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Seattle council, anti-racism training
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Former WA AG: No legal issue with Seattle’s anti-racism training

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The Department of Justice is arguing that some of the training programs that the City of Seattle uses to try to discourage racial bias is itself discriminatory. Is there a potential legal action here under the civil rights law? Former state attorney general Rob McKenna joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“Not based on what we’ve seen so far, based on what the City of Seattle has said, that the trainings are not mandatory, that although one of the trainings at issue in the DOJ letter is designed for whites and one of the trainings is designed for people of color, people are allowed to attend either one, they’re not restricted to one or the other. Assuming all those facts are true, I don’t see a legal problem here,” he said.

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“The DOJ, to its credit in its letter, says they haven’t reached any conclusions yet. They’re writing to the city of Seattle, by the way, under title seven of the Civil Rights Act of 64. That’s the section of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. So you can imagine a training scenario where you could violate a worker’s rights to be free from employment discrimination if you impose certain conditions on the training and made them mandatory and were discriminatory in how you offered them. But so far, the facts don’t seem to bear that out in Seattle’s case.”

McKenna says that the Trump administration has been heavily focused on such trainings, finding them to be divisive. But McKenna doesn’t see them that way.

“The Trump administration has really been on kind of a tear on this issue through the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, have been questioning anti-racism trainings held for federal employees, and the director of O.M.B has taken upon himself to declare that these trainings are divisive and anti-American propaganda. I’ve been through my share of these trainings … and honestly, it never occurred to me that could be viewed as anti-American.”

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Regardless of whether they turn out to be legal in terms of the civil rights law, did McKenna find that the trainings make a difference or do they just make people feel awkward?

“I think that they can work. I’m also on nonprofit boards and one of the boards I’m on put the whole board through and their staff through diversity equity and inclusion training. I will admit that at moments I felt a bit uncomfortable learning about the ways that whites can be racist and at the same time I learned a ton, and I feel better for the experience,” he said.

“I feel like I’ve got a ways to go, having grown up in a largely white culture. But the path to enlightenment starts with a single step, right? It’s not gonna be one training, not by any means.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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