Christopher Rufo, who has previously reported on the anti-racist training being used by major corporations including CVS, Verizon and Lockheed Martin, just published a report today about the anti-racist training at Walmart. Rufo has received documents showing that Walmart has contracted with a company called the Racial Equity Institute in North Carolina for training sessions which Walmart says have involved about 1,000 employees since 2018. If you’ve followed this issue then much of this material will be familiar already.
Whites, according to the trainers, are inherently guilty of “white privilege” and “internalized racial superiority,” the belief that “one’s comfort, wealth, privilege and success has been earned by merits and hard work” rather than through the benefits of systemic racism. Walmart’s program argues that this oppressive “white supremacy culture” can be summarized in a list of qualities including “individualism,” “objectivity,” “paternalism,” “defensiveness,” “power hoarding,” “right to comfort, “and “worship of the written word”—which all “promote white supremacy thinking” and “are damaging to both people of color and to white people.”
This isn’t the first time anti-racist trainers have raised “individualism” and “worship of the written word” as problems associated with whiteness. The criticism of individualism I can at least understand. It’s a natural outcome of a worldview that prioritizes race as a kind of collective identity. If your whole theory of the world revolves around collective identity and, more specifically, collective guilt, then you need to squash the idea that people should be judged not as members of a group but as individuals based on their actions.
That said, I really do not understand where the hostility to the written word comes from. A number of the best known trainers have bestselling books. What makes the written word problematic? What makes it part of white supremacy? I don’t get it. Moving on to the solution proposed by the trainers:
The solution, according to Walmart’s program, is to encourage whites to participate in “white anti-racist development”—a psychological conditioning program that reorients white consciousness toward “anti-racism.” The training program teaches white employees that ideas such as “I’m normal,” “we’re all the same,” and “I am not the problem” are racist constructs, driven by internalized racial superiority. The program encourages whites to accept their “guilt and shame,” adopt the idea that “white is not right,” acknowledge their complicity in racism, and, finally, move toward “collective action” whereby “white can do right.” The goal is for whites to climb the “ladder of empowerment for white people” and recreate themselves with a new “anti-racist identity.”
The “ladder of empowerment for white people” sounds a lot like public shaming which can only be relieved by winning more converts. Conveniently, those new converts will need the services of anti-racist trainers like the ones at the Racial Equity Institute.
These workshops aren’t cheap. According to this document a 2-day “Phase I” virtual training session from REI costs corporate customers $20,000 with a maximum of 35 participants. There’s also a half-day virtual presentation for a maximum 100 participants for a mere $8,500. Assuming Walmart stuck to the latter option, that means it spent at least $85,000 with the company. If on the other hand they were shelling out for the 2 day conference, they might have spent as much as $600,000.
Granted that’s all peanuts to a company like Walmart. The bigger issue is that they are forcing their employees to sit through this and, at least for the white employees, asking them to participate in their own public self-abasement. Maybe the corporate salaries at Walmart make that worth it?
I’ve said before that I think this sort of training has the potential to backfire. Spending lots of money to convince white people that whiteness is their true identity as human beings and white supremacy is their most important legacy seems like a recipe for generating more white people who actually believe those ideas. I don’t see how that could possibly be a good thing. The alternative, treating people like individuals about whom you know very little based solely on their skin color, still seems like a much better approach to me.