The American Express Company has launched a critical-race-theory training program that teaches employees that capitalism is fundamentally racist and asks them to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities and rank themselves on a hierarchy of “privilege.”
According to documents that I have obtained from a whistleblower, AmEx executives created an internal “Anti-Racism Initiative” following the death of George Floyd last year. The initiative subjects employees to an extensive training program based on the core tenets of critical race theory, including “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “intersectionality”—a component of critical race theory that reduces individuals to a collection of racial, gender, and sexual identities, which determine whether an individual is an oppressor or one of the oppressed.
In a foundational session, an outside consulting firm called Paradigm trained AmEx employees to deconstruct their own intersectional identities, mapping their “race, sexual orientation, body type, religion, disability status, age, gender identity, [and] citizenship” onto an official company worksheet. After employees categorize their identities, they can determine whether they have “privilege” or whether they are a member of a “marginalized group” that is “underrepresented, stigmatized, or otherwise undervalued in society.” Thus, employees can judge their position on the intersectional hierarchy—presumably with straight white males in the oppressor position, and racial and sexual minorities in the oppressed position.
In a related lesson, American Express then instructs employees to change their behavior in the office based on their relative position on the racial and sexual hierarchy. The trainers provide a blue flowchart with specific rules for interacting with black, female, and LGBTQ employees: if a member of a subordinate group is present, employees should practice “intersectional allyship” and defer to them before speaking. In another handout, the instructions for white employees are even more explicit: “identify the privileges or advantages you have”; “don’t speak over members of the Black and African-American community”; “it’s not about your intent, it’s about the impact you have on your colleague.” Even common phrases are subjected to race-based regulation: white employees are told not to utter phrases such as “I don’t see color,” “we are all human beings,” and “everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough,” which are categorized as “microaggressions” against their black colleagues.
As one of the company’s high-profile “anti-racism” events, American Express executives invited Professor Khalil Muhammad—great-grandson of Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam—to lecture on “race in corporate America.” Muhammad argued that the system of capitalism was founded on racism and that “racist logics and forms of domination” have shaped Western society from the Industrial Revolution to the present. “American Express has to do its own digging about how it sits in relationship to this history of racial capitalism,” said Muhammad. “You are complicit in giving privileges in one community against the other, under the pretext that we live in a meritocratic system where the market judges everyone the same.”
After establishing the company’s participation in racist oppression, Muhammad then encouraged AmEx executives to begin “the deep redistributive and reparative work” and to “lobby [the government] for the kinds of social policies that reflect your values.” Muhammad argues further that the company should reduce credit standards for black customers and sacrifice profits in the interest of race-based reparations. “If American Express cares about racial justice in the world, it can’t simply say the market’s going to define how we price certain customers who happen to come from low-income communities,” Muhammad said. “If you want to do good, then you’re going to have to set up products and [product] lines that don’t maximize profit.”
Finally, in the flagship Anti-Racism Initiative training module, AmEx recommends a series of resources for employees to “learn about covert white supremacy” (in the words of Ibram X. Kendi) and dedicate themselves “to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage.” Employees are encouraged to listen to the Beyond Prisons podcast, which advocates prison abolition. Employees are also directed to a series of articles that promises to “force white people to see and understand how white supremacy permeates their lives,” to demonstrate that white children become racist before they can speak, and to persuade employees that Congress should pass legislation for race-based reparations payments.
American Express is, of course, entitled to promote fashionable left-wing causes to its employees. But these practices deserve to be scrutinized. According to whistleblowers, the company is creating an internal climate of fear and division. At best, some of these training materials are divisive and patronizing; at worst, some might violate the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against racial stereotyping and scapegoating in the workplace. Executives at AmEx should take a hard look at what they are doing—and, if they have the courage, remove this drivel from their employee training programs.
Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images