A Joe Biden administration would likely scrap an executive order from the Trump administration that restricts the federal government and its contractors from offering diversity training that President Donald Trump labeled “divisive” and “un-American.”
Trump’s executive order, which affected government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, nonprofits and any others that have federal contracts or plan to apply for them, had an almost immediate chilling effect on reinvigorated efforts to address racial disparities in the workplace after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of white officer in Minneapolis in May.
“I think it’s highly probable that this executive order will be rescinded in fairly short order,” Franklin Turner, a partner with law firm McCarter & English who represents multinational contractors and small and medium-sized companies, told USA TODAY.
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The Biden campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.
Critics say the executive order was a broadside against diversity and inclusion programs seeking to reverse patterns of discrimination and exclusion going back decades.
A USA TODAY investigation found that more than 55 years after the Civil Rights Act, less than 2% of the top executives at the nation’s largest companies are Black.
‘One of the most troubling actions taken by the Trump administration’
Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit late last month alleging the executive order violates free speech rights in an “extraordinary and unprecedented act by the Trump administration to undermine efforts to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”
“We think this is one of the most troubling actions taken by the Trump administration while in office,” Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense fund, one of the lawyers suing the Trump administration, told USA TODAY. “A new administration would fully have the power to rescind this executive order, and our hope is they would.”
The executive order’s stated goal is “to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”
The Labor Department said the elimination of “race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating in employment” was “a key civil rights priority of the Trump Administration.”
A White House memo in late September suggested rooting out “ideologies that label entire groups of Americans as inherently racist or evil” in diversity training materials by searching for keywords such as “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” “intersectionality” and “unconscious bias.”
Asked about his executive order during the first presidential debate, Trump said: “They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place. And they were teaching people to hate our country. And I’m not gonna allow that to happen.”
Biden responded: “Nobody’s doing that.”
“The fact is that there is racial insensitivity,” he told Trump.
Critical race theory under Trump attack
The target of the executive order was critical race theory, which teaches that racism pervades government and other American institutions, giving white people an advantage.
Trump seized on the issue following appearances by conservative activist Christopher Rufo on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“What I’ve discovered is that critical race theory has become, in essence, the default ideology of the federal bureaucracy and is now being weaponized against the American people,” Rufo, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty in Seattle, said on Carlson’s show.
Rufo celebrated achieving his goal – “… persuading the President of the United States to abolish critical race theory in the federal government” – posting on Facebook moments after Trump issued the order.
The Trump administration didn’t just reject the commonly held belief that American society is inherently racist. It also challenged corporate efforts to recruit more Black executives and executives of color into leadership ranks.
In recent weeks, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which oversees federal contractors for the Labor Department, has questioned whether diversity initiatives at Microsoft and Wells Fargo to double the ranks of Black managers and executives over the next five years violate federal laws barring discrimination based on race. Both corporations say they believe their initiatives comply with those laws.
Turner told USA TODAY he expects a 180 from a Biden administration.
“I suspect that a future President Biden would be more inclined to issue orders and/or to adopt policies that cultivate and encourage a diverse and inclusive American workforce that is fully informed by relevant, accurate information,” he said.