushed historical players out of photographs, read the article. (And no, I haven’t yet examined Snyder’s sources.)

    • Hi Jeff, and thanks for the comment and the article. “Memory Laws” sounds Orwellian. Some folks think we are heading there but interestingly, many of those same folks seem to support the suppression of whatever-the-heck critical race theory is in our educational system.

      This particular statement resonates: “As beneficiaries of the calamity, they were not interested in its sources.” It feels to me as if this is why so many people dig in and won’t discuss – that there’s no reason because what is happening is advantageous to them.

      And this: “Even as Russian legislators seemed to acknowledge the catastrophe, they turned it against the main victims. The resolution stated that ‘there is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines,’ and pointedly mentioned six regions in Russia before mentioning Ukraine. This inability to recognize a tragedy led to an inability to recognize a people.”

      What is so fascinating to me now is that both “sides” of today’s debates could point to this history lesson and say, “Yep, it’s happening here” but yet mean so very different things. Commemorative statues going away……prescribed curricula in education – two polar opposites but both validated and expanded by media that needs to fill the time with commentary.

      (I’m trying not to repeat the whole article here…) but this stands out as well: “But the most common feature among the laws, and the one most familiar to a student of repressive memory laws elsewhere in the world, is their attention to feelings. Four of five of them, in almost identical language, proscribe any curricular activities that would give rise to “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

      History is not therapy, and discomfort is part of growing up. As a teacher, I cannot exclude the possibility, for example, that my non-Jewish students will feel psychological distress in learning how little the United States did for Jewish refugees in the 1930s. I know from my experience teaching the Holocaust that it often causes psychological discomfort for students to learn that Hitler admired Jim Crow and the myth of the Wild West. Teachers in high schools cannot exclude the possibility that the history of slavery, lynchings and voter suppression will make some non-Black students uncomfortable. The new memory laws invite teachers to self-censor, on the basis of what students might feel — or say they feel. The memory laws place censorial power in the hands of students and their parents. It is not exactly unusual for white people in America to express the view that they are being treated unfairly; now such an opinion could bring history classes to a halt.”

      This is a great article and should be on everyone’s reading list. Sadly, it appears in a journal that is not trusted by some. Thanks for sharing and commenting.

  2. Carol, it won’t surprise you to know I have problems with labels, badges, and stakes in the ground. And those problems are compounded by the fact that we live in a binary political/ideological world in which we’re afforded just two choices, with no middle ground: This or that. Right or wrong. Rightness and wrongness, of course, are determined by whatever special interest happens hold sway and control the popular narrative at any given moment. Isabel Wilkerson, Emmanuel Acho, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram Kendi, Layla Saad, Michael Eric Dyson, et al. They’re all wearing badges. They’re all labeling others, particularly those who don’t share their quotients of melanin. And they’re all putting stakes in the ground. Again, just two choices: With me or against me.

    If people want to treat me as an individual and talk with me, my ears and my mind will always be open. If they want to wear badges, consider me a “type”, label me, put me in a group of “types” they believe deserve similar labels, put stakes in the ground, and write us-and-them-books, they can, as the Irish love to say, tell their stories walking.

    I’m grateful to you, nonetheless, for your tagging me on your post.

  3. Carol – When I was in the Marine Corps, I was falsely accused of discrimination against African American Marines by a Warrant Officer because I gave him 4 Excellents on his FitRep – all other grades were Outstanding. He actually created false evidence against me by using documents written before I even checked into the command. When I proved this to the investigating officer, I asked if he would be charged under the appropriate article of the UCMJ. His response – No. I asked why. Answer – he is black and it will look like retaliation.
    They even broke all the FitReps I wrote down by race and it proved that the Marines receiving the lowest overall rating were white male Marines so if I was prejudice, the problem was it was against my own racial group.
    In the end, I was proven innocent but the damage was done – the false allegation had caused my “minority” Marines to believe that i must be a racist since a black officer said so.
    That’s what we are facing today. If you are a minority, then if someone does something you don’t like, yell racism and if they disagree, that proves racism! Being a white male automatically make you a racist. And like you said, training is not the answer (Human Relations training in the MC was a horrible failure if you remember.)
    The answer is leadership. I changed how my “minority” Marines viewed me after this incident by being the same strong leader I was before the allegation was made. They saw integrity, fairness, and professionalism everyday. They soon realized that giving your best everyday was recognized and rewarded – giving less than your best would be challenged in a manner that the Marine was encouraged to rethink their behavior.
    That’s what we need today. Leaders who are willing to say that where are good and bad in everyone and that each person needs to be mentored and nurtured to be their best. Then it is on them – no excuses – no victimhood – no blaming others for your own shortcomings – just responsibility for our own success or failure.
    My two bits.

    • Thanks for sharing that story, Len. I can understand how that leaves a mark. Oh yes…HumRel And unfortunately, I agree that there is too much pointing fingers and applying labels all over the board these days. Your solution is the only solution – and it ties back to the USMC principles of leadership – know your men and look out for their welfare.

      Where I see a nuanced difference is in the overtness of the situation you described. I cannot talk to race, but I can talk to gender and I have been the target of the overt bias that is loud and unfair. What is insidious is not so much the overt behavior but the silent practices that are difficult to see. I suspect that what happened to you happened in reverse on occasion and neither is right.

      This year has challenged many of my long held paradigms. But as I reflect and talk, I am more and more convinced that for every story there is another, equally egregious to someone else. To me, that says that there are valid points to be made that should be respected and heard.

      What that officer did to you – accuse you of something without checking the facts – is wrong. Just plain wrong. I guess that’s why I have become such a believer in facts. Not in news outlets, but at the source. When labels – as you so aptly described when someone calls “racist” – are used, there are no facts. And the only way to fight that is to get beneath the label.

      Again, thanks for your comment and Semper Fi

      • Carol,
        When I checked into the command where the above incident occured, I was to fill the position of Executive Officer. The CO let me know that he tried to get my orders cancelled for 2 reasons. First, I was a former enlisted Marine and he felt I would be too familiar with the enlisted Marines I knew in the past. Second, he wanted a black XO so minorities could see a minority in senior leadership (HQMC reminded him that leadership knows no race.)
        So, I understand the bias you faced. I used leadership to change his attitude and in the end, he apologized for his concern.
        My point is we all face unfair bias, discrimination, prejudice actions, and outright meanness. Race and gender does not protect us as some want to believe. The solution is to teach the skills and confidence that help a person overcome these attacks instead of accepting victimhood as the appreciate response.
        Reread my article “I Am A Great Person” to see what I mean.

        Ooh-rah and Semper Fi!

          • Carol,
            The example I shared clearly demonstrated the the CO did not want me in the XO position because I was white – but the commons myth is that I have white privilege. It sure didn’t protect me from having to work hard to prove I had earned the privilege to be the XO. Even my wife saw that the initial treatment I received upon reporting to the command indicated I was not welcomed by the CO. The bias was that blatant. And again, the example in my article “I am a Great Person” was a a different officer showing bias without a valid reason. So, I understand the sting of prejudice – my point was that I chose not to be a victim but to prove through positive behaviors that the person with the bias was wrong – and that is a far better thing to teach.

            • Len, I agree with you completely. I too have picked myself up after any number of different failures – some my own fault and some as a victim of someone else’s decisions. In terms of white privilege, what I have found as I have read various treatises since I became fascinated with all this is that there is so much I never saw, never knew, never cared about. What I learned is that a.) I want to know more b.) I want to make my own decisions and c.) recognizing that nothing is either/or. I am concerned that we’re so dug into either/or that we spend our time defending, rather than understanding what might be outside our own blinders. My own article about my time in the USMC in 1970s is, in my opinion, a good example of taking what life throws at me and growing because of it. I wish that everyone had the same gumption that you and I both have displayed in our lives. What I’m learning is that many just don’t. Is that okay? I don’t know.

              • Carol,
                “I wish that everyone had the same gumption that you and I both have displayed in our lives. What I’m learning is that many just don’t. Is that okay? I don’t know.” – My answer would be no.
                I agree with what you said in the above reply. And I feel, and it is my opinion, that the problems we are addressing would disappear if we taught folks how to stand up for themselves by using positive behaviors to prove those trying to hold them back wrong. Will it change everyone? No, some people just enjoy being mean and looking down on other to make themselves feel superior. But good leaders will quickly see what is happening and stop it through counseling or termination. If the problem is with the leader and they chose not to change their behavior, then there are other legal actions that can be taken. But it still boils down to believing in yourself, living up to your full potential, and not allowing your self worth to be determined by someone else. Again, my opinion based upon my experience. Great discussion.

                • HI again Len. Another thought about our discussion. The term “leader” is well defined in the Marine Corps. And there are clear consequences for not leading and for not following. Out here, it’s not as clear. Leadership is defined by buzzwordy business books rather than by setting clear expectations and holding folks accountable. In my 40+ years in corporate America, I see systems that can be gamed, lack of real accountability and those result in favoritism. I wish I saw it differently, but I’m pretty cynical these days.

                  I see the same problem with the government. There is no clarity in anything, so everything goes. Favoritism lives in the lobbying community and those who either don’t play the game or can’t play the game are marginalized.

                  I was talking with my husband yesterday about my days as a Compensation Analyst in a major bank. Supposedly we were a checkpoint of reason and approval so that leaders didn’t run wild in pay. They just figured out how to work around us. My style of asking questions about purpose, etc. were met with “that’s none of your business.”

                  Joe asked me what I did. I told him I stopped asking questions and did what I was told.

                  My discomfort with today’s political environment has little to do with race, gender or other marginalization. It has to do with people who can get away with things that should not be done, simply because they have the power. And those of us who don’t? We just say, “Sure,” or we look for work elsewhere. Had I been at Enron, I’d like to think I’d have had the courage to walk away. But where I was was far more subtle, and as a young professional I was not well versed in “corporate America.”

                  Do I think we’re all a bunch of racists or misogynists? No. But I do think that there are many of that ilk in positions of power that don’t play fair. In 40+ years of human resources, I’ve seen my fair share.
                  Thanks for the great discussion. Enjoying….

                  • Carol,
                    Everything you said in the above comment is absolutely true. My biggest frustration after leaving the Corps was the poor leaders I saw in every job I held. It was the reason I wrote my book. But, alas, in today’s climate, the buzz words will get used while those in power continue to abuse the privilege they have been given Some days, I wonder why I even bothered to serve – but then I remember the great leaders who help mold and shape me to be who I am today and I realize just how blessed I was to have served when I did.

                    • I share that frustration, Len. I’ve seen it, I get it and I understand the “why.” That’s why I wrote my book – to help those in HR realize that they can have the power to effect change. But that’s hard and it means having the courage to stand up, but also picking the right battles to stand up to.

                      The book was a data dump of my brain – everything I wanted to say to HR and executive leaders while I was “there.” After several years of trying to “sell” the concept, I just gave up.

                      I don’t mind hard. I suspect you don’t either. I’m not sure you can say that about the majority of folks in leadership these days.

  4. Carol, I didn’t always know what I didn’t know. I am going to throw a shoulder out of joint right here and pat myself on the back for the title of my contributions here on BC 360 – “Nuance with Me.” I fell in love, somewhere around 4th grade, with the assignment given to writing about “comparing and contrasting.” How are some things alike and what commonality do they share, and how are they different and unique? I probably drive people nuts because I like to talk like that too – “On the one hand this, on the other hand that…” It isn’t weakness or a sin or the work of Satan to hold two ideas in our head that may be in disagreement with each other.

    A homogenous society or culture might be easier to deal with, but I would have to check out. Boredom is something I don’t deal with very well. For a very long time we looked at the cross textures and goofiness of people as charming, worth investigating and investing in, we actually said stuff like “Different strokes for different folks” and we meant it. Now there are some kinds of different that are evil, that are politically motivated, and not just politically motivated, but motivated by the “worst kind of politics.”

    I have no answers for the questions that you pose. I don’t think that you were actually seeking any – but I do love that you set up the chairs for a wonderful exchange of ideas on the topic. Ain’t nobody wrong, we’re all just here, and we can make nice. If we want to. And that’s the rub, I don’t think that everyone wants to make nice, or learn, or exchange ideas… Great post, thank you for this discussion.

    • Thank you, Tom. I appreciate your enhancement of my post – that we used to be okay with differences until they became weapons (my paraphrase). This past year has been one of learning and reflection – on who I am, and on our country. I’m not ready to give up the premise that there is more in common than not.

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