State-sanctioned racial segregation ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but has recently returned in an unlikely place: government agencies in Seattle. According to new whistleblower documents I’ve reviewed, at least three public agencies in the region have implemented race-segregated diversity trainings.
At the King County Library System, a private consulting firm called Racial Equity Consultants recently held racially segregated “listening sessions” to root out “institutional privileges and systemic inequities.” Apparently, there is widespread “institutional racism” in the libraries, and employees who reject that premise are accused of “internalized racism.” When reached by e-mail, the firm said it wasn’t authorized to comment.
At the federal Veterans Administration Puget Sound facility, the local leadership has launched a series of racially segregated “caucuses” for “individuals who identify as white” and those who identify as “African-American or black” or as “people of color.” According to whistleblower e-mails, the organizer, Dr. Jesse Markman, convened the racially segregated sessions, calling them “an environment for sharing and discussion, which is not afforded by mixed groups.” Dr. Markman referred me to the VA’s public-affairs office, which didn’t provide comment.
Finally, at the King County Prosecutor’s Office, the chief prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, and senior staff have recently required employees to sign an “equity and social justice” pledge and assigned “continued training for white employees,” who must “do the work” to “learn the true history of racism in our country.”
White employees are encouraged to participate in racially segregated “anti-racist action groups,” as well as agency-wide “cultural-competency” training that teaches them to how to adopt “a new non-oppressive and non-exploitive attitude.”
According to a leaked memo I’ve reviewed, Satterberg recently wrote a letter to staff suggesting that the “privileged, white, male cohort” in his office should “shut up and listen.” The prosecutor’s office confirmed the authenticity of the equity pledge and staff-wide memo but didn’t offer further comment.
Oh, the irony: Seattle’s white elites are instituting a policy of racial segregation in the name of social justice. In all three of these institutions, white executives have explicitly implemented these policies, arguing, in one case, that holding segregated training sessions mitigates “any potential harming of staff of color that might arise from a cross-racial conversation.”
The VA’s Dr. Markman explained to his colleagues: “It can be challenging for people of color to feel a burden to educate others on how to be better, when at the same time being told or expected to be entirely open and unfiltered.”
The assumption behind these policies — that white leaders must shield minority employees from open dialogue — is deeply patronizing and can itself cause racial division in the workplace.
According to multiple sources within King County government, segregated training sessions have created suspicion and distrust among colleagues. “I was truly disgusted,” one library employee told me. The trainers told white employees “we stole the land from indigenous people, [and] we are responsible for committing genocide.” Another employee at the prosecutor’s office described a recent diversity session as a “firing squad.” This employee fears that any dissent would lead to immediate retaliation.
These training sessions aren’t only offensive, but possibly illegal. As US Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow has argued, racially segregated training sessions violate the 1964 act, which prohibits employers from segregating employees based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The Department of Justice is already investigating the City of Seattle’s segregated diversity trainings. It should expand its investigation to include the King County Library System, the King County Prosecutor’s Office and the VA’s Puget Sound system. Segregation in the name of social justice is still segregation — and has no place in our public institutions.
Seattle, home to leading critical race theorists like Robin DiAngelo, has long been on the vanguard of race-based progressivism. These crackpot concepts have escaped the academy and been entrenched in bureaucracies. Federal officials would be wise to put a stop to them — before segregation is once more normalized.
Christopher Rufo is a contributing editor of City Journal.
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