A somewhat tatty beige paper card still lies in a drawer somewhere in my basement. My original Labour Party membership card has survived four decades and several house moves. The lower half of the card reproduces the original Clause IV of the party constitution: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry…upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Classic prose, but it was never literally what the party intended to implement and Tony Blair replaced it while still in opposition with a less dreamy, though more realistic, statement of aims. The modern equivalent speaks, rather more blandly but somehow more realistically, of creating a community in which ‘power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few’.

The year was 1980 and I was turning 17. The previous year Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives had swept the minority Labour government from power and begun the breakup of the post-war social democratic consensus. As a believer in social justice, it felt very natural for me to join Labour. Every piece of equalities legislation had been enacted under a Labour government. I became active in the local party, campaigning in local and general elections and of course setting myself up for the pain and disappointment that followed, shared by anyone on the British left, and amusingly described by John O’Farrell in his 1998 anecdotal Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter.

Although at the time viscerally opposed to everything that Thatcher accomplished I have since forced myself to undertake a more dispassionate analysis of the positives and the negatives. Among my left-wing friends these efforts have not always been well received. Attempts to talk to those with a tribalist mindset are often unsuccessful and lead to suspicions of character. In such an environment one is no longer optimising for truth, but for the acceptability of an argument.

I did of course enthusiastically welcome the arrival into office of Blair’s New Labour in 1997 and the dramatic increase in the female representation in Parliament. The all-women shortlist policy of Labour during the 1992-97 Parliament had a profound and irreversible effect. The Blair government gave prominent positions to women, members of ethnic minority backgrounds, and had in David Blunkett the first disabled Cabinet minister.

Since 2010 Labour has been once more in opposition, but this Conservative government has a different face. To his credit, David Cameron piloted the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 through Parliament, which on a free vote split the Tories fairly evenly but was carried easily on overwhelming Labour and Liberal Democrat support. The ethnic makeup of the MPs on the Tory benches was unmistakeably changed, and with the election of Theresa May in 2016, David Cameron could at his final parliamentary questions taunt Labour that his party had gone “two-nil up” in the female leader count.

It is therefore less obvious that Labour is the clear choice for those who value fairness and equality of opportunity. Labour, and the left more generally, has not reacted well to having to oppose a governing party with non-trivial numbers of MPs from ethnic minorities on its benches and within the government. With the reintroduction of Sajid Javid into the Cabinet as Health Secretary during the current health crisis, three of the top five positions in the UK government are held by members of racial minorities. Further non-white MPs occupy more junior positions, including the extraordinarily eloquent Kemi Badenoch, whose dismantling of the arguments for ‘decolonizing’ the school curriculum in the House of Commons in October 2020 made for viral viewing. The response on the left is often unpleasant and bears the unmistakable undertones of perceived betrayal, as if Labour were somehow ‘entitled’ to certain people’s votes based on their ethnicity. All politicians must remember – the people owe them only the respect and credibility they can inspire by their own actions.

I stuck with Labour throughout the Brexit period because I viewed the referendum question as dubious, without a clear explanation of what would realistically be the outcome of such a dramatic change. Without wanting to re-fight the Brexit debate here, I was deeply suspicious of any claim that the withdrawal deal that was eventually agreed on was something that the population would have supported against the single competing alternative of remaining in the EU. Even at the December 2019 election I was pounding on doors in the winter rain and early nightfall in the vain hope of depriving Boris Johnson’s Tories of the ability to inflict what I saw as unprecedented self-harm onto the country. In the leadership election that followed Labour’s colossal defeat, the party once more spurned the chance to elect a female leader, despite the fact that all the main candidates, barring the one that won, was a woman.

The Brexit fox is now shot, and Labour has to think of something else to talk about. The nonsense of its position on race and gender issues is what has finally moved me to sever my connections. Two moments are key.

In March of this year the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, set up the previous year in response to the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, published its report. Leaving aside some unfortunate phrasing about the mixed legacy of empire, the report highlighted many examples of racial disparities in the UK, none more shocking than the finding that young black men are 24 times more likely to die through homicide than their white counterparts. However, in its introduction, the report, while of course acknowledging the continued presence of racial prejudice in the country, rejected the notion that the UK is ‘systemically racist’.

This is obviously an immediate disqualification from credibility for anyone who accepts the key tenets of Critical Social Justice (CSJ). CSJ teaches that all human interactions are governed entirely by membership of dominant or marginalised groups and that these have deterministic qualities related to success. People who believe simplistically and uncritically in the notion of white privilege are going to have difficulty accepting the ability of non-white people to rise above their disadvantages and make the best of their lives. Their whole philosophy requires this to be impossible and this can lead them into the pursuit of a self-fulfilling prophecy which trashes the legacy of the gains that have been made by black and pro-black campaigners in the last fifty years.

Labour do not have to take this self-defeating attitude, and I am not saying that all of its members do. But the influence of CSJ in its ranks is clear. It would have been a more constructive anti-racist position to swallow the uncomfortable portrayal of Britain as a basically decent society, focus on the report’s recommendations, and hold the government’s feet to the fire in implementing them. But the big problem with the report for the CSJ-orientated is that most of its proposals are not even couched in racial terms. An enduring theme of the report is to highlight a racial disparity and then propose a non-racial way of tackling it, one that assists single mothers, or low-income families, or urban youth, without reference to their race. The report proposes other more significant determiners of outcome in our country than race – such as geography and class. This is very unwelcome to the CSJ campaigners because these groupings are not immutable and do not fit within the oppressor-oppressed power group schema. Within the CSJ pantheon of oppression, the neglect of class is the most conspicuous differentiator from the traditional left-wing societal critique.

The report’s other crime is to question the wisdom of thinking of black and minority ethnic people as a homogenous group. It points out the difference in educational outcomes between black Caribbean and black African schoolchildren, the latter of which are easily outperforming white children. A similar story could be told about the patterns of homeownership between Asians of Pakistani and Indian heritage, who stand at opposite ends of the spectrum with white people between them. All of this is ‘problematic’, to use the CSJ cult’s own phrase, and they do not wish to have to confront the disconfirming evidence against the reductionist identity-based oppression model put forward by Critical Social Justice concepts of the world. Until they are willing to expand their current philosophical stock and recognise the greater complexity of social reality, Labour are simply not equipped to tackle questions of social equality in a way that will convince enough people who care about social equality to vote for them.

I am equally dismayed by Labour’s simplistic position on the complex issues surrounding the rights of transgender individuals. I respect anyone’s right to live as they choose, to dress as they choose, to identify as they please and I will use their preferred speech forms. But as expounded in Kathleen Stock’s brilliant work Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, there are conflicts between accepting trans women as women in every situation and preserving women’s rights which urgently need to be resolved through thoughtful and practical negotiation in a spirit of problem-solving. Labour has not grasped the nettle. The feminist movement is divided as to what extent a male to female transitioner can be regarded as a woman. Labour has so far sided with those who assert that there is no difference between cis and transgender women. They seem to have taken on the belief that being male or female is something one is ‘assigned at birth’ rather than determined at conception, with frontbench spokesperson Dawn Butler once stating on live TV that “babies are born without sex”. Are they happy for male prisoners, including those convicted of sexual offences, to self-declare as women before sentencing in order to be sent to women’s prisons, for women’s sports to be accessible to individuals who benefited from the strength and bulk gains of male puberty, for women’s toilets and changing rooms to be accessible by anybody who identifies as a woman? It seems that they are.

Thus, the second and decisive moment in my decision to leave Labour was Keir Starmer’s announcement at the Pink News Awards 2020 that Labour would reform the Gender Recognition Act to accept self-identification with no requirements for official diagnosis of gender dysphoria or to live for a qualifying period in the acquired gender. This happened at the same time as the rights of gays and lesbians to define themselves as attracted to people of the same biological sex are coming under attack, with lesbians in particular facing ostracism for declining sexual relations with people with male bodies who identify as women. Quite apart from the inherent repulsiveness of allowing anyone to feel pressured into having sex with another individual that they would prefer not to for any reason that might be real to them, this is only a logical consequence of changing the definition of ‘lesbian’ from ‘a woman who is attracted to other women’ to ‘a person with female gender identity who is attracted to other people of female gender identity.’ This approach has been favoured by the Stonewall charity, once giants in the history of gay and lesbian liberation, but who now appear to have realigned themselves in support of a particular form of transgender activism which again does not allow for the complexities of reality or the different values and beliefs among transgender people. Stonewall are explicitly campaigning for changes to the law to protect male to female transitioners from charges of sex by deception. In other words, Stonewall says that transgender people should be allowed, under privacy considerations, to initiate a sexual relationship with a lesbian while claiming to be of the same sex: indeed by Stonewall’s definition, they are.

Labour, if they have a problem with any of this, have so far failed to make it known.

My email to the party resigning my membership was acknowledged, with a polite request for an explanation. I obliged with a shorter version of the reasoning I have given here.

Where am I now? Do I still consider myself to be ‘on the left’? Possibly I do, but more important than my position on the left-right spectrum is my adherence to liberalism in a general sense. A liberal is one who believes in reason, progress, the scientific method and debate. We believe the truth is ‘out there’ and will never accept the quasi-religious determinism of the mixture of bastardised Marxist and postmodern philosophy that underlies Critical Social Justice. We recognise the existence, and the limits, of agency. A liberal acknowledges that disadvantage exists but believes in the possibility of minority groups progressing towards equality and sharing in the benefits of the wider society, and campaigns to this end. Liberals optimise for truth, accept that no one has all the answers and do not insulate themselves from debate on the grounds that they or someone else could feel offended or ‘unsafe’. Liberals treat people like adults, they accept and demand co-responsibility with their fellow citizens for their actions. They believe in people.

And from now on that is the corner in which I will stand.


Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.
 -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I was getting comfortable in my home office when the yelling started. It sounded like it was right outside my door, but everything sounds loud in our community, a popular walking neighborhood. The sounds of the neighborhood are typically ones of carefree carousing. Couples laughing. Dogs barking. Bicycle bells ringing. All often punctuated with the sound of a woodpecker or more commonly the coo of a dove. This staccato interruption was an exception, but I was busy and chalked it up as an anomaly and carried on.

A few minutes later and just as I was about to start recording a podcast, I heard yelling again. This simply wouldn’t do for a recording. Now I had to investigate. I went to the front window to find a white hatchback screeching away as a woman yelled, “people are dying.” That was curious, but there is a mental hospital not too far away and every now and again a patient breaches their walls, usually without keys to a car, but I was on a deadline and didn’t have time to give it any more attention.

Allow me to rewind for a second before continuing this story. Back in July 2016 there was an ambush that killed five police officers and wounded nine others in Dallas. On that day, my husband, a law enforcement officer (LEO) himself, bought a blue line flag to honor the fallen. We have had it hung outside our house, next to our American flag, since then. At this time, under President Obama, the flag was innocuous. A symbol of support as well as respect for fallen LEOs.

As a new administration came into office, this symbolism shifted.

Almost overnight, the original symbolism was hijacked—by those on both sides of our political spectrum. The extreme right saw it as a symbol of Trump support and the extreme left fashioned it as a beacon of the new “stars and bars” (i.e., Confederate flag) and a symbol of racism. It was a tense four years for our flag. She was stolen (and replaced). She was dumped in our fishpond. She was slashed down her middle. But she remained.

What started as a symbol of respect and mourning for five police in Dallas, became political even in our own home. Not that her meaning changed for my husband, but as the public square turned its anger towards the police, my husband became hardened. Here was a man, who for half of his 28 years of service and counting, protected the streets and the people of a large and violent southern metropolis, and mostly those who had more melanin than himself. He was stabbed, shot at, and run over, and he continues to serve. I will never forget the evening that this man, who is not well-versed in emotion, a drink or two working its way through his stocky frame, with watery eyes saying he couldn’t understand how the people he once protected now likened him to the vile Ku Klux Klan.

It was like the world turned around and dumped on his lifetime of service in a poorly maintained public restroom where the scat of humanity clogs the drain. He didn’t know how to not make it personal. And so, like the rest of the world, he increasingly became angry. The angrier he got the more the symbol of the flag morphed into one of defiance.

We don’t agree on a lot, including the flag. Often our own discussions reflect the heated moment of our current national discourse. But like the flag, we remain. I even had to take a breather after the George Floyd murder when I suggested that perhaps the flag could use a rest from decorating our porch. The perceived betrayal that I saw reflected in his eyes was too much. It was like his one safe harbor was just bulldozed, and I had joined the demolition team.

Fast-forward a few years, but still not to our current cacophony. Our house was chosen for our historic neighborhood’s annual home tour. We agreed, but with the caveat that we wouldn’t take down our flags. The Trump administration sat in office and the flag had become politicized, but it still hadn’t reached the level of stigma that it holds today. The home tour curators shrugged their shoulders, not seeing an issue.

The day of the tour came. Although volunteers dotted our house to show visitors around, I chose to hang out. I only left for a short time to visit some of the other homes, but my timing was off. While away, she came. Accosting the unsuspecting volunteers, she condemned them for spreading fear in our “hood”. “I live here too”, she proclaimed. And living in a community with an LEO was frightening.

Apparently, it was so frightening to this young, affluent pale-skinned woman that she decided to lodge a complaint with our neighborhood association, asking for an apology for putting our home on the tour.

And now I bring you back to the screaming banshee. As professed, I chalked her up as an escaped mental patient. The next morning, as I headed across my lawn for the first time in twenty-four hours for a highly anticipated brunch, I noticed a collection of trash within the fence. Trash pick-up was just the day before and sometimes this happens as the winds blow debris into our corner lot. It was a bit more than normal, so instead of ignoring it until later, I decided to address it immediately. It has been quite dreary lately, so I blamed the weather for the unusual collection.

In addition to a collection of cups, an empty wrapper lay under the flag. Picking it up I noticed it was a pork rinds bag. I normally wouldn’t think anything of this either, but aren’t pork and police synonymous in some circles?

After our various flag trespasses, we had installed security cameras for our own safety (never mind that we sleep with a fire extinguisher next to our bed or my husband has to vary his routes home so those canvassing his office don’t follow him to find his personal abode). After a little investigation we identified the litterer. Now the pieces started to fall into place. Our suspect, as caught on camera, was also the screamer. As I sat inside interviewing the Executive Director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, our own rights were being violated.

Let me get real here for a second. I get it. As a firm proponent of liberalism, I promote free speech and protest. You can yell at me and my house all day long. You do you. If I was outside, I would’ve invited this woman into conversation, much like I invited the anonymous home tour protestor into conversation through the association. But I can’t help but wonder, if I were sitting here on the porch as I am now, would this woman have the courage to scream profanities at my house? Was this a safe space for expressing her daily angst, screaming at what seemed to be an unoccupied home? Is this how we dialogue these days?

From the camera footage, we could clearly tell that she recorded her rant. I use that word deliberately—when you throw trash and scream falsities into the air that qualifies as a rant. Although to be honest, people are indeed dying, but as much or more so as a result of this insanity and profanity as racist tropes. In 2019 police killed 11 unarmed black men and one female. In the same year, 48 police were killed as the result of felonious acts. We won’t even go into the rising crime rates in 2020. And yet, this young woman’s virtuous social media post will likely hold more weight than the carefully curated numbers of authors like Wilfred Reilly, who has an unnatural passion for crunching data.

All the while, somewhere, someone who is vulnerable is calling my husband for help. But LEO numbers are dwindling, as the dominant narrative increasingly makes the profession a liability. Will they make it there in time?

Calling out abuses in any organization with authority is necessary. Foundational to our democracy even. We must persist in this pursuit. But how we do it matters if we are to keep our social contract intact.

Demonizing and hijacking symbols doesn’t bring us closer to this ideal. The littering of empty pork rind bags doesn’t build empathy. Yelling into the void for your own audience doesn’t build bridges.

And so the flag, with all her knife wounds, remains. Not as a symbol of hate, but instead, for me, as an invitation for conversation. In defense of freedom of speech, both of unhinged rants and uncomfortable truths that must be addressed, if we are to walk forward into the future as neighbors.

Jennifer Richmond is the founder of Truth in Between and the host of the Hold my Drink podcast. Her forthcoming book of letters on race with W.F. Twyman, Jr. will be published later in 2021. She is in constant search for context and connection through correspondence and conversation.


For many people, a union meeting conjures up images of flat-capped miners around an oil drum full of burning wood. The reality is that our industry primarily contains those who are self-employed on short-term contracts but paid standardised rates – so the political viewpoint swerves wildly depending on what’s going wrong for who. While those with left-of-centre views have always been safe in voicing such views within a traditionally leftist union, there had been no obvious intrusion of identity politics or critical theory until recently, and I’d have only vaguely recognised the terms.

My education in the field began in a function room at a pub off the Old Kent Road in early 2020. I was listening to a woman I’d known for ninety seconds tell me about her gynaecological problems. Still, Miss Overshare was new to the organisation, and as a twenty-year veteran, I wanted to extend the olive branch. Also, she was next to the best-stocked part of the buffet. As I tried not to drop crumbs on my shirt, she complained of dysmenorrhoea and the necessity of breaks every two hours to deal with personal hygiene. I sympathised vaguely between corn chips but found it difficult to stomach any more of the chunky red pepper and tomato dip.

That day, Overshare subjected us to strident and inaccurate diatribes on employment law, arguing with union specialists of tremendous experience who work with the advice of legal professionals. As a junior worker with no specialist expertise, she argued that the union’s failure to adopt her misinterpretation of the law was misogynistic. I was shocked by her vehemence, quickness to anger, and the religious intensity with which she held clearly counterfactual views. I was not alone but left feeling uneasy – not because of what she’d said, but because senior people had failed to control it as they usually would.

Subsequent meetings saw repeat performances and highly charged accusations of misogyny and prejudice. These were never questioned. I was comforted, though, that everyone else seemed to find her as caustic as I did. Privately-expressed opinions included “she’s a f****** nightmare”, “completely poisonous”, and, memorably, “a one-track mind and the train’s late”.

“Caustic,” incidentally, was her proud self-description. “I know I’m caustic, but…”

Inevitably, it came to a head during a discussion of gender representation, in which I asked, “why is fifteen per cent women not enough?”

Such a loaded question was probably a mistake, albeit designed to provoke a useful answer. The most obvious answer would be something we’d known long before Overshare’s arrival. At entry-level, women are better represented, but the numbers free fall as people hit their late twenties. Self-employment rarely provides meaningful holiday or sick pay, let alone maternity or paternity leave, and a who-you-know approach to recruitment makes even a short absence career suicide. Fixing those issues might have helped everyone. New ideas were welcome.

But Overshare didn’t have any new ideas, nor did she mention any of the other several things that might have led to a rational discussion.

She did say that we needed to reject new-entrant men from union events until representation was 50%. When I pointed out that 50% representation would not occur even in a discrimination-free society, and thus risked looking like prejudice by another name, I was told that I was “not capable of listening to women”, that “all women live with the reality of this discrimination every time they go to work”, and that “every woman had watched a less-experienced, younger man be promoted over her”.

In her self-appointed role as spokesperson for all women, Overshare went on like that for ages, as if trying to fulfil a word count of trivially disprovable nonsense. Having never even skimmed the literature, I wasn’t used to someone expecting this stuff to be taken seriously. It felt like arguing with religion. I feel like 15% is probably a bit low, too, but I wouldn’t use what I feel to exclude people of the “wrong” gender. I offered to help research it and was rudely rebuffed; as a man, my research could not be representative. Eventually, I was told I also had “white privilege”.

Ah. The penny finally dropped. This was a religion, or something like it.

We argued; I didn’t swear, and didn’t raise my voice. Overshare called me a “f****** misogynist c***”. I waited confidently for the chairman to intervene.

Head bowed, scarlet-faced, he didn’t. Even after direct appeal.

I could go on, but really, the problem isn’t Overshare. Unpleasant people with unpleasant views exist. The problem is how easily people are cowed by the politics, unwilling to push back against the most blatant misbehaviour if it’s fashionable enough. I’ve since had some deeply heartwarming support, but all in private and prefixed with “just between us…”

Further involvement in an organisation with no respect for simple rationality seemed pointless, and I felt forced out of a near twenty-year membership. Massive effort spent on a couple of initiatives–things that might have helped young new entrants of all genders–will go to waste. Still, if the officials’ support for Overshare is their crime, I’m satisfied her continued presence will also be their punishment.

Nick Lambert is a freelance creative with twenty years of experience in technical and production roles in the UK media industry.

 


Even if it seems like the shadow of Critical Social Justice hangs all around you, and has captured the minds of those you work with, do not abandon hope. Its apparent influence may be readily dispelled with a dose of courage and a word of truth. You may be surprised at who and how many agree with you.

Stand up. Speak out. The time to chase back the shadows is now. Perhaps my own account can offer some encouragement.

My own position on Critical Social Justice takes me back to the mid-2000s when I encountered its progenitor, postmodernism. I was studying literature at university, where my cohort and I were force-fed a diet of cynical and joy-killing literary criticism. There was nothing beyond the text, we were told. The author was dead, we were told. Ergo, all that mattered was the reader’s interpretation, and that could be taken to any extreme – far beyond the original literary, social and historical context, or any logical inference. It was a wholesale massacre of truth, tradition and aesthetics.

Feminist theory, Marxist theory, Freudian theory, poststructuralist theory… One lecturer had the gall to make the analogy of pasta sauces, claiming that a theory was something you added to a text in order to give it a particular flavour – as if the works of the literary canon would be drear and flavourless experiences without them. He would have been more accurate if he had likened theory to cyanide.

Thus, it did not take long for me to become disillusioned with my studies, though linguistics and medieval literature provided at least some sanctuary. I graduated, life went on, and I assumed that I was rid of what I considered to be pretentious, untalented literary criticism.

Many years passed. However, from 2017 I became increasingly aware of a rising tide. Postmodernism had filtered out of the ivory tower, I realised, and had manifested in strange new forms. No longer confined to literary studies, it was now seeping into the fabric of society at large.

I learned of the fight against Critical Social Justice by listening to YouTube videos while doing housework. Like many others, it was through Jordan Peterson especially that I became aware of the problem, with his accidental emergence in the eye of a cultural storm. I followed his videos with fascination, listening to his Biblical lectures, interviews and classroom clips while mopping the floors and cleaning the bathroom. At the same time, I began tuning in to the cultural commentary of other figures from Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, Bret Weinstein and Camille Paglia to Stephen Hicks, James Lindsay and Counterweight’s own Helen Pluckrose, combining their insights with my own personal contemplations.

Epiphany struck one afternoon while gardening. The French intellectual Michel Foucault, a darling of CSJ proponents, had championed the concept that the use of language and categories were, primarily, exercises in power; his ruminations led him to write studies on the history of prisons, madness and sexuality. Yet for all his dabbling in history, I mused, he and the rest of his ilk had more in common with the Metaphysical poets than they did with historians (or indeed philosophers) – putting forward propositions that are either far-fetched or outright absurd, and then undergoing a series of rhetorical acrobatics in order to make them seem plausible. The comparison pleased me. I had denounced the tenets of postmodernism back when I was eighteen; it was never going to convince me now.

Nonetheless, the threat of Critical Social Justice remained distant to me until January of this year. An email was sent to all staff within the university school where I work, stating that we had to undergo mandatory “anti-racism” training delivered by the charity Show Racism the Red Card: a one-hour recorded workshop, as well as two or three hours looking at items from a recommended reading list (Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility being first among them). This would be followed up in May by a meeting for all school staff to discuss their views and what steps the school should take going forward.

The spread of Critical Social Justice was now infiltrating my own workplace.

I was not unaware of the problem, and not unequipped with arguments against it, but I was still worried. How many of my colleagues, both within my team and the school more broadly, were on board with this ideology? Was the doctrine of CSJ “anti-racism” something they already took as a given, unbeknownst to me? I wondered if I alone was the Resistance, a one-man guerrilla cell stuck in hostile territory. It seemed as if I was enveloped in the shadow of CSJ.

The one-hour workshop recording was difficult to watch, both patronising and specious in its reasoning. We were asked to reflect on what parts of our identity afforded us ‘privilege’. We were told a fairy tale-esque story, followed by a quiz designed to expose our alleged biases. We were introduced to Robin DiAngelo’s idea of “morality” and the racism apparently evident in unequal outcomes. It was suggested that we are all complicit in creating the bars of a racism cage that imprisons non-white people. It was claimed that we live in “a society that is overall racist”. I expressed my irritation in one of my team’s regular video meetings. I wanted to know if my fellow team members had seen it, and what they thought of it. I was not shy about my own opinion. Concerned as I was about where other people stood, I could not – would not – hold back on what was anathema to me.

Their response was vindicating. One of my colleagues had finished watching the video and admitted that it filled her with a similar repugnance–and that she wouldn’t have been comfortable admitting it if I had not declared my own position so emphatically. As a team, we had a cathartic discussion about race, racism and the complexities of individual identity. Another colleague referred to the online unconscious bias training module we had to complete previously, voicing scepticism about its usefulness.

In the wake of the meeting, I felt emboldened. It felt like something had changed a little inside me. It was like I had a greater level of respect for myself.

Since then I have spoken to them a couple of times about the training video. They have not followed the permutations of CSJ as I have, but their reactions have ranged from unimpressed to feeling patronised.

I am safe within my own team. And I would not have known if I had never spoken up.

Yet that was only a start. Would I be safe beyond the confines of my immediate team? Would people be “allowed” to speak against CSJ’s anti-racism ideology? Or would they, as has happened in other workplaces, face condemnation, disciplinary proceedings and even sacking?

I knew that before the school meeting in May, I would have to speak directly to senior management about my concerns. I did not expect it to make any difference, but it felt like a necessary and appropriate step in my official “resistance”. For weeks, however, I procrastinated: doing additional background reading, gathering evidence and further marshaling my thoughts (Counterweight’s support in this has been precious). I was dreading the conversation; it was the head of school who had mandated the staff training in the first place. I was probably about to create a whole world of trouble for myself.

I finally raised the matter just before the Easter holiday, joining one of the regular “drop-in” meetings on Microsoft Teams held for colleagues in the school who have something to discuss. I voiced my concerns, making very clear my own antipathy to racism.

The reaction I received?

It turned out that the head of school had not yet watched the training video. I surmised from our conversation that she had in fact had little direct input regarding the content or implementation of the anti-racism training. Far from being a champion of CSJ ideology, she mentioned personally operating on a principle of colourblindness, and that she had raised her children to do the same. She was very open and sympathetic to my concerns and welcomed me sending her a link to Counterweight’s video of alternative anti-racism training sources. She also encouraged me to contribute at the school meeting in May.

Since that conversation, I have felt very much relieved. It no longer feels like I need to wage a secret war against an all-pervading force. The shadows I had perceived around me were in fact just that – shadows. On closer inspection they had melted away, revealing nothing.

The struggle is not over, of course. Inevitably there will be those in the school who do support the CSJ ideology, and the meeting in May continues to loom in my mind, but it no longer feels so much like my own personal D-Day. I would prefer for us as an institution to show “Show Racism the Red Card” the red card, but I am at least confident about two things: that it will not cost me my job to express my views, and that my workplace is not (yet) destined to become its own oppressive little totalitarian state.

And so that is why I say: even if it seems like the shadow of Critical Social Justice hangs all around you, do not abandon hope. Its influence on those around you may be just an illusion. Stand up. Speak out. The time to chase back the shadows is now.

Pierre Gaite is a medievalist and education professional. After teaching English in secondary schools for a number of years, he now works in the higher education sector.


When reading about speech censorship on university campuses both in the UK and across the pond, I wondered if it was all just catastrophising based on a few outlier events. This was until I began my master’s degree and I realised we may indeed be heading towards a semi-Orwellian nightmare. References to Nineteen EightyFour and Orwell’s writing more generally seem to be rather fashionable at the moment and are becoming somewhat of a cliché. Nevertheless, Orwell’s Newspeak seems like the perfect term for the phenomenon occurring on our campuses.

Newspeak is a language invented by the fictitious totalitarian regime in Nineteen Eighty-Four, designed to restrict the vocabulary of citizens. Syme, one of the protagonist’s colleagues in the book, says:

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

This is beginning to feel oddly familiar. In one particular master’s module, my lecturer gave us a snowballing list of words we were no longer allowed to use. “Global” and “local” are two words on the taboo list. Apparently, the words “global” and “local” are offensive to locals, as it implies the superiority of cosmopolitan “global” elites. Ironically, this seems to mean that I am no longer allowed to utter the name of the department in which I am studying: Global Studies.

In one class, I used the phrase “developing country” and was chastised by my lecturer, who saw this as an opportunity to educate me on the evils of the paternalistic language of our colonial legacy. In progressive parlance, the terms “developing/developed countries” have now been replaced with the “global South/North” (am I allowed to use “global” in this setting?). Confusingly, these new terms do not even correspond particularly coherently to a geographical North/South divide.

Many foreign students seem baffled by this type of censorship. Some of my classmates from the “global South” still refer to their countries as “third world” and seem to have little interest in learning the “correct” jargon designed by elite academics to avoid offending this very same group of people.

On another course, students were told they must not use the phrase “poor people” when discussing, well, poor people. According to lecturers, this phrase imposes western standards of what “poor” means on those who may live very “rich” lives in terms of family, happiness and community.

This culture of vocabulary suppression that is being bred in universities does not stay within the campus gates. Last December, I mentioned that it was the start of Hanukkah to some friends, as I was writing a short story aimed at teaching children about the holiday. In doing so I referred to Jewish people as “Jews” and was advised that this might be considered an offensive slur. I was stunned by the idea that using the word “Jews” in the context of celebrating Jewish culture could be considered “harmful”. Even this is not where the problematisation of regular discourse stops. Far from it.

In fact, the phenomenon is gradually seeping out of academia and into the mainstream. Across the pond, as of January this year, the US Congress Standing Rules now use only gender-neutral language. “Mother”, “uncle”, “sister” and “nephew” are amongst the banned words. In the UK, Brighton’s NHS Trust now advises health workers to use gender-neutral language, particularly when discussing motherhood… uh, sorry, parenthood. Maternity unit staff should refer to breastfeeding as “chestfeeding” and breast milk as “chest milk” in a bid to become more trans-inclusive. Although the Trust has emphasised that the language guidelines are not compulsory, I worry that rules limiting vocabulary may spread to more and more domains.

Of course, certain phrases may go out of use as public sensibilities adapt. I understand this and think that it can be a good thing – we alter how we speak in order to reflect our ever-expanding perspectives. However, this language censorship goes beyond this. It stems from an over-zealous attention to discourse and the problematisation of any vocabulary that might not be in line with the Critical Social Justice agenda. In such a worldview, any language that may be deemed offensive to someone or that supposedly reinforces existing power hierarchies is absolutely verboten. Unfortunately, the criteria that these academics use to determine whether language is offensive or hegemonic are usually informed by a cocktail of identity politics and self-flagellation from which almost anything can be seen as problematic. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Treading on egg-shells when trying to discuss complex topics in class is not conducive to learning. Neither is making language more blurred and confusing than it already is. Perhaps in twenty years’ time, I will be required by law to refer to my niece as “my sibling’s offspring”. Or perhaps we will all realise this is bonkers and manage to pull back from the brink before we are all dominated by a (new) Newspeak.

After studying Architecture at the University of Nottingham, Laura Walker-Beaven worked in fundraising and international development. She is currently studying a masters in Human Rights, during which she has become increasingly concerned about the impact of Critical Social Justice on universities.

 


I never believed I would have a negative word to say about the transgender movement. I was born into a middle-class family of liberal Democrats. My grandparents emigrated from Europe in the 1920s to escape fascism. My father was a small business owner who lobbied for socialized medicine in the 80s due to his health issues. I was a nerdy science girl who loved the outdoors and earned a degree in environmental science in the 90s; my liberal roots run deep. I’ve been a fan of the Squad, have a Black Lives Matter flag flying in my front yard and a garden of native plants to support wildlife in my backyard. I was appalled at the bathroom bill business in North Carolina a few years ago. Of course, my thinking was that transwomen are women, transmen are men; who can that possibly hurt? (As it turns out, the answer is my family and me.)

My son has always been a bit of an outlier. He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (now autism spectrum disorder) at age five. As part of the diagnosis process, his IQ was measured, and the results classified him as highly gifted. He was my first child, so I did not know what ‘normal’ development looked like. My sister was shocked when he was reading signs at the zoo at only two years old. As he grew, he became obsessed with farm equipment, then aircraft, then arachnids, then ancient Egypt. That year he was a Bastet cat for Halloween (look it up, I had to!). He was different, but to adults, different in the best possible way. To his peers, not so much. He was physically clumsy, did an inordinate amount of unexpected humming, and had absolutely zero interest in tossing a ball back and forth.

Elementary school was a slog. In kindergarten, he refused to do the “choral reading” (because he had read the entire board upon entering the classroom, including the teacher’s personal notes about meetings and schedule changes). In later grades, he would walk around and look out of the window to get some sensory input but could still turn around and answer any question the teacher asked. Teachers and administrators did not understand or tolerate this. They saw it as a “behavioral issue”. Fortunately, my husband and I found an excellent charter middle and high school for smart kids. Our son thrived there, reading Shakespeare in sixth grade, placing in the county spelling bee, winning the school science bee, hanging with other quirky outliers. He was finding his groove and finally making friends.

Then came high school and puberty. At age 15, my quiet and anxious—but generally content—kid became extremely moody, isolated, and generally miserable. I finally did a mom-snoop of his computer and saw he was declaring online that he was “TRANZ”. My first instinct was to believe this. I must have one of the one-in-a-zillion kids who was “born in the wrong body”. I didn’t pay much mind to the pictures of anime girls that I’d also seen on his computer or the questions about “feeling weird in my body” that were posted on forums and answered with “You’re probably trans, hormones will make it better”. I did inwardly question why I’d never seen any typically feminine behavior or interests from him. Still, then I told myself that I was stereotyping women. I was a liberal democrat! The articles I’d skimmed on NPR and MSNBC seemed to indicate that transgenderism was a real, medical thing. Even though I have a science degree, I blindly assumed that the science behind this was correct because it was all over the mainstream media. Dwayne Wade, an NBA star, had a trans kid!

When I pressed my son about not ever seeing earlier signs of this desire to be female, he agreed. Somewhat strangely, a day later, he told me that he had “always felt this way.” (Look up transgender online influence.) I had seen a female name he was using online and asked him about it. I then began to address him with his preferred name and pronouns. I asked a million questions. He had no desire to change his clothing choices; he’s a sweatpants and Star-Wars-T-shirt kid. He had no interest in makeup or nail polish. He didn’t know yet if he was attracted to girls or boys. I thought I was being supportive by asking all these things! My son’s answer to how he knew he was transgender was that it just “feels right.” He said he would “definitely like to start hormones someday”.

For an extremely specific reason, that’s the comment that led me to do some deeper research.

At age 49, I have stage four autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. It’s a hereditary disease that killed my paternal grandmother (before the invention of dialysis). My mother was on dialysis for eight years before receiving a transplant that lasted another eight before comorbidities of the disease led to her death at 57. Science has come a long way, and my older brothers live with transplanted kidneys and are doing well. I am on a new medication that may extend my kidneys’ life, but eventually, likely in the next decade, I will reach stage five and need dialysis and/or a transplant. My three children have a 50% chance of inheriting this disease. We watch their blood pressure as an indicator, not wanting an official diagnosis with imaging until we see signs. Once diagnosed, it can be challenging to get insurance, and we never know what the next administration will change about the American healthcare system.

All this to say that we don’t need any extra medical interventions in our lives. So, I went looking into what it really means to be transgender. There are very few studies, but I found that if you take your child to a gender clinic, it appears to mean your kid steps on a conveyer belt from puberty blockers to cross-sex hormones (98% did so according to one study), to potentially multiple surgeries (current evidence for this is anecdotal, but the ranks of detransitioners telling their conveyer-belt stories are growing). All of this has been shown to be potentially damaging to human bodies, with long-term effects (such as decreased bone density and sterilization) especially for those with pre-existing conditions (like hypertension, which is comorbid with polycystic kidney disease).

My kid may not have gotten the green light for these hormonal and surgical interventions because of our family’s medical history; however, I’m nowhere near certain of this. The one therapist we contacted to help us gain some extra understanding showed my son the genderbread person at the first meeting and told me a gender clinic would be our best bet. I almost went with it, but I was becoming more and more confused and uncertain.

I also began to question what seems to be a societal shift back towards antiquated gender stereotypes and clichés. My son seemed to be questioning his manhood, possibly because he is an autistic, non-athletic, socially awkward boy. It appears that those qualities, rather than being part of the spectrum of being a human male, are now being seen as a reason to eschew maleness and instead conclude that your body must change. This did not jibe with my liberal ideal of individualism and self-determination.

Around this time, I learned of my son’s two schoolmates who had also announced that they were transgender girls. These are quirky, intelligent, boyish boys. I connected with their moms, both of whom are liberal Democrats. They seem not to have questioned the party-line concept of being born in the wrong body and have already taken their children to the gender clinic in a nearby city. Both boys are now on puberty blockers and female hormones, as well as taking voice lessons. Little therapy was involved in their support; instead, they were provided primarily with gender affirmation. And these kids want it so much. They think it will make everything they dislike about themselves go away. Both these moms say the gender clinic is the most wonderful, accepting place, and they just love going there. Their insurance covers everything, even the expected surgeries! I began to feel like I was in a sci-fi novel. How are these kids all in need of medical intervention to try to change their sex? How come therapists weren’t going deeper with questioning their motivation? What kind of temporary-happiness-pushers are these gender clinics?

I still don’t have answers to those questions. However, I have awakened from thinking that affirmation of everything my pubescent, autistic teen feels is the way to be a supportive parent. My husband and I have agreed that until we can find a therapist who can go deeper than the genderbread person and unquestioning affirmation, our son is better off without therapy (though the search continues). We now use only our son’s given name and male pronouns. We spend time together as a family and try our best to limit screen time. We are approaching this as a stage of self-exploration and questioning that would be typical for teenagers if not for the intense online and suburban liberal pressure to push instant happiness and “problem-solve” in the form of taking hormones and planning for surgeries.

So here I am, in my lovely suburban neighborhood, wondering what it means to be a liberal who is committed to protecting confused children, whether autistic or neurotypical, who have been led to believe they were born in the wrong body. I wonder when more of my generally like-minded, politically aware friends and neighbors will begin to question where things went wrong. I never thought I’d feel politically homeless. I’ve joined groups of other parents who are in the same place, with nowhere to go but to the other party. I began to connect with others whose families were being hurt, torn apart even, by transgender ideology. I feel I’m still holding onto my liberal democratic values, including following the science and protecting the vulnerable. But I may have to hold my nose and pull the ballot lever for the other side because the Democratic party is systematically ignoring the absence of solid science on this issue. They are dismissing the concerns of families of autistic children like mine. I cannot allow more children to be damaged.

Ellen McEvoy is a former environmental scientist and full-time mother who writes about the challenges of parenting in the 21st century.


My first encounter with Critical Race Theory (CRT) diversity training was in 1999. Yes, it’s been around that long. I doubt it was known as CRT training then but the underlying ideology was the same. I was a young non-profit executive participating in a leadership program that included an intensive three-day workshop on diversity.

I didn’t plan on resenting diversity training. I worked for a Jewish organization that combats racism and bigotry and builds relations across religious and ethnic lines. I was an organizer of regular Black-Jewish dialogues and helped build a program to recruit African Americans into the commercial real estate business. I believed then, as I do now, that black people have gotten a raw deal in America, and that we have an obligation to provide every opportunity for underrepresented minorities to achieve the American dream. I saw modern America then as I do now: deeply flawed yet not oppressive.

The session opened with a viewing of the 1994 film The Color of Fear made by “master diversity trainer” and filmmaker Lee Mun Wah. The film portrayed four men at a weekend retreat talking about racism: one African American, one Latino, one caucasian, and the filmmaker himself, who was Asian.This was a real, unscripted interaction, as far as I could tell. But from the very beginning, it was obvious it was a setup.The three men of color were all well versed in the language of multiculturalism.The white guy, however, was a total nitwit. I doubt he’d had a serious conversation in his life, let alone one on issues of race and racism.

The three trained diversity hands took turns browbeating the simpleton on how very clueless he was on race.They insisted that his “colorblindness” was a sham and that it was high time he recognized that his whiteness was a bonafide ethnicity essential to his place in the world. By the time they were done with him, he broke down in tears, finally recognizing his own racism and the role he’d played in perpetuating an unjust society. I was revolted by the display of performative cruelty masquerading as enlightened diversity.

When the film was over, we broke into groups of eight to discuss what we had just seen.The facilitator of my break-out session, who also happened to be the main organizer of the program, was Howard Ross. You may have heard of Ross. He was organising the federal training when Donald Trump issued an executive order to end all CRT diversity programs in the federal Government. He was the diversity trainer of the stars, having been assigned to, among others, John Rocker, the professional baseball player who scandalized the sport with his unfiltered bigotry.

Ross began our group session with a question: “How did the film make you feel?” After three others shared their deep-seated feelings about our fallen society, some angry and some sad, it was my turn. “I don’t know how I feel, but I do know what I think,” I stated. “I think it was a terrible film that says nothing about racism.” This did not ingratiate me with the group. I soon found myself in a sequel to the movie itself, and I, the swarthy son of an Iraqi Jewish immigrant who never saw himself as white, was the white guy.

An African American pastor of one of the largest congregations in the metropolitan area began to cross-examine me. He asked me if I thought I was a racist. “I try hard not to be,” I stated, continuing: “In my teen years, I told tasteless ethnic jokes, but made a very conscious decision not to do it anymore.” I said that while I fully recognize the ongoing reality of racism, I didn’t think it explained all the problems facing black people in the inner cities.The pastor, who clearly did not appreciate being challenged, bellowed: “What else explains these problems?” I blurted out: “How about young black school kids who make fun of other black kids for being too studious? Isn’t that a problem too?” There had been a few recent high-profile stories about this phenomenon.The pastor glared at me with a mixture of disgust and resignation, but he didn’t argue back. A black female participant sitting next to me quietly nodded in apparent agreement.

It hit me that this diversity training was actually a group therapy session for the mental illness known as white racism, and I was a patient.The therapist—one Howard Ross—was there to get us to recognize our own racism, the first step in overcoming any psychological ailment. My non-doctrinaire view on race was a cognitive distortion that could only be remedied through an intense course of diversity therapy. I was not an easy patient.

I didn’t know a lot about diversity training at that time but I did know this was no way to create a just society or a more collaborative workplace. I vowed to stay away from what I considered coercive diversity training programs.

Since that time, I have had several interactions, including a very pleasant lunch, with Howard Ross and consider him a decent human being. I have no doubt he believes that his work advances equality. He cheers for the underdog, as do I. Ross now acknowledges that the old style of diversity training was alienating and that more updated forms, focusing on implicit bias, accord greater respect to people’s varied life stories. But I see nothing in today’s training, based on the new canon such as White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, which bears this out. Moreover, extensive research shows that these newer forms are no more effective and every bit as alienating as the earlier versions.

Regrettably, I could not keep my commitment to never again participate in this type of diversity training. I found myself in other such settings on multiple occasions, as work demanded, though chastened and more reticent than before. On one occasion the diversity trainer sent us into small group discussions after a typically dogmatic presentation telling us exactly how racism shows up in our workplaces.

When our breakout group sat down together, one man, my senior, stated: “That was unbearable, and that’s not how I fight racism!” “Me neither,” I exclaimed, feeling validated. The others in the group nodded. Finally, I wasn’t alone.

If you are uncomfortable with CRT based diversity training, you are not alone. Join us at Counterweight as we explore alternative ways to enable diversity, including viewpoint diversity, in the workplace.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

 

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.

Uneasy about diversity initiatives? You aren’t alone (or racist…)  

There are many justifiable reasons that an individual may object to their employer’s implementation of policies or training programmes that claim to combat racism. But the initial reaction to this objection can sometimes be one of judgement, confusion or perhaps even hostility.

‘How can you be against anti-racism? Doesn’t that make you racist?’

This type of response might prevent you from wanting to speak out. You may fear being branded as racist or bigoted, or indeed, you might fear that you actually are racist or bigoted. These anxieties can be multiplied if you have difficulty articulating your precise concerns to yourself and others.

So, to help you and your organisation see that there are many legitimate reasons a person might object to certain diversity initiatives, we interviewed a few members of the online Counterweight community, some of whom wished to remain anonymous. These individuals spoke with us about their experiences with Critical Social Justice in the workplace and their reasons for pushing back against it.

During these interviews, four key trends of workplace wokeness emerged: demands for conformity, intolerant tolerance, divisiveness and disempowering rhetoric/ideas, and racist anti-racism. Below, our interviewees explain why they found these features of Critical Social Justice to be so objectionable.

1)    Demands for conformity

Many employees find that their business’ CSJ initiatives are repressive and demand conformity to a particular ideology.

One employee who spoke up said:

Typically, work is a neutral environment where people of different backgrounds and beliefs come together for a common goal, and you leave politics, religion, and other contentious issues aside. Employers’ dictates are limited to how to do your work. I don’t believe it’s the place of an employer to tell employees how to think or force them to conform to an ideology.

Another employee, Jennifer Friend, who similarly spoke out, had this to say:

The next problem I noticed was the chilling effect CSJ was having on free speech. I repeatedly encountered stories of people who had lost their jobs simply for making a statement or even a casual remark that contradicted CSJ.

We all have differing views over what constitutes, and what means are best used to achieve, a fairer society. Approaches to Social Justice that disregard the staggering variance of viewpoint diversity often feel the need to shame, bully, or censor employees in their pursuit of the ‘common good’. At Counterweight, we feel that this approach can insulate policy from feedback, which prevents the best methods from being utilised to rectify social wrongs. Further, we believe that everyone has the right to their own personal beliefs, including support of Critical Theory, but we do not believe that these viewpoints ought to be forced on people.

2)    Intolerant tolerance

The stated goal of diversity initiatives is often to make the work environment more inclusive, welcoming, or tolerant. However, one employee’s experience with Critical Social Justice at work found that the opposite was true. Her organisation had been strictly policing the words and views of their employees, so that – regardless of context – using  terms like ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’ on an online platform immediately resulted in a public reprimand:

My employer argued that they were doing this in order to make the workplace “welcoming” for employees and clients of diverse backgrounds. However, I have worked in many different environments where people of very diverse backgrounds have gotten along just fine without any such policies. In fact, the workplace became completely unwelcoming to anyone who didn’t agree with CSJ, or wasn’t comfortable with having their speech policed. I pointed out the way to make everyone feel welcome is precisely not to force issues that have nothing to do with work or privilege certain viewpoints. By doing so, you automatically exclude those who think differently. Keeping things neutral is the way to truly include everyone and allow them to come together around their shared goals.

As well as ostracising those who think differently, anti-racism initiatives often claim to speak for certain groups, but ignore the fact that many people within the identity groups they aim to protect do not actually share their world view or want to be protected:

It flattens people into stereotyped identity groups. By claiming to speak for all people in certain groups, CSJ indulges in stereotyping of the worst sort. There’s no possible way to determine that “all” people in the groups it was claimed the forbidden words offended, would actually find them offensive. I am a woman who has suffered mental health issues, and it would never have occurred to me to find “guys” or “crazy” offensive.

3)    Divisiveness and disempowering rhetoric/ideas

Usually, when we imagine a better world, we imagine unity and empowerment. We imagine a world where superficial differences cannot divide us, where we are each strong and capable of facing adversity. There is concern among many who have faced CSJ in their workplace that this ideology is taking us away from those ideals:

CSJ encourages constantly analysing everything for potentially “problematic” connotations, making the worst interpretation of any situation, and taking action on every supposed “problem”, no matter how minor. Its dictates are constantly changing, but it harshly punishes transgressors. It encourages people to be hyper-aware of their differences. It divides them into “victim” groups, who are empowered to be hyper-sensitive to any potential offense, even if unintended; and “oppressor” groups, who must humbly accept any claim of offense, no matter how unreasonable, and be hyper-careful about how they treat “victim” groups. It discourages forgiveness, empathy, grace, and giving the benefit of the doubt. It rejects tolerance, resilience, nuance, differing opinions and a sense of perspective. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what makes for good relationships and mental health. It’s divisive, and I saw that first-hand.

Harriet Terrill, who refused to undergo unconscious bias training, found that the training materials encouraged her to:

Perceive every interaction through the lens of my group identity. If I am interrupted at work, it must be because I am a woman. If you don’t get on with someone of another race, it must be because of your racism. No room is left for the individual or human autonomy. If I saw the world the way they were suggesting, then evidence of my own oppression would abound. Not only do I not believe that I am oppressed, I do not believe that this is a healthy or empowering perspective to take on the world.

4)    Racist anti-racism

One of the more chilling features of some anti-racism training is that they push ideas that most people would find to be explicitly racist. Jennifer Friend, who encountered this in her workplace, said:

I have always believed that it is morally abhorrent to single out a group of people for criticism on the basis of immutable characteristics. CSJ in my workplace came to an intolerable point of crisis for me when we were instructed to view material on the Equity website. The material included blatantly racist statements against white people. I wrote an email to the superior and teams expressing my concerns and was instructed to report to HR the following week along with the manager and my supervisor to “discuss my communication around the very sensitive issues of race and equity.” Ultimately, I never made it to that meeting because prior to the meeting I read yet even more horribly racist materials on their webpage.  I felt morally compelled to voice my concerns to the entire agency which I did in an agency-wide email.

Since Critical Theory defines racism as power and prejudice, it doesn’t acknowledge the contradiction – or irony – of pursuing anti-racism whilst making racist and prejudiced assumptions about non-historically oppressed identity groups. If your organisation has implemented initiatives that tell you all white people are racist and oppressors then this is a genuine cause for concern. At Counterweight, we firmly believe that racism is racism and sexism is sexism, whoever it is being directed at.

So, if your organisation is making changes you aren’t comfortable with, remember, your concerns are shared by many. You have the right to object, to disagree, and to suggest new directions.

To be clear, we recognise that there are many diversity initiatives out there that are reasonable, legitimate, and necessary to ensure our progressive society keeps on progressing. To find out how to differentiate between approaches to Social Justice that are grounded in liberal humanism and those that stem from Critical Theory, you can watch our short video here.