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Wealth & Poverty Review Cult Programming in Seattle

The city is training white municipal employees to overcome their “internalized racial superiority.” Originally published at City Journal

Last month, the City of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights sent an email inviting “white City employees” to attend a training session on “Interrupting Internalized Racial Superiority and Whiteness,” a program designed to help white workers examine their “complicity in the system of white supremacy” and “interrupt racism in ways that are accountable to Black, Indigenous and People of Color.” Hoping to learn more, I submitted a public records request for all documentation related to the training. The results are disturbing.

At the beginning of the session, the trainers explain that white people have internalized a sense of racial superiority, which has made them unable to access their “humanity” and caused “harm and violence” to people of color. The trainers claim that “individualism,” “perfectionism,” “intellectualization,” and “objectivity” are all vestiges of this internalized racial oppression and must be abandoned in favor of social-justice principles. In conceptual terms, the city frames the discussion around the idea that black Americans are reducible to the essential quality of “blackness” and white Americans are reducible to the essential quality of “whiteness”—that is, the new metaphysics of good and evil.

Once the diversity trainers have established this basic conceptual framework, they encourage white employees to “practice self-talk that affirms [their] complicity in racism” and work on “undoing [their] own whiteness.” As part of this process, white employees must abandon their “white normative behavior” and learn to let go of their “comfort,” “physical safety,” “social status,” and “relationships with some other white people.” As writer James Lindsay has pointed out, this is not the language of human resources; it is the language of cult programming—persuading members they are defective in some predefined manner, exploiting their emotional vulnerabilities, and isolating them from previous relationships.

It’s important to point out that this “interrupting whiteness” training is not an anomaly. In recent years, nearly every department of Seattle city government has been recruited into the ideological fight against “white supremacy.” As I have documented, the city’s homelessness agency hosted a conference on how to “decolonize [their] collective work”; the school system released a curriculum explaining that “math is a tool for oppression”; and the city-owned power company hired a team of bureaucrats to fight “structural racism” within their organization. Dozens of private companies now offer diversity training to public agencies. The idea that all whites have unconscious, “implicit bias” that they must vigilantly program themselves to overcome has become an article of faith across corporate boardrooms, academia, and law-enforcement agencies, even though the premise is unscientific and impossible to verify.

The endgame is to make Seattle’s municipal government the arbiter of the new orthodoxy, and then work outward. At the end of the session on “internalized racial superiority,” the diversity trainers outline strategies for converting outsiders and recommend specific “practices for interrupting others’ whiteness.” In effect, the activists have organized an ideological pyramid scheme—using public dollars to establish their authority within the government, then using that authority to recruit others into the program. As Lindsay writes, “the goal is no longer to indoctrinate on what is ‘rightthink’ and ‘wrongthink.’ It is to make the [subject’s] thinking be completely in line with the view of the world described by the cult doctrine.”

How far can this racial-justice shakedown extend itself? The new racial orthodoxy has seen exponential growth in the past few years and has proved extremely difficult for local governments and elite institutions to resist. The movement’s key rhetorical premise is designed as a trap: if you are not an “antiracist,” then you are a “racist”—and must be held to account. Skeptics might dismiss Seattle’s “interrupting whiteness” training as a West Coast oddity, but it is part of a nationwide movement to make this kind of identity politics the foundation of our public discourse. It may be coming soon to a city or town near you.

Christopher Rufo

Director, Center on Wealth, Poverty & Morality
Christopher Rufo is the director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. He has directed four documentaries for PBS, Netflix, and international television, including his latest film, America Lost, that tells the story of three "forgotten American cities.” Christopher is currently a contributing editor of City Journal, where he covers poverty, homelessness, addiction, crime, and other afflictions. Christopher is a magna cum laude graduate of Georgetown University, Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow, and has appeared on NPR, CNN, ABC, CBS, HLN, and FOX News.