Trump's anti-racism training prohibition is already having stupid real-world consequences

Two weeks ago (which frankly feels like a lifetime ago), President Trump issued an executive order banning most popular diversity and anti-racism training programs from being used by federal workers and federal contractors. And the order, which bans programming that suggests the "United States is an inherently racist or evil country or that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil"—a dramatic misrepresentation of what racial bias training based on critical race theory actually teaches—is already having some ridiculous real-world consequences.

Actor William Jackson Harper, best known for playing the anxious philosophy professor Chidi Anagonye on "The Good Place," shared a story on Twitter that illustrates one of the many problems with the order. Harper, who works with the charity Arts in the Armed Forces ran into problems with a group of military personnel watching and discussing the movie "Malcolm X" together.

The thread reads:

"So I've had a rather disturbing experience this past week. I agreed to a virtual event with one of the charities I'm involved with, Arts In The Armed Forces (AITAF). As the son of a Marine I have a deep respect for those who serve in our military.

The event was an all-academy virtual screening of a movie I selected, that cadets would watch on their own, which culminated in a Talkback/ Q&A session via zoom. I thought this was a great idea.


I think exposure to and interaction with the arts is a necessary part of any education. Furthermore, I think watching a movie with an eye toward discussion is an effective way to explore differing viewpoints, mindfully interrogate our own responses to a piece of art, and to expand our capacity for empathy.

I gave them a list of three films for AITAF to choose from. American Honey, Citizen Kane, and Malcolm X. Malcolm X was selected and I couldn't have been happier. I love this film. I have a very specific and deep connection to this film.

It's arguably the greatest biography committed to film. Washington's performance in this movie is a thing to behold. The restraint, the fire, the commitment, the physical and intellectual rigor of his work is beyond anything I've ever seen.

Additionally, I was happy to discuss the themes of this movie, the historical significance of the man, and hoping to have a wider discussion about how we view our past, and how those we venerate or revile were just people, complex, flawed people who were full of contradictions.

Now the disturbing part. Two days before the event, I was informed that students at two of the academies would not be taking part for fear of running afoul of President Trump's 'Executive Order Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping' which requires that federal and military institutions refrain from training material that promote a 'pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors…'

Which meant they possibly couldn't watch Malcolm X.

I would encourage everyone to go and read it in its entirety here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/ex...

I don't disagree with the idea of combating race and sex stereotyping. But that is not what this order is about. This is censorship. This executive order is an attempt to censor certain difficult truths that still haunt our society.

This executive order denies the very real experiences of so many minorities in this country. This executive order is rooted in the fictitious idea that the scourges of racism and sexism are essentially over, and that the poisonous fallout from centuries discrimination isn't real.

But all of these things are real, and they remain to this day some of the most salient malignancies in our society.

The film Malcolm X is history. American History. This film is not propaganda meant to teach one to favor one race or sex over the other. It's History. It's an admittedly thorny history, but it is history.

I believe that the selective censorship of certain chapters of our country's because we find it disquieting, or because it disrupts our narrative and tarnishes our self-image, is cowardly at best, dangerous at worst, and dishonest either way. And honesty is paramount if we are to ever continue to progress as a society.

I feel we have a collective duty to engage in self-reflection, and to hold ourselves accountable when we don't live up to our professed American ideals. However, I feel we cannot do that without a thorough, unflinching, unpleasant dialogue with our past.

A dialogue that so many brave educators and activists are attempting to have right now. A dialogue that this President and his administration are trying their damnedest to silence.

In the end three of the four slated academies did participate. We had a lively discussion, and there were some very incisive questions from the community.

However, one did not for fear of potential consequences of stemming from an Executive Order from the White House. The fact that the film that the film Malcolm X could be considered "Anti-American" by this administration is very frightening to me.

We can't let this slide. I would encourage us all to stay vigilant, to question every single decision this administration makes, and every single word out of their mouths. Most importantly, WE HAVE TO VOTE. If we don't, we are whistling past the graveyard. K. Bye."

Trump has tried to paint the more inclusive and accurate history that academics have brought to the forefront in recent decades as a "revision" of history, when the actual revision of actual history has always been the whitewashed versions many of us grew up with. It's a bafflingly bad take to claim that being realistic and truthful about the racism that permeates American history is somehow un-American, or even worse, anti-American.

Time to return to reality and keep moving forward. Vote, vote, vote.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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