Whites disposable: American county creates race-specific ‘grounding space’ to escape ‘whiteness’ during pandemic

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‘Multnomah County is acting lawfully,’ spokesperson declares.

In a daily report dedicated to news updates and guidance for county employees fighting the coronavirus, an Oregon county in the Portland area said it was creating a safe “grounding space” for minority staff to escape a predominant “whiteness.”

The April 5 “situation report” from the Multnomah County Office of Emergency Operations Center announced that the “Emergency Operations Center Equity Officer is hosting a grounding space for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) employees to share, heal, connect, and get grounded in a space that is not dominated by whiteness.”

Heather Mac Donald, a Stanford-trained attorney and fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research who writes about policing, homeless advocacy, criminal-justice reform and race relations, told Just the News that Multnomah County’s actions are particularly disturbing during a time of emergency.

“Identity politics long ago jumped from the university into the world at large, above all, into highly receptive government agencies and social service groups,” Mac Donald said. “It is of course outrageous that any alleged public health or service organization would spend any energy on reinforcing racial victimology and racial discrimination during this time of allegedly overburdened public health systems. But race hatred has been so baked into many government agencies by now that it is par for the course.”

Ron Christie, an African-American and senior staffer in the George W. Bush administration who was instrumental in getting federal backing for the The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution, told Just the News that he found Multnomah County’s initiative to be “unconscionable.”

“If what has been reported in Portland is true, that people are being identified and classified based on racial or ethnic characteristics, it continues a disturbing trend that we‘ve seen for the past several years, where public and private institutions are seemingly self-segregating in a time when we just had the first African-American president for eight years,” Christie said in an interview. 

Christie, an attorney, BBC’s North American Political Analyst, author of “Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush’s West Wing,” and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said actions like Multnomah County’s set back racial progress in America.

“If Brown v. Board of Education was truly a landmark Supreme Court case that overturned the notion of separate but equal, and [ruled] that we are all equal, we’re all Americans, we’re all afforded the same privileges and protections under the Constitution, it fits a disturbing pattern of late that people are ignoring the historical progress [achieved]” Christie said,”and instead are seeking to resegregate, but in this notion, it’s people of color who are seeking to do this, which is unconscionable.”

Multnomah County dismissed any notion that a government entity hosting a race-specific “grounding space” as a haven from “whiteness” could raise constitutional concerns or furnish grounds for a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.

“Multnomah County is acting lawfully,” Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, Multnomah County communications director, said in a statement to Just the News. “The space excludes no one. It is based on shared lived experience not identity. The same way our employee resource groups for veterans, parents, and people with a disability are based on life experience and not identity. All are welcome here.”

Mac Donald, author of the book, “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture,” told Just the News she was doubtful about the success of filing an EEOC complaint against the county.

“Given that state constitutional amendments have been required to get rid of overt race preferences in government, and governments sponsor all sort of white privilege workshops, I am not sure about an EEOC complaint,” she said.

Multnomah County did not specifically respond to a question about whether, given the disproportionate number of African-American fatalities associated with the coronavirus, reportedly due to existing underlying health conditions, it was concerned a self-segregating initiative could stigmatize minority individuals by further isolating them from the broader community.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, an African-American, has offered advice during the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings and other settings specifically for the black community on how to improve their chances of successfully fighting the virus.

“I am not aware of the specifics of the situation in Oregon,” Dr. Adams said in a statement to Just the News. “From a health perspective, we know people of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. It is important we acknowledge not only the physical toll this epidemic is having on vulnerable communities, but also the mental and emotional tolls. I hope all communities will have a conversation about the best ways to support those within their communities who are at risk during this difficult time.”

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