It seems that in the 1990s, training in multiculturalism could involve brainwashing or psychological abuse. How true is this of today’s anti-racism training?
Cornell in the 1990s
Almost thirty years ago a student at Cornell wrote to its president about what he saw as the brainwashing techniques used to spread the ideology of multiculturalism, or anti-racism as it might be called today, at the university, which he compared to those used by cults. His letter reminds us how peculiar are the ideas that have been being pressed on us all this time, it throws light on the behaviour of anti-racists on social media such as Twitter, and shows how thrilling it can be for White people to believe that they have behaved abominably. We might also wonder how common today is the student’s independent-mindedness.
According to Jonathan Bloedow’s letter, he first encountered multiculturalism when he attended an event arranged by a Resident Assistant that had been advertised as for Whites only. She had brought in two professors to lead a discussion about race, stereotypes, prejudice, power and privilege. When the professors’ ideas were challenged from the floor, the discussion became quite tense.
Afterwards, Bloedow and a friend continued the discussion with some students who agreed with the professors and tried to persuade the two to accept ideas that seemed to get more and more bizarre. Their argument relied on defining racism as prejudice plus power, on which basis they said that all White Americans were racist regardless of their actions or beliefs. When the anti-racists realised that they could not effectively counter their opponents’ objections, something strange happened. In frustration two of them told Bloedow and his friend that their problem was that they were thinking too much from here, pointing to their heads, instead of from here, pointing to their hearts. Bloedow wondered why both young women used the same words and gestures, which he had never heard or seen before, and surmised that they had been affected by a common source. He later spoke to other student multiculturalists, one of whom even followed him in to dinner and sat down with him to explain his new-found belief system.
Bloedow noticed that all the discussions of multiculturalism in which he had taken part had several things in common. Most striking was the peculiarity of the beliefs themselves and the simplistic nature of the explanations of complex social problems that were offered. Secondly were the formulaic phrases used. Not only did every student multiculturalist express the same ideas, they usually expressed them in the same trite words. Again Bloedow thought that this belief system must have a single source. Thirdly the multiculturalists’ ideas were new to them. They had only acquired them at Cornell. Fourthly, they were all very excited about their new beliefs. Like religious fanatics they displayed an almost frenzied devotion to them, which Bloedow found odd given the simplistic nature of the beliefs. Finally, they gave no sign of thought, seeming to have accepted the ideas without putting them through their minds. Something seemed to have snapped in them psychologically, letting the ideas in and changing the students permanently. In one case, when a couple with whom Bloedow had been good friends learned that he edited The Cornell American, which had presumably questioned multiculturalism, they were outraged and refused ever to speak to him again. When he greeted them in the street they ignored him, thinking him too evil to acknowledge. Bloedow became all the more interested in what was happening—and disturbed by it.
Suddenly everything fell into place for Bloedow when he remembered hearing of this phenomenon before. He had once attended a lecture given by someone from the Council on Mind Abuse about cults, brainwashing and mind-control, where the speaker had said that a principal aim of brainwashing was to get people to stop using their minds and start thinking with their hearts. He had explained how mind-controllers try to get people to see their minds and rational thought as their enemies.
Bloedow talked to a fellow student who had recorded his experience of multicultural training, which matched Bloedow’s own. The other student said that at the start of one session, trainees were told no fewer than four times not to think about what they were about to hear but to feel it. When the student had countered the claim that “Whites walk down the glistening sidewalk of life with everything handed to them on a silver platter” by saying that he knew White people who had lived in poverty, the other students had turned on him and screamed that he was an evil racist.
Now seriously concerned, Bloedow set out to discover all he could about brainwashing and mind control, learning among other things that mind controllers train people to respond to dissenters with harassment and abuse but to accept them warmly if they recant. When he read out parts of a book about brainwashing to his fellow student, the latter was shocked to see how accurately the book described what he had experienced. Bloedow’s scepticism gave way to the conclusion to which everything was pointing, which he found quite frightening.
He noted that all the students he came across who were possessed by the new belief system had been converted in one of three situations, the main one being the course “Racism in American Society”, taught by the chair of the Africana Studies Department and another professor. He learned that the university was thinking of making this course mandatory for all first-year students, something true of no other course.
It was later suggested to him by the former director of the Cult Awareness Network that Cornell resorted to mind-control techniques because it had only a short time in which to change students’ minds.
Jane Elliott in the 1990s
A famous “diversity trainer” active at the same time, who has won the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education, is Jane Elliott. She began her diversity training in 1968, appeared on the Johnny Carson show and has had several documentaries made about her. One from 1996 was recently shown online. Apparently she relied on psychological abuse rather than brainwashing, although psychological abuse can be an element of the brainwashing process.
When signing trainees in to a workshop, she either placed or did not place a large yellow collar round their necks. Those with collars waited in one room, the others in another.
In the uncollared room, where most trainees were Black, she explained that she had separated trainees by the colour of their eyes, putting a collar on those with blue eyes. She was going to attribute to the blue-eyed trainees every negative trait that had been attributed to Black people so that they would learn how it felt to be non-White, she said. She told the brown-eyes that the blue-eyed waiting room contained just three chairs for seventeen people and laughed. She had had the heating turned way up there. A blue-eyed person must have come in to ask if it could be turned down, because she said: “It’s hot in there? Well, then it’s probably smelly, isn’t it, because White people smell a lot, don’t they?” She wanted the blue-eyed trainees to be uncomfortable, she explained to the brown-eyed ones.
Still in the brown-eyed waiting room, she suggested that IQ tests were biased against Black people because they tested “something that they know virtually nothing about”. But IQ tests don’t test knowledge; they test the ability to see and extrapolate patterns. Jane Elliott preferred to describe a question of aptitude in problem solving, such as the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (which is a non-verbal test of abstract reasoning) as a question of knowledge. She told the brown-eyes that they would be given a test that they would pass because the test itself gave them half the answers. This would resemble the way in which White people outperformed Blacks in IQ tests because White people are given the answers on a plate. Black trainees smiled, looking forward to outdoing the blue-eyes, who would presumably take a different test, which they would fail.
She seemed to think that the reason Black people did poorly in many ways was that White people expected little of them, a theory George W Bush alluded to when in 2009 he referred to “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, sometimes known as the theory of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Expect something of someone and they will do it. If only life were that simple! Teachers could raise whole classes of dull children to the top of the academic league just by predicting that they would get there. People with no ear for music would start singing in tune if only someone prophesied that they would.
Another explanation suggested by Jane Elliott of the fact that Whites exceeded Blacks was that they were in power and had set things up so that they would remain in power. They won every game because they had invented the game and set the rules. What chance therefore did a Black person have? This was the Great Race Conspiracy Theory, which says that Whites connive to keep Blacks down. It is a classic conspiracy theory because no one has found any evidence of the conspiracy, which must therefore be going on in secret. Nor can the theory account for the abundant evidence of White people trying to help Black people in every possible way.
Jane Elliott saw “cultural bias” everywhere, sometimes where it was bound to exist, sometimes where it could not. “We use culturally biased text-books, we have culturally biased pictures on the wall”, she said, without explaining how a book or picture could fail to reflect a culture. According to her, our maps were also culturally biased, although what shape a continent might be on a culturally unbiased map she did not say.
But she made the purpose of the workshop clear to the brown-eyes: “For two and a half hours we are going to make these people look inferior and feel inferior”. Clearly this was a sadist who particularly hated White people.
In the workshop, where the blue-eyes sat on the floor while the others sat in chairs, she described White people as slow, unmotivated and lazy. How was this supposed to reflect reality? It must have been extraordinarily rare for a white person to describe a black person in this way to his face. Yet Jane Elliott relished doing this to white people. The Black trainees loved it.
The delighted Jane Elliott: Hating on White People
Posing with one of her delighted trainees
Some of her less of delighted trainees, with collars
She told those with collars that they would be treated “the way they have treated other people for a lifetime”. Even assuming that she meant White people in general rather than her White trainees in particular, how many White Americans had ever actually mistreated a Black person? The scenario was a product of Jane Elliott’s imagination, drawing on largely mythical but culture-wide dramatic categories.
If Jane Elliott had really wanted the White trainees to know what it was like to be Black, she could have asked some Black trainees to stand up and tell them, in which case how many would have said that they were commonly abused? She was pushing the idea that Black people habitually suffered at the hands of Whites without a shred of evidence that it was true. The main purpose of the workshop seemed to be to gratify her love of insulting and humiliating White people.
She did at one point invite Black trainees to speak, not about being Black but specifically about their “stress”. One said that he had been unable to rent a house because, he was told, it was occupied, and he had later seen a White couple going into it: not a very persuasive example of persecution. A woman said that she was one of only two Black teachers at her school: hardly a major problem, one would have thought, let alone a case of mistreatment. The impression was reinforced that Jane Elliott’s idea of Black suffering inflicted by Whites was a fantasy.
This stubborn attachment of many White people to the idea of Black suffering recalls the time that in the Jim Crow era a journalist interviewed a Black man who had been refused admission to a hotel. “What did you do?” asked the journalist breathlessly, perhaps hoping to hear that the Black man had had to sleep on the street. “Went to another hotel”, he said.
Anti-racism training today
It would be interesting to know how the anti-racism training courses employees must undergo today compare to the brainwashing or psycho-torture sessions held in the 1990s. It would seem from the websites of companies offering such training that they might differ in three main ways.
First, whereas in the 1990s “multicultural” or “diversity” training aimed to get it across to White people that their society was riddled with racism, today this is taken for granted. For example, a prospectus from Equality and Diversity UK states that its course aims to “support delegates to understand the role of White privilege in racism” and help them “learn more about racism both the covert/overt [sic], including Subtle Acts of Exclusion”. The existence of “racism”, “White privilege” and these “subtle acts” is presupposed rather than asserted. The course also aims to “support delegates to understand … White fragility and White saviourism”, thereby presupposing the existence of these things too. For anyone who might wonder what they are, the course will “give delegates the language … to tackle uncomfortable conversations”, as though without such jargon one would be unable to talk about race or whatever is supposed to be meant by “racism”. Yet it seems that some courses still find it necessary to inform trainees that all Whites are racist, as seen in the following picture.
All White people are racist, says this happy, edifying woman
Secondly, today’s courses do not seem to advocate feeling rather than thinking but seem to be presented as almost academically respectable. Anti-racism now appears so confident of itself that it can pose as the product of rational thought and observation. Today’s courses also present themselves as caring. With White people’s interests at heart, they want to help them and support them in their efforts to overcome various afflictions of which they might have been unaware.
Thirdly, today’s courses modestly refrain from assuming that they will turn every White trainee into an anti-racist. Rather, they stress the concept of “allyship”, whereby those who do not become anti-racists will at least become their allies so that whatever anti-racists do, they will be behind them. Thus should it turn out that the thrust of anti-racism is to attack White people, their society and their culture, its new allies will also attack White people, their society and their culture.
Perhaps readers who have attended anti-racism training recently will tell us about it in the comments section below.
 The letter formed the main part of an article entitled “Does Cornell Use Brainwashing?” which I downloaded in 2001 and can now be accessed at: https://web.archive.org/web/20041221045833/http://www.mugu.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/Issues/education/Does_Cornell_Use_Brainwashing.html Unfortunately it does now record the author’s name or the date of publication. I would guess that the letter, if not the article, was written in 1994. It cannot have been earlier since it mentions the Waco incident, which occurred in 1993, nor can it have been much later since it refers to multiculturalism as something new.
 Resident Assistants at Cornell, apparently called house advisors or junior counsellors at other American colleges, were senior students employed by the university to live among younger ones as “the extension of the administration into residential life”.
 The former director of the Cult Awareness Network was Ron Loomis.
 Dramatic categories are mental devices for perceiving events, which can make it easier to believe in myths than facts. “Certain unverbalized assumptions about what must be the case can often defeat what actually is the case,” wrote the philosopher John Searle when discussing the student uprisings at Berkeley in the 1960s. He gave as an example of a dramatic category: “oppressed minority wins struggle for justice against reactionary authorities”. This contrasted with “oppressed minority engages in pointless battle with authorities for something they are prepared to give anyhow”, which was not a dramatic category and so no one could see events in those terms. See John Searle, 1972, The Campus War, Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 73-77. The unverbalised dramatic category that Jane Elliott drew on and promulgated was basically that Whites were horrible to Blacks.
 Equality and Diversity UK, no date (downloaded March 2023), “Anti Racism Training Course”, https://www.equalityanddiversity.co.uk/anti-racism-training.html.