‘Corporate-sanctioned racism’? How war on critical race theory spread from schools to big business – USA TODAY – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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  • Conservatives are going after corporations for how they teach employees about race and racism.
  • Florida may pass legislation allowing employees to sue over critical race theory legislation.
  • Walmart and other companies say antiracism training helps build inclusive work cultures.

In October, conservative activist Christopher Rufo wrote an article on the website of City Journal, a magazine of the Manhattan Institute. “Walmart vs. Whiteness” alleged that the nation’s largest employer puts on diversity workshops that denounce the United States as a “white supremacy system.”

Outraged readers fired off nearly 5,000 emails to CEO Doug McMillon in an email campaign organized by the nonprofit New Tolerance Campaign.

“This is a politically charged issue for some,” McMillon replied to one consumer, but he said he stood by the training, citing Walmart’s commitment to become “a more inclusive company.” 

“As part of that commitment, we have had sessions for our leaders and salaried managers that encourage reflection on the history of race in the US and systemic issues that Black and African American communities have faced,” McMillon said. “We have found those conversations to be constructive and thought-provoking. We don’t always agree with every comment made by every participant in a session or endorse every view on a PowerPoint slide produced by others, but the experience has been a net positive for us as we strive to create more opportunities for everyone.”

It’s not just Walmart. America’s culture wars have come to cubicles and corner offices across the country.

From critical articles in right-leaning publications to legislation in statehouses, conservatives are taking aim at how racism is taught, not just in schools but in private companies. Their rallying cry: critical race theory.

What is critical race theory?

In the 1970s and 1980s, a group of legal scholars including Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell began researching why racism against Black people and other underrepresented groups persisted despite anti-discrimination laws. They came up with an academic framework, and Crenshaw coined a term for it: critical race theory.

In short, critical race theory, or CRT, examines the role race and racism in U.S. law and institutions plays in the unequal treatment of Black people from slavery and Jim Crow to today.

Usually it’s taught in graduate courses, not in workplace diversity training. But in recent years, activists, media personalities and strategists redefined critical race theory as a conservative talking point, alleging it teaches that white people are inherently racist and turning it into a mainstream powder keg.

“Critical race theory is the idea that the United States is a fundamentally racist country and that all of our institutions including the law, culture, business, the economy are all designed to maintain white supremacy,” Rufo told the Heritage Foundation.

Leading the charge against critical race theory are conservative think tanks.

As a White House official, Russell Vought wrote a memo warning federal agencies that President Donald Trump wanted them to “cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.”

Today, he runs the Center for Renewing America. He says corporations are using their human resources departments and boardrooms “to impose this radicalism in all private workplaces.”

Corporations are “the main ambassadors of the state-endorsed wokeism that is ripping apart our country along racial lines,” Vought said in a recent speech at Hillsdale College.

He has called on states and the federal government to strip “woke” corporations of tax breaks and other government benefits and he has helped draft model legislation to restrict how corporations talk to employees about racism.

Florida may allow employees to sue over critical race theory

While most legislation focuses on education, more than a handful of states including New Hampshire, Iowa and Texas have introduced or passed bills that put limits on how employees of state and local agencies or school districts and, in some cases, employees of government contractors are taught about racism.

The bills generally use language banning “divisive concepts” such as “an individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”

Now Republicans are stepping up pressure on the private sector.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made battling critical race theory one of his top legislative priorities. In December, he urged the state’s GOP-led legislature to pass legislation against it in the workplace. 

Following DeSantis’ lead, the Republican majority on the state Senate Education Committee this week advanced a measure that would allow workers to sue their employers if they “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.” It does not explicitly mention critical race theory.

“How is it not a hostile work environment to be attacking people based on their race or telling them that they are privileged or that they are part of oppressive systems when all they are doing is showing up

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