I interviewed Jennifer Friend, a clinical social worker who opposed a coercive and demeaning government-sponsored diversity initiative. Jennifer’s opposition provides a roadmap for how others might counter such policies in the future.

Jennifer Friend’s saga did not begin with an enmity-filled diversity policy in Fairfax County, Virginia. It began with her reading about the growing scourge of coercive diversity training:

I had been seeing accounts of people being fired or pushed to express beliefs that weren’t their own and felt concerned. I hoped that it wouldn’t happen at the Fairfax County Community Services Board.

Nevertheless, when it did intrude into her professional life, she was ready. For the past 15 years, Jennifer had been a clinical social worker for the county’s Community Services Board. She provided therapy and case management for county residents with severe mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders. About a year ago, her manager informed the team at a staff meeting of the One Fairfax Equity policy, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program, and discussed the impact of systemic racism in the county. Uncharacteristically, Jennfier raised objections: “I challenged him to identify any laws or policies that were discriminatory in nature so that I could oppose them,” she said.

Several days after Jennifer raised objections in the staff meeting, her manager asked to speak to her privately in his office. In the meeting, he asked her directly if she had a problem with One Fairfax. Jennifer was prepared:

I explained that while I support improving outcomes for everyone in the county, I do not agree with laying the blame on institutional racism. I told him that I liked working with him but was going to continue to challenge his narrative. We parted the meeting on good terms.

This past September, Jennifer and her colleagues received an email from the manager with links to the One Fairfax Equity webpage asking them to view the material to prepare “to learn about equity.” What Jennifer saw shocked her. She decided to share her concerns with her colleagues on her immediate team. She explained that the One Fairfax website contained blatant negative stereotypes about white people and accused white people of perpetuating racism and oppressing minorities.

A couple of days later, she received an email from her manager with a date and time for a Zoom meeting with him and a human resources staff member to discuss her “communication around a very sensitive matter of race and equity.” It was a meeting that would never take place.

Jennifer then spent the weekend delving into the One Fairfax Equity website and further uncovered highly inflammatory material:

I felt a profound sense of betrayal. I had been a committed professional in the county serving a diverse population and now was being portrayed by my employer as a perpetrator of racism […] I was very committed to my clients and felt that these materials ultimately harmed them […] how would community services treat clients if they held some of them in contempt and others without agency?

Jennifer then sent an email to the entire Community Services Board stating her concerns, highlighting some of the most troubling material on the website:

Many of the articles on this list contained racist statements about persons with white skin, misogynistic insults and anti-police sentiments.There was an article entitled “Save the Tears: White Woman’s Guide.” The author Tatiana Mac refered to white women as “Karen” and went on to say “White women’s weapons are microaggressions and a direct line to the police murder hotline.” Ms. Mac accused white women of manipulating police into killing for them. “You have a nation state that will murder for your tears and your fear, real or not.”

The following day, the head of the Community Services Board sent a message to the whole agency asserting that Jennifer’s email:

contained multiple inaccuracies…One Fairfax focuses on recognizing the presence of institutional and structural racism in our organizations and how systems and structures interact in ways that preserve and reproduce disparate impacts and racialized outcomes.

Upon seeing this email, Jennifer publicly resigned to the entire Community Services Board, indicating that the agency no longer reflected her values. She had long planned to open her own clinical therapy practice. After the resignation, she was promptly cut off from further internal agency communication.

Undaunted, Jennifer created two videos revealing the content of the One Fairfax Equity website and posted them to YouTube and Twitter. She proceeded to send copies to the County Chief of Police, County Board of Supervisors, the County Executive, and “Bolster the Blue,” a police support network.

“This whole time,” she stated, “I expected someone to immediately apologize and retract the offensive material. I couldn’t believe that they doubled down on it.”

Seeking support, Jennifer reached out to Carrie Clark of Counterweight to talk through what she was going through. Carrie followed the incident closely, offering guidance and solidarity.

Jennifer also informed county elected officials of the following:

Fairfax One has earned an honorable mention in the Bolster the Blue newsletter for its racist, misogynistic anti-police approach to equity and diversity. I exposed this due to my concern that the approach of One Fairfax is sowing racial strife and endangering police safety. I have been transparent with CSB leadership about my efforts to bring awareness to their misguided and non-productive approach.

Jennifer received a reply back from the County Executive, stating “I will review what is posted on YouTube and speak with the appropriate staff. I am hopeful the posting of internal documents does not violate our use policy signed by all employees.

Jennifer replied:

I am likewise hopeful that Fairfax County Government posting racist, misogynistic and anti-police materials and encouraging government employees to view these materials is also not violating any rules.

It was clear that Jennifer’s videos detailing the offensive material were making the rounds. One garnered 4,000 views on Youtube. While she did not know what was going on behind the scenes, it was hard to imagine that the Fairfax police were happy with county materials openly disparaging them.

The head of the Community Services Board sent another email to the entire agency, contradicting his previous full-on defense:

I want to acknowledge that a link on CSB’s internal One Fairfax page, one among many important and useful resources on equity, referenced information that is not reflective of my views or the One Fairfax vision. Out of an abundance of caution, I instructed the CSB communication team to temporarily take down the agency’s One Fairfax page.

Jennifer’s former colleagues informed her that the offensive material never re-appeared on the One Fairfax site again.

Lessons learned from Jennifer’s experience

While no two situations are identical, Jennifer’s defiant and assertive course of action provides a roadmap for how to respond to other such situations. As an advocacy professional most of my career, I can attest that Jennifer’s was a textbook response on how to challenge a system. Here are a few key lessons:

  • Educate and provide tools to the public. Jennifer was ready and understood what was happening when the controversy hit. The more people understand these issues before they are confronted with them, the more prepared and effective they will be when they are.
  • Do not back down or apologize for doing the right thing. Jennifer never wavered and her steely resolve must have sent shock waves in the system. Her clever and forceful response to the County Executive for his thinly veiled threat that she might have violated personal use policy must have been sobering.
  • Escalate up the hierarchy. Jennifer did not immediately send out a letter to the entire Community Services Board or otherwise go public. She gave management a chance to rectify the situation, appearing controlled and thoughtful, giving the complainant credibility in the eyes of the public. Only later did she ratchet up the interventions.
  • Consider Using digital tools such as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook. This is a tactic of last resort and may not be warranted in every circumstance. In Jennifer’s case, it’s hard to know who saw the YouTube video and how it influenced the various decision-makers. The video existed beyond the control of county leadership, who must have known that growing exposure could do more damage if they failed to respond appropriately.
  • Intervene at multiple points. Jennifer understood how the system worked. She immediately saw that the One Fairfax initiative’s comments on law enforcement would be deeply offensive to the police force, which was, after all, part of the same county government. She also brought it to the attention of elected officials and, while she never received a satisfactory reply from any of them, it’s possible that one or more had intervened.
  • Get emotional and practical support. During the entire episode, Jennifer’s family and friends, both inside and outside of her workplace, supported her. The Counterweight team offered her tactical advice and emotional support. You do not have to do this alone!

Jennifer now volunteers on the Counterweight team, offering support for others going through similar situations. Despite being understated and compassionate, she is regarded by the rest of the Counterweight team as “a total badass.”

David Bernstein is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive. Follow him on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/Blogunwoke.

Critical Social Justice (CSJ) operates to maintain a single explanation for disparity in outcomes and suchlike in our societies. It asserts that the only reason fit for public discussion – as to why some groups in society have more power, resources or education than other groups – is a rigged structure favoring certain groups and disfavoring others.

Proponents of CSJ want to prevent any other explanation from gaining ground in the discourse, especially cultural explanations. They maintain this monopoly of acceptable explanation by cancelling people who dare to offer alternatives — calling them racists and so on —  thus deterring others from doing the same. But most of us know intuitively that culture and systemic factors play a role in producing disparities among groups.

Here are four fallacies that CSJ is committing in its prohibition against cultural explanations:

  1. The Fallacy of Cultural Inadequacy: denying that culture is an explanatory factor in differentiation when it is such an obvious force on how groups behave. The prohibition on cultural explanations must be counterintuitive to nearly everyone. I imagine that even the most ardent CSJ ideologue would, if they took a truth serum, admit to the influence of culture. You mean to tell me that people all over the world or in a given Western country who live differently, view the world differently, speak differently, approach life and work differently, experienced history differently, and think differently about gender and sex—that none of this boundless variation—has any bearing on why certain societies are richer and poorer or why certain subgroups are more or less successful in a given society? The argument is absurd on the face of it.
  2. The Fallacy of the Dominant Culture: that it is absurd to argue that culture is a factor in explaining one group’s behavior but not another. Woke ideology treats all culture as irrelevant except that of the dominant culture. Structure cannot explain the behavior of the dominant class because the dominant class is at the top of the food chain. The only other explanation for how the dominant class behaves is culture. The woke do think it’s perfectly legitimate and even imperative to criticize the culture of the oppressor. It’s fine, for example, to talk about “white fragility” or “toxic masculinity”—the machismo culture of cis-men—or “rape culture.” But how can culture not be a factor at all for marginalized groups but be the sole factor for dominant groups? Do they believe that the dominant class fully set the culture of all subordinate groups to their liking? Are they really saying when structure comes to play culture goes away?
  3. The Fallacy of Selective Agency: that it is inconsistent to insist one aspect of a culture is fully determined by structural factors and not another. If structure really is an all-encompassing force, shouldn’t it also explain the vitality of the black community? As Thomas Burgess wrote in Quillette, “if whiteness is responsible for black vices, isn’t it also responsible for black virtues? Wouldn’t all culture be its creation, and not just the undesirable parts? This is the logical conclusion of this kind of thinking, and it is what happens when you cede omnipotence to the oppressor. When you create a puppet master, you create puppets missing some of the most basic attributes of being human.”
  4. The Fallacy of Differential Outcomes: that if differential outcomes among groups were really solely dictated by racism and white supremacy, one would expect whites to be on top of the society on all key metrics. But they are not. If “white supremacy” is truly the all-powerful force woke ideologues make it out to be, why do so many other ethnic populations substantially outperform whites? One would think that in a white supremacist society whites would be allotted such advantages as higher average incomes and higher levels of educational achievement than other groups. Many White Americans are, however, on average, not faring nearly as well as numerous non-white populations. In addition, some African immigrant groups that came to the U.S. under disadvantageous conditions have on average done better than American blacks and segments of the Hispanic population. Wouldn’t a white supremacist system subjugate African immigrants too?

Pointing out and dismantling these four fallacies can help make room for cultural arguments. Indeed it will help make room for argumentation itself to again reign free, rather than unquestioned dogmas. We just need to take the first step.

David Bernstein is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive. Follow him on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/Blogunwoke.

White Silence is Violence

Ten Ways Woke Ideas Spread and Stick

I’ve long been fascinated by the varied explanations of why woke ideas spread. Here are the ten that I find most compelling. There are three kinds of explanations among the ten: one looks at the contagiousness of the woke ideas themselves; a second looks at the underlying cultural conditions that explain the receptivity to woke ideas; and the third looks at how these ideas become established and canonized. 

While I do not consider each explanation equally illuminating, I also don’t view any one or two of them as definitive. Rather, taken together, I believe they give us a picture as to how wokeness has gained so much cultural currency. Knowing how these ideas wedge themselves into the popular discourse helps us devise strategies to contain and dislodge them. 

  1. Anti-rational memes. The physicist and philosopher David Deutsch wrote about how “memes”—idea viruses—spread in society. Rational memes vary and replicate because they are true and improve people’s lives. Anti-rational memes, however, spread by disarming their host’s critical faculties. The anti-rational woke meme states: if you criticize me you are racist or fragile. It short circuits the critical process that rational memes are subjected to and spreads because people don’t fully analyze the meme and feel compelled to share it. Cancel culture, of course, is one of the anti-rational meme’s most potent weapons: to further deter critical analysis, the anti-rational meme tries to sideline anyone attempting to criticize it.

  2. Trojan horses. Anti-rational woke ideas also spread by latching on to recognizable concepts deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. Bad woke ideas ride the coattails of familiar good ideas into popular acceptance. Opposing discrimination on the basis of race is a good idea; labeling all of Western society as racist is a bad idea. People are lured in by these radical woke ideas because they strike a familiar note and tug at our conscience. We all likely support equality and civil rights, for example. The woke use these very same concepts and the language around them to push for a highly radical agenda that has little to do with and may even be inimical to equality or civil rights. Unfortunately, many well-meaning people take the bait. 

  3. Idea laundering. Philosopher Peter Boghossian explains that “idea laundering is the mechanism for how people in the academy discharge their moral impulses” and canonize woke ideas. It often starts with a professor creating an academic journal with like minded peers. Other scholars publish in the journal or a similar journal, quoting each other in an echo chamber. It goes in one side as an idea and comes out the other as “knowledge.” Woke activists can then point to the series of scholarly articles in the ideologically homogeneous journals as justification for their radical activism. Students take college classes in these areas, further spreading the “laundered” ideas.

  4. Bureaucratic risk. Eric Weinstein argues that over the past 50 years our institutions have become predisposed to rooting out independent thought and creativity. He states that they “select specifically for hierarchical game playing and intrigue and against anyone who thinks from first principles and is willing to stand up for something she/he believes in to the point of self-sacrifice.” Such an institutional environment is fertile ground for a woke-diversity orientation, which serves to mitigate institutional risk by protecting against lawsuits from disaffected employees or smear campaigns from woke activists. “What we have now,” argues Weinstein, “is an institutional culture that is uniformly, to a leader, hostile to letting subject matter choose our experts and leaders for us and reward them with deep academic freedom and protection from targeted harassment by administrators and the bureaucratic class.”

  5. Generational gaming. This is one of the most novel takes I’ve heard on dissemination of wokeness. Jordan Hall argues that Millennials, the generation most associated with the ascendancy of woke ideology, have come of age in an environment with a much higher presence of authority than previous generations. Boomers, their parents and grandparents, have maintained power longer and more ubiquitously than previous generations and coddled their children in ways that would have been unthinkable to previous generations. In this cultural milieu, millennials developed a felt sense of lack of agency. They learned to influence reality not through their own labor and creativity but by manipulating boomer authority. Their center of agency is in their capacity to influence authority figures and they became experts at exploiting boomer power structures. They’ve figured out that one way to get boomers, who are particularly susceptible to charges of discrimination and bigotry, to accede to their demands and to cede power is by ramping up woke claims.

  6. Crisis of meaning. Coleman Hughes speaks of the innate appeal of woke ideology for a younger generation who have eschewed traditional religion and possess no other grand meta-narrative. They are hungry for a system of meaning to help make sense of the world, a vacuum that woke ideology eagerly filled. At his time at Columbia University, Hughes says that “intersectional politics was the primary way people built a sense of self.” Sociologist Musa al-Gharbi explains “Unmoored from religious tradition, many reach for political fundamentalism to provide a sense of identity and purpose for their lives, and pursue political activism as a means of engaging in fellowship with like-minded believers.”

  7. Academic careerism. One way woke ideas get amplified in academic circles, and then spread to students, is through academic competition and careerism. Academia has become a subculture of intersectional positionality. In order to curry favor and advance their careers in an environment dominated by CSJ  discourse, academics one up each other by slamming their fellow academics for being insufficiently woke, and thus create ever more radical iterations of CSJ ideas. In the words of evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, “CRT [Critical Race Theory]  is a self-flagellation cult for cynical opportunists seeking a virtue-signaling edge in their careers.”

  8. Power structure replication. James Lindsey argues that woke forces within institutions seek to gain control by recruiting more people like themselves. He argues that woke forces specifically target women and people of color to be “agents of change” who “remake the system.” In other words, the woke established themselves in the power structure by recruiting “party activists” into key roles, who serve to perpetuate and grow the increasingly totalitarian system.

  9. Educating educators. One key vector of transmission of woke ideas are colleges of education.  Lyell Asher argues that while these colleges have long inculcated leftist ideas to teachers of K-12 education, in recent decades they have also trained the administrative bureaucracy in higher education. He asserts that “this influx of ed school trained bureaucrats has played a decisive role in pushing an already left-leaning academy so far in the direction of ideological fundamentalism that even liberal progressives are sounding the alarm.” Faculty at most of these schools teach a particular ideology—that traditional knowledge is repressive by its very nature—“without directing their students to any substantial readings that question the educational implications of this view.” The growing ranks of the university administrators coming out of education schools reinforce the academic monoculture where wokeness lives and spreads.

  10. Hunting-in-packs. Toby Young argues that the woke “hunt in packs and we don’t.” Unwieldy rationalists, blessed and cursed with nuance and independent thought, behave very differently than a woke mob hungry to de-platform the latest heretic. Hunting in packs sends shock waves into institutions, generating the exaggerated sense of being inundated by angry customers or stakeholders and raising apprehensions of what might happen if they refuse the pack’s demands. The institutions frequently accede to the demands, emboldening the woke mob to move on to its next target. I hope this helps people better understand how and why woke ideas spread and gain power. Understanding this is a first step towards combating their entrenchment.


David Bernstein is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.