BI staff trained on our racialized politics

At a recent Bainbridge Island City Council meeting Mayor Joe Deets said that he had attended a four-hour Racial Equity training program presented to city employees that he found “very beneficial. We really appreciate our city manager [Blair King] initiating that.”

The training was presented by Scott Winn, a “Racial Equity Consultant,” who teaches part-time at the University of Washington School of Social Work. The training included 46 slides, a short video, a worksheet on “Systems of Oppression” and breakout sessions for discussion. The training materials (obtained via a public records request) called for “structural transformation” and described “differing work to do” based on one’s “positionality” on the spectrum of oppression.

Assumptions and definitions are set out on early slides. The “assumptions” include: “We live in a highly racialized and oppressive society,” and “even as we talk about issues of equity, racism is playing out. Sexism is playing out, etc.” That’s a shot across the bow to silence potential dissent, which would be racism and/or sexism “playing out.” For those new to the race equity space, such dissent is sometimes referred to as “white fragility,” a term of contempt made famous by another race equity consultant, Robin DiAngelo.

“Institutional racism” is defined as: “[p]olicies, practices and procedures that work to the benefit of white people and to the detriment of people of color, often unintentionally or inadvertently.” Thus, by definition, white people cannot be victims of institutional racism.

In other words, racial discrimination by an organization — if race serves as the basis for rejecting a white applicant and selecting a “person of color” — is not objectionable. On the contrary, that’s using a “race equity lens” to “center … communities of color” and “dismantle” white supremacy. Moreover, that defines color-blind policies as racist if any disparate impacts can be detected (unless they benefit people of color). “Equity” means equal group outcomes, period. Any variance from equal group outcomes (unless they favor people of color) means racism, period.

The training includes a worksheet to pinpoint one’s place in the “Systems of Oppression” that, Winn said, define our current social/political reality.

It contains three columns. Under “Privileged Agent Groups” are demographic categories including White, Cisgender Men, Christian, Heterosexual, Citizen, and Able-Bodied, among others.

Under “Oppressed Targeted Groups” are People of Color, Cisgender Women, Trans, Intersex, Non-Christian, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Non-Citizen, People with Disabilities and others.

The third column identifies the many “Systems of Oppression” we currently maintain — Racism, Colonialism, Sexism, Christian Hegemony, Heterosexism, Nationalism, Ableism, etc.

Attendees were directed to “circle how you currently identify on each column” and discuss “thoughts and questions” that arise. Subsequent slides instruct that “color-blindness” and “multiculturalism” are inadequate responses to these Systems of Oppression. Instead, an “anti-racism” / “equity” stance is necessary, and that means establishing “mechanisms” to achieve “racial equity outcomes.”

The training suggests that reparations are an important “tool” in the “Race Equity Toolkit.” One of the slides contains an embedded 16-minute video advocating reparations for African Americans, featuring input from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). COBI staff have now been “trained” that race-based reparations — a contested political issue, to say the least — are an appropriate remedy for the inequities of the past.

The training also emphasizes “race-based caucusing” as a “strategy to achieve racial equity in the organization and beyond.” Race-based caucusing means using racially segregated meetings to “provide a space for people of color … to discuss racism — without having to explain it to white people; and a space for white people to discuss racism, white privilege, and white guilt without harming people of color.” It’s unclear whether racial segregation occurred at the COBI training, but it’s a recommended strategy for use in the organization going forward.

Suffice it to say that the training foreshadows the racialized politics of our immediate future on Bainbridge. Indeed, we’re already there, with our Planning Commission using a race equity litmus test on its applicant questionnaire.

Three of the five questions on that form relate to “equity” issues, including: “How have you committed yourself to … aiding in the pursuit of equity and inclusion in your professional and/or personal life?” and “Do you believe these [two statements about single-family zoning] to be true?”: Single-family zoning (1) “was about separating white families from everyone else,” and (2) “originated … as a segregationist practice” and “is a relic of a past that is no longer justifiable.”

In short, the Race Equity Agenda may prove far more consequential than toxic, divisive content in a woke employee training program. It may soon appear in your neighborhood in the form of a multi-unit residential building.

Joe McMillan is a longtime BI resident, who practiced law in Seattle for over 20 years before retiring in 2020.