Who Will Train the Race Trainers?
Groups that intentionally broadcast racist statements disqualify themselves as teachers of racial enlightenment.
The Hamilton Southeastern School District is planning race-related trainings for faculty and staff, to be held on July 13-14 and again on July 21-22. As of today’s date, I have evidence that they’re planning to pay at least $8750 for these trainings.
The trainings are called “Interrupting Racism for Children.” To be clear, they are trainings for adults who work with children, not for children themselves. Jill English is the director of the program, which she runs for an organization called Child Advocates. She and three of her facilitators are also facilitators for the “Soul Focused Group,” which ran “Interrupting Racism” trainings for the City of Fishers from late November 2020 to early May 2021. According to city records, Fishers has paid the Soul Focused Group about $82,000.
There’s a lot I find surprising about the Soul Focused Group, such as their promotion of astrology (see here and here). But what primarily concerns me today is that the group has made some pretty racist statements. For example, they published a three-part series of podcast episodes called “The Virus of Whiteness.” They have since taken it down, but they left a part of one of the episodes up on their YouTube channel, at least for now:
[Edit (16 June 2021): the video has now been removed from YouTube, but here’s a copy at the internet archive.]
In this clip, Martin Friedman, a Senior Consultant at the Soul Focused Group, has a conversation with the VP of the organization, Dustin Washington, in which Mr. Friedman says that being white is akin to having a dangerous virus. According to this idea, some white people apparently have the “virus of whiteness” in an obvious way because you can see “symptoms” in them. These are the “overt white supremacists.” But other white people—the ones who aren’t symptomatic, so to speak—still have the same dangerous virus as the overt white supremacists, but you just can’t see it, which according to Mr. Friedman makes us even more dangerous.
This is of course a lot of racist nonsense. And, by the way, I don’t mean anything tricky by ‘racist’: I mean the old fashioned kind of racism where you say something hateful about a whole group of people because of their skin color.
When I first saw this, I quickly concluded that it was not just ironic but also just clearly unacceptable that the city of Fishers had a contract with this group to provide “anti-racist” trainings. For this reason, I reached out to Mayor Scott Fadness and Councilman David George. I am very glad to report that our discussion went well: both Mayor Fadness and Councilman George were immediately troubled by the “virus” remark. The City Council apparently had no part in hiring the group. Both men agreed that comparing a racial group to a virus is unacceptable. Mayor Fadness in particular agreed that the “virus” claim is racist. In light of this, the city suspended registrations on further trainings with this group. The “Fishers Race Initiative” page has been pulled down while they sort out what to do next.
That’s just the sort of response I expect from a reasonable local government official. It’s important to note that of course I don’t expect people like Mayor Fadness to be perfect. We’re all human beings, and we make mistakes. But look at how he quickly acted to correct the mistake. Two points for Mayor Fadness, I say.
Here’s the point of all this as it relates to HSE. Jill English is a facilitator for this organization. So she’s a facilitator for an organization that openly and proudly espouses racist ideas. She should therefore not be hired to direct a training program for HSE staff on the topic of racism. Obviously! This would be like hiring a lifeguard who cannot swim, or a firefighter who fears fire, or a teacher who cannot read. Let’s definitely show love to the people at the “Soul Focused Group,” and let’s try to help them learn not to make racist statements. I really mean that. But let’s not hire their facilitators and pay them thousands of dollars to teach us on the very topic about which they are in need of instruction.
Maybe Ms. English and her facilitators did not know about this podcast series. Maybe when they find out about it they’ll be horrified. If so, there is an easy fix: they can step down from the Soul Focused Group, clearly state that this podcast series was racist, explain why it was racist and why it doesn’t reflect their views, and call for the termination of the two guys who put forth the “virus” idea. I’d think that would be sufficient to dismiss this particular affair as it relates to Ms. English and her staff, and, if she lets me know that she has done these things, I will post an update.
Meanwhile, let’s make sure current Superintendent Allen Bourff (firstname.lastname@example.org), Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Nataki Pettigrew (email@example.com), and incoming Superintendent Yvonne Stokes (firstname.lastname@example.org) understand that we expect them to follow Mayor Fadness’s lead and cancel the upcoming HSE staff trainings. Let’s ask these administrators to clearly state whether they agree with the Mayor that it is racist to compare being white to having a virus. Let’s publicize their answer (or non-answer!) far and wide so that parents know what the district’s position is on racism. Let’s make sure that all teachers in HSE know about all this so they can make an informed decision about whether to attend the training.
In closing, I want to make two observations.
First, I’m not sure why people from the “equity” community so often seem use the word “whiteness” when they decide to say something racist. But, as far as I can tell, this does seem to be a thing, so look out! In the hope of helping with this problem, let me offer a quote from Martin Luther King which illustrates the proper perspective on the topic:
An individual has value because he has value to God. Whenever this is recognized, “whiteness” and “blackness” pass away as determinants in a relationship and “son” and “brother” are substituted.
That’s some good stuff right there. That’s how to talk about “whiteness” and “blackness.” That’s what we need to hear. Equity and Inclusion Officers take note!
Second, if we are going to have race-related trainings, I think we can all agree that it would be refreshing to have an event that brings people together and tries to encourage one another to build Martin Luther King’s great dream of a “Beloved Community.” Therefore, can someone please find us a group—or even start a group—that has expertise on the issue of racial reconciliation, and that could run trainings like this, but could do it in the spirit of MLK, and could avoid weird stuff like astrology and comparing white people to a virus? If you know a group like that, or would like to start a group like that, drop me an email!