How a 28-year-old is fighting ‘divisive’ antiracism training

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How a 28-year-old is fighting ‘divisive’ antiracism training

Anti-racism training has subsumed corporate America. Nearly all Fortune 500 companies employ some kind of program promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), which has bloated to a billion-dollar industry.

The only problem? Studies show these programs don’t work. DEI curricula can be incredibly divisive — from Coca-Cola training workers to be “less white” to schools separating students by race. In mainstream academia, the very idea of “whiteness” has been demonized as a problem that must be fixed.

But there is another way. Chloé Valdary, a 28-year-old from Brooklyn, is proving it.

Valdary offers a pro-human, non-divisive approach to anti-racist training, called the Theory of Enchantment, which is also catching on with companies and nonprofits across the US. Clients — including TikTok, WeWork and Second Harvest Food Bank — have all hired her to train their workers in a kinder, more constructive way.

Valdary’s piloted six-week curriculum, promoting the concept of agape (or “wide open”) love, draws from a wide range of materials — from Maya Angelou and James Baldwin to “The Lion King” and Kendrick Lamar — to bring people together rather than pit them apart.

Valdary urges her participants to embrace love rather than division in her training sessions, and uses pop-culture references to help foster better connections.
Valdary urges participants to embrace love rather than division in her training sessions, and uses pop-culture references to help foster better connections.
Veronica Grimm

She has done away with unconscious bias training, segregating co-workers by race, and placing blame on abstract “systems.” Instead, she promotes stoicism and a self-love that leads to community love.

“Enchantment . . . is a state of being where you’re in a healthy relationship with yourself, which allows you to have a healthy relationship with others,” Valdary told me. “If we want to teach people how to love, we have to ask what people are already in love with. That’s why I use pop-culture references to reinforce my teachings.”

Her trainings promote three core principles: Treat people like human beings instead of political abstractions; criticize to uplift and empower rather than tear down or destroy; and, root everything you do in love and compassion — harking back to the Christian principles of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to her six-week program, Valdary also offers self-paced training as well as 90-minute courses that introduce teams to a particular principle or exercise.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, corporate America released panicked statements responding to social unrest while also adopting antiracism training, which Valdary said has fueled further polarization.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, corporate America released panicked statements responding to social unrest while also adopting antiracism training, which Valdary said has fueled further polarization.
AFP via Getty Images

In her training, Valdary asks participants to imagine someone in their personal lives who behaves badly and consequently makes them feel superior. Then, she asks participants to apply that same dynamic in different contexts. “The purpose is to develop a spiritual discipline against the politics of resentment,” Valdary said.

“So much bigotry and prejudice comes from insecurity. We take what we don’t like about ourselves and project that onto others,” she said. “Instead of doing that, we can get in the right relationship with ourselves, our imperfections. It’s an incredibly difficult task, but if we can get right with ourselves first, it would go a long way in bringing us together.”

Valdary’s beliefs are rooted in her upbringing. Born and bred in New Orleans, her family attended the Seventh-Day Sabbatarian Christian Intercontinental Church of God, which observed mainstream Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, rather than Christian ones.

“It gave me a kind of insider-outsider relationship to both traditions, and an insider-outsider relationship to the world in general,” she said.

Around the time she enrolled at the University of New Orleans in 2011, majoring in international studies, anti-Semitism began to tick up in France and around Europe.

As an international relations student, Valdary closely monitored the Israel-Palestine conflict, noting that no geopolitical strategies had managed to solve the violence. Meanwhile, “there’s no conversation about love.”
As an international relations student, Valdary closely monitored the Israel-Palestine conflict, noting that no geopolitical strategies had managed to solve the violence. Meanwhile, “there’s no conversation about love.”
AFP via Getty Images

“I was naturally allergic to anti-Semitism because I grew up with so many aspects of Jewish culture around me,” Chloé said. So, she started an Israel Club on her campus in 2012.

She also started thinking critically about Israel-Palestine relations and the strategies that had failed to quell the conflict. “There were all these different philosophies about how to combat conflict and pursue diplomatic measures in geopolitics, but there’s no conversation about love.”

When she graduated in 2015, Valdary became a Bartley Fellow and Tikvah Fellow at The Wall Street Journal, where she was partially funded by the Tikvah Foundation, which promotes “Jewish excellence.” There, she developed a thesis on how love can solve conflicts, and her Theory of Enchantment was born.

At first, Valdary created a curriculum for high-school students — stringing together social-emotional learning, character development and interpersonal growth — and started delivering lectures at Harvard, Georgetown and even TED.

“At first things were relatively slow,” she said. “But then 2020 happened.”

After the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests, and panicked corporate statements responding to social unrest, Valdary had a revelation: “All of a sudden, companies were in search of trainings that could help them have conversations about race, but DEI programs take an approach that is oftentimes hostile, oftentimes lacking in empathy, and oftentimes perpetuating stereotypes about both black and white people alike.” 

Valdary started making podcast appearances and writing pieces about the failures of DEI training, which led to profiles in outlets on both sides of the ideological spectrum — from The Atlantic to Reason Magazine and Megyn Kelly’s podcast.

This year, she hopes to expand her online course even further, helping as many people as possible focus on what unites us rather than drives us apart.

Concludes Valdary: “It’s the only thing that can counter racism in the long term.”

Rikki Schlott is a student, journalist, activist and fellow at FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

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