This column was originally published on City Journal.
The American Express Company has launched a critical race theory training program that teaches employees capitalism is fundamentally racist and asks them to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities, then rank themselves on a hierarchy of “privilege.”
According to a trove of documents I have obtained from a whistleblower, following the death of George Floyd last year, AmEx executives created an internal “Anti-Racism Initiative,” subjecting employees to an extensive race training program based on the core tenets of critical race theory, including “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “intersectionality,” a core component of critical race theory that reduces individuals to a collection of racial, gender, and sexual identities, which determine whether an individual is an “oppressor” or “oppressed.”
In an introductory session, an outside consulting firm called Paradigm trained American Express employees to deconstruct their own intersectional identities, mapping their “race, sexual orientation, body type, religion, disability status, age, gender identity, [and] citizenship” onto an official company worksheet.
After employees categorize their identities, they can determine whether they have “privilege” or whether they are a member of a “marginalized group,” who are “underrepresented, stigmatized, or otherwise undervalued in society.”
Thus, employees are able to judge their position on the intersectional hierarchy, presumably with straight white males in the oppressor position, and racial and sexual minorities in the oppressed position.
With these identities established, the trainers then instruct American Express employees how to change their behavior in the office based on their relative position on the racial and sexual hierarchy.
The trainers provide a blue flowchart with specific rules for interacting with black, female, and LGBTQ employees: if a member of a subordinate group is present, employees should practice “intersectional allyship” and defer to them before speaking.
In another handout, the instructions for white employees are even more explicit: “identify the privileges or advantages you have”; “don’t speak over members of the Black and African-American community”; “it’s not about your intent, it’s about the impact you have on your colleague.”
Even common phrases are subjected to race-based regulation: white employees are told not to utter phrases such as “I don’t see color,” “we are all human beings,” and “everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough,” which are categorized as “microaggressions” against their black co-workers.
As one of the flagship “anti-racism” events, American Express executives invited Professor Khalil Muhammad—great-grandson of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad—to lecture on “race in corporate America.”
Muhammad argued that the system of capitalism was founded on racism and that “racist logics and forms of domination” have shaped Western society from the Industrial Revolution to the present.
“American Express has to do its own digging about how it sits in relationship to this history of racial capitalism,” said Muhammad. “You are complicit in giving privileges in one community against the other, under the pretext that we live in a meritocratic system where the market judges everyone the same.”
After establishing the company’s participation in racist oppression, Muhammad then encouraged AmEx executives to begin “the deep redistributive and reparative work” and to “lobby [the government] for the kinds of social policies that reflect your values.”
Furthermore, Muhammad argued, the company should reduce standards for black customers and sacrifice profits in the interest of race-based reparations.
“If American Express cares about racial justice in the world, it can’t simply say the market’s going to define how we price certain customers who happen to come from low-income communities,” Muhammad said. “If you want to do good, then you're going to have to set up products and product lines that don't maximize profit.”
Finally, in the flagship Anti-Racism Initiative training module, AmEx recommends a series of resources for employees to, quoting Ibram Kendi, “learn about covert white supremacy” and dedicate themselves “to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage.”
Employees are encouraged to listen to the Beyond Prisons podcast, which advocates for “prison abolition,” a movement committed to “eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance” altogether.
Employees are also directed towards a series articles that promises to “force white people to see and understand how white supremacy permeates their lives,” demonstrate that white children become racist before they can speak, and persuade employees that Congress should pass legislation for race-based reparations payments.
American Express is, of course, entitled to promote fashionable, left-wing causes to its employees. But these practices, which, according to whistleblowers, are creating a climate of fear and division within the company, deserve to be scrutinized.
At best, some of the materials are divisive and patronizing; at worst, some might violate the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against racial stereotyping and scapegoating in the workplace.
Executives at AmEx should take a hard look at what they are doing—and, if they have the courage, remove this noxious, reductive dribble from their employee training programs.
Christopher F. Rufo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Sign up for his newsletter here.
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