Having gone to a very mixed race High School, I can tell you that many Black students would have got up and walked out!
Elliot: “No. You don’t come back in here until you’ve apologized to every person in this room because you just exercised a freedom that none of these people of color have. When these people of color get tired of racism, they can’t just walk out because there’s no place in this country where they aren’t going to be exposed to racism. They can’t even stay in their own homes and not be exposed to racism if they turn on their television. But you, as a white female, when you get tired of being judged and treated unfairly on the basis of your eye color, you can walk out that door, and you know it won’t happen out there. You exercised a freedom they don’t have. If you’re going to be in here, you’re going to apologize to every black person in this room. And do it now ... and every person of color.”
Student: “I’m sorry there’s racism in this country..."
Elliot: “Bullshit! No, you’re not going to say ‘I’m sorry there’s racism.’ You’re going to apologize for what you just did.”
Student: “I will not apologize because it’s not a matter of race always...”
The 90-minute "Blue Eyed" documents an experiment conducted by Jane Elliott, a $6,000 a day sensitivity trainer, in which a group of forty people are divided into blue eyed and brown eyed people. Thereafter, the former are psychologically brutalized and the latter are psychologically empowered as an object lesson in white racism. Elliott declares that this is what Newt Gingrich has been doing to minorities for years. The salvation of white people lies in their frank admission of guilt and their efforts to eliminate hidden racism and sexism from society. It lies in the rooting out of subtle oppression such as the use of the name "Betty," which she serves to "infantilize women."
Hugh Vasquez's "Skin Deep" documents a workshop on race that was attended by twenty-three students. One section of the accompanying Study Guide -- the section entitled "White Privilege" -- declares that white privilege controls all power in society and that whites must choose to continue hating or they must assume their guilt. In the section entitled Political Correctness," Vasquez writes, "The challenges to political correctness tend to come from those who want to be able to say anything without repercussions." According to Vasquez, those who advocate free speech promote the sort of irresponsible use of language that led to the death of six million Jews during the reign of Nazi Germany. The solution to racism is for white people to become "allies" (protectors and advocates) of blacks, for straight to become allies of gays, etc.
Requiring attendance and sentencing offenders to sensitivity training has caused some critics to make comparisons to Soviet psychiatry and the re-education camps of some Communist countries, such as Maoist China. Such camps were actually detention centers in which selected prisoners, including many who politically opposed the Communist regime, were subjected to brutal political indoctrination. Re-education replaced bad personal attitudes with correct social ones that served the purpose of the State. The authorities responsible generally describe the re-education as a necessary and humanitarian means of allowing dissidents to take their place in the "ideal" society.
In an excellent article entitled "Thought Reform 101" (Reason, March 2000) Professor Alan Charles Kors, co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education <http://www.thefire.org> described the sadism with which Elliott routinely humiliates whites who are forced to attend, reducing many to tearful confessions of previously unknown guilt. He explicitly compares the diversity training to Communist re-education camps. It is a comparison worth pursuing through an exploration of the shared assumptions and procedures of the camps, gleaned from first-hand accounts, with the guidelines offered in the Facilitator/Study Guides that accompany "Blue Eyed" and "Skin Deep."
Some Shared Assumptions and Procedures
1. No individuals, only classes. After the Vietnam War, "war criminals" were detained in re-education camps, sometimes for several years. According to the Indochina Newsletter (October-November 1982), the "war criminals" sent to camps in June 1975 included "nearly 400 writers, poets and journalists and over 2,000 religious leaders, including 194 Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant chaplains, and 516 Catholic priests and fathers." Although many of the prisoners undoubtedly believed they had nothing wrong as individuals, their class affiliation is what defined them as criminals.
Elliott, creator of "Blue Eyed" maintains that "A person who has been raised and socialized in America has been conditioned to be a racist... We live in two countries, one black and one white." In the facilitator/Study Guide to "Skin Deep," diversity expert Frances E. Kendall explains, "Privilege, particularly White or male privilege, is hard to see because many White people don't feel powerful or as if they have privileges that others do not.
2. Confession of Class Guilt is Required. One of the standard procedures encouraged by re-education camps is a confession of guilt and public criticism of others. The IndoChina Newsletter offered an account of a detainee, "Following the written confessions were the public confessions in which prisoners would confess their 'crimes' before the camp authorities and other prisoners. Prisoners were encouraged to criticize each other's confessions, said a former prisoner, which was 'very effective in getting us to hate each other.' The more 'crimes' a prisoner confessed, the more he is praised as 'progressive' by camp authorities. In diversity training, participants are encouraged to explore and acknowledge their class guilt. Indeed, for those sentenced to the training, a public confession is mandatory. This applies to professors who participate as well. The Guide to "Skin Deep," in the section entitled Working with Faculty and Staff, declares,
"Most faculty and staff are likely to have grown up and/or currently live in monocultural environments. Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are often not acknowledged as reflections of a particular racial group (white), ethnic heritage (European) or gender orientation (male). Although faculty and staff are not responsible for the culture-specific beliefs with which they grew up, they are surely responsible for examining and questioning them as adults and as educators."
(An irony of the confessions forced in re-education camps is that authorities often use them to retroactively justify the camps. Thus, the Hanoi government wrote to Amnesty International in 1981, "In all cases of people being sent to re-education camps the competent Vietnamese authorities have established files recording the criminal acts committed by the people concerned." Similarly, the apologies that offenders are sentenced to provide and the confession of students in diversity programs are used to justify the programs themselves.)
3. False Consciousness Must Be Erased. Just as oppressors must consciously acknowledge their guilt, the oppressed must be made aware of their subjugation.
The Leninist concept of "false consciousness," springs largely from his book "What is to be Done?" False consciousness refers a class' acceptance of the myths about itself. For example, the workers' acceptance of bourgeois myths about society, such as the notion that people "rise on merit" or the economic principle "of supply and demand." It is false consciousness that prevents workers from perceiving their true class interests toward which they must be educated.
In "Skin Deep"'s Guide, Vasquez speaks of "internalized oppression" which is defined as "taking on and believing the stereotypes or lies" about "your group." In other words, everyone in a class that has been "targeted for mistreatment and discrimination" has internalized their oppression to "some degree" -- e.g. blacks and women -- and must be educated toward a true understanding of themselves.
4. Alternate Ideologies Must be Suppressed. Re-education camps often target religious groups, such as the followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, because religion represents a strong alternate value system. It is a supporting pillar of false consciousness. In similar fashion, diversity training involves systematic denegration of alternate value systems such as conservatism. In "Blue Eyed," Elliott tells a "white male" whom she has humiliated into submission that "what I just did...today Newt Gingrich is doing to you every day...and you are submitting to that, submitting to oppression." In "Skin Deep," Vasquez psychoanalyzes those who support affirmative action. For example, reverse discrimination is a myth because any 'discrimination' whites experience is a necessary re-education that makes them aware of black oppression. As Elliott explains, "A new reality is going to be created for these people."
5. Such Suppression Requires Thought Control. In his book "Enfer Rouge, Mon Amour," Lucien Trong wrote of the thought control exercised in the re-education camp where he was confined. Prisoners were not permitted to read the words published in magazines and books from the former regime, to sing the words of old songs, to have 'unauthorized' political discussions or to speak to the camp personnel with anything but reverence. In the Study Guide to "Skin Deep," Vasquez writes, "Language is one of the institutions that serve to perpetuate racism...Thus, language is a critical element in eliminating the mistreatment of any group...Should we be 'politically correct?' Of course we should if what we mean by this is eliminating language that is part of how mistreatment is perpetuated."
6. Family Ties Must Be Weakened. Another tactic of re-education camps is to break the loyalty and affiliation that prisoners naturally feel toward their families who often offer an alternate system of values. A Vietnamese prisoner wrote, "When making declarations about relatives, we had to make mention of their guilt as well. For example, when I stated that my grandfather had been a civil servant, I had to add that he belonged to the feudalistic social category." In "Skin Deep," a student named Dane admits his family's racist guilt: "No way I can step back and change that (great grandparents fighting in the confederacy)." He comments, "It's tough choosing what's right and choosing your family."
7. The Propagandists have Noble Intentions. The intentions of those who run the re-education camps are always expressed in noble and humanitarian terms, no matter how egregious the violation of rights may be. In the Los Angeles Times (January 9, 1998), journalist David Lamb reported on a "re-education camp for women with 'social disorders'" -- that is, for prostitutes. The camp director was quoted as saying, "We think of this as a humanitarian program. I try and try and try to explain why prostitution is wrong and why these women should learn to contribute to society. And if they don't understand today, then I try again tomorrow." Presumably, they are not released until they understand. The goal is not to destroy the enemy but to capture his/her free will.
The noble motive of Elliott, Vasquez and their advocates is to end racism, sexism, agism, ableism, heterosexism...just about every type of nonPC 'ism' in existence. The Study Guide describes the $6,000-a-day Elliot as a courageous pioneer in racism awareness training who has endured great personal pain for her stand -- though she admits to having been "only confronted once by her colleagues. To add urgency to her mission, Elliott paints a picture of dire and increasing need for racism to be destroyed. For example, increased immigration is exacerbating the racial warfare within our culture. For spreading such historically inaccurate and racist statements, e.g. 'whites invented racism,' she is viewed with such benevolence that Disney is doing a movie of her life.
Vasquez also paints a bleak and urgent picture, opening his film with news footage of blacks being attacked, physically and verbally. From personal contact, Kors reports that Vasquez considers himself to be "devoted to eliminating 'blame, ridicule, judgements, guilt, and shame'...But his effect, whatever his intention, is frightening, atavistic, and irrational, and his means are deeply intrusive."
8. The Effect is to Heighten Anger and Division. At <http://www.vietworld.com/Aurora/p41.html> a re-education prisoner reported on the effect camp policy had upon the cohesiveness and good will of inmates. "[To] turn prisoners against each other by reading them [confessions] aloud to the group and asking anyone who had knowledge of anything left out or of lies in the statement to step forward." The prisoners came to suspect, resent and hate each other, looking at the those sitting to each side as 'the enemy.' A program of planned confrontation -- of denunciation and public criticism -- systematically eroded any cohesion or co-operation among inmates.
The Guide to "Blue Eyed" describes Elliott as "unrelenting in her ridicule and humiliation of the blue-eyed people [whites]" while "the participants of color watch as white people" feel their guilt for racism. Whites are admonished to "hear people of color, no matter what tone or phrasing they use." At the same time, they are warned, "don't expect people of color to bleed on the floor for white people."
The success of Vasquez's self-stated devotion to eliminating "blame, ridicule, judgements, guilt, and shame" may be judged by some representative comments from attendees: