State-sponsored racial segregation in the United States ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but in Seattle, it has recently returned, and in an unlikely place: government agencies. According to new whistleblower documents, at least three public agencies in the Seattle region have implemented race-segregated diversity trainings that teach employees, in the words of one training manual, to “accept responsibility for their own racism” and “question the white power structure.”
At the King County Library System, a private consulting firm called Racial Equity Consultants recently held racially segregated “listening sessions.” The consultants “begin with an anti-oppression framework,” internal documents show, and they use segregated sessions to root out “institutional privileges and systemic inequities.” Widespread “institutional racism” is said to exist in the libraries, and employees who reject that premise are accused of “internalized racism.” When reached by e-mail, Racial Equity Consultants said that it was not authorized to comment.
At the Puget Sound facility of the federal Veterans Administration, local leadership has launched racially segregated “caucuses” for “individuals who identify as white” and those who identify as “African-American or black” or as “people of color.” According to whistleblower e-mails, the organizer, physician Jesse Markman, initially “felt uncomfortable suggesting, as a white person, what [he] perceived, at the time, to be segregation.” After consulting with outside diversity trainers, however, Markman decided to move forward with the racially segregated sessions, calling them “an environment for sharing and discussion, which is not afforded by mixed groups.” When contacted by e-mail, Markman referred the inquiry to the VA’s Public Affairs Office, which did not provide comment.
Finally, at the King County Prosecutor’s Office, chief prosecutor Dan Satterberg and senior staff have recently required employees to sign an “equity and social justice” pledge and assigned “continued training for white employees,” who must “do the work” to “learn the true history of racism in our country.” As part of the new initiative, whites are encouraged to participate in racially segregated “anti-racist action groups” and agency-wide “cultural-competency” training that teaches them how to adopt “a new non-oppressive and non-exploitive attitude.” According to a leaked memo, Satterberg recently wrote a letter to staff suggesting that the “privileged white male cohort” in his office should “shut up and listen.” The prosecutor’s office confirmed the authenticity of the equity pledge and staff-wide memo, but Satterberg did not offer comment.
In the name of social justice, Seattle’s white elites are instituting a policy of racial identification and segregated training. In all three of these institutions, white executives have explicitly implemented such policies, arguing, in one case, that holding segregated training sessions mitigates “any potential harming of staff of color that might arise from a cross-racial conversation.” As the VA’s Markman explained to colleagues: “It can be challenging for people of color to feel a burden to educate others on how to be better, when at the same time being told or expected to be entirely open and unfiltered.”
The policies’ underlying assumption—that white leaders must shield minority employees from open dialogue—is patronizing and could lead to genuine racial division in the workplace. According to multiple sources within King County government, segregated training sessions have created suspicion and distrust. “I was truly disgusted,” one library employee told me. The trainers told white staffers that “we stole the land from indigenous people, [and] we are responsible for committing genocide,” the employee reports. Another staffer at the prosecutor’s office described a recent diversity session as a “firing squad” and fears that any dissent would lead to immediate retaliation.
These sessions are likely illegal. As U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow has argued, racially segregated training sessions violate the 1964 act, which prohibits employers from segregating employees based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The Department of Justice is already investigating Seattle’s segregated diversity trainings. It should expand its investigation to include the King County Library System, the King County Prosecutor’s Office, and the VA’s Puget Sound Health Care System. Segregation in the name of social justice is still segregation—and it has no place in our public institutions.
Home to leading critical race theorists like Robin DiAngelo and Richard Delgado, Seattle has long been on the vanguard of race-based progressivism. But now, these academia-derived concepts have escaped the campuses and are finding their way into public bureaucracies. Federal officials should put a stop to it.
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