Confronting Racism is Our American Duty
Any guidance on how employees can better understand and respect others is a sign of progress in a civilized society, not a threat to it, argues the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union.
President Trump recently ordered a massive governmentwide investigation to root out programs in which federal employees learn about and guard against systemic racism.
Just consider how preposterous that sounds.
At this moment, political appointees and senior managers are under orders to turn their agencies upside down in a frantic effort to review any training or professional education programs that mention diversity or inclusion in an effort to comply with the president's executive order. Employees are being threatened with disciplinary action for organizing such training that falls afoul of the president's directive to eliminate "un-American propaganda."
I wish I could just write this off as an insignificant executive order designed to make a statement but with little practical impact. I cannot. Executive Order 13950 — and the disturbingly elaborate OPM and OMB guidance that has followed — turns a blind eye to racism and aggressively discourages efforts to confront it.
This is exactly the wrong direction we, as a federal workforce and as a nation, should be going. It was former President George W. Bush, at the 2016 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who said, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”
The federal government should be a leading example for facing systemic racism by building a workforce that appropriately reflects the diversity of the United States, paying employees fairly, ensuring they are treated with respect, and establishing work environments in which employees can safely call out discriminatory actions and practices. Any guidance on how employees can better understand and respect their coworkers of different races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities or religious beliefs is a sign of progress in a civilized society, not a threat to it.
Our union believes it is completely appropriate to make sure that all federal employees are trained to serve the taxpayers and each other fairly and respectfully. The delivery of government services should never be tainted by bias or racism, conscious or unconscious, and as a taxpayer and union president I applaud federal agencies that openly acknowledge that systemic racism exists and are taking steps to fight it now and prevent it in the future.
The entire premise of the executive order is faulty. The order claims that such diversity training is driven by an ideology that is “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country.”
No, Mr. President. The training is driven by the ideology that America’s imperfections are fixable but only with open eyes and hard work, and federal employees stand ready to do their part.
I call on you to rescind the executive order and embrace training that acknowledges that we can, and should, do better as a country. Federal employees are willing to have these conversations, the question is whether their president will lead them.
Tony Reardon is the National President of the National Treasury Employees Union.