America’s Re-education Camps

America’s Re-education Camps

Wendy McElroy

by Wendy McElroy
June/July 2001

This article originally appeared in Heterodoxy magazine.
An abbreviated version appeared on

In December 2000, Carlos Martinez was reinstated as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado by order of a District Court Judge who called his expulsion “an arbitrary and capricious exercise of authority.” I disagree. Martinez’s expulsion was part of a conscious and deliberate strategy within academia to coercively embed political correctness within the psychology of students, leaving them no sphere for individual value judgments.

Martinez had been suspended in December 1999 because the tone of his voice in some phone calls had created “a hostile atmosphere.” Apparently upset over the grade on an exam, he had phoned a female staff member at her office to request an appointment and complained when he was refused. No threats were uttered but — fully five months after the calls occurred — the staffer filed a police report claiming that they had made her fear for her safety. (Fortunately, tapes of the conversations later exonerated Martinez of wrong-doing.) In February 2000, his “punishment” was reduced to probation, a letter of apology and attendance at an anger management seminar. He refused and was summarily expelled without the hearing required by University policy.

In the controversy over Martinez’s expulsion, one aspect of the unsavory incident is often ignored. Or, perhaps, it has become so commonplace that no one remarks upon it any more. Namely, the university sentenced Martinez to penance through a public confession and to the re-education of his values through psychological therapy. The purpose of the mandatory training — whether it is anger management, sexual harassment awareness, diversity training, etc. — is to change a human being’s basic values to conform with the PC view of race or gender. Compliance can hardly be called voluntary. For Martinez, refusal was tantamount to canceling years of his life and crippling his career.

On university campuses today, the slightest remark can cause a “offender” to be sentenced to public confessions and “re-education” of their values. Consider Christopher Monson, known as an activist for minority access to universities. He argued that because his University — St. Cloud State (Minnesota) — was publicly funded, it was legally required to permit public access to campus grounds. Specifically, it should allow credit-card companies to solicit. To deny them public access, he commented, would be similar to “not allowing blacks on campus.” For his analogy, Monson was sentenced to racial sensitivity training.

Academia’s attempt to forcible impose personal values on “offenders” is not limited to the student body. Professors who make comments deemed sexist or racism, who ask too few questions of female/black students, or who assign the wrong reading assignments can be forced to apologize and undergo sensitivity training in order to preserve their jobs and future. Nor is the witch-hunt restricted to public utterances or behavior. In 1995, four male students at Cornell authored and privately circulated a joke entitled “75 reasons why women should not have freedom of speech.” They were sentenced to public apologies, sensitivity seminars and fifty hours of community service.

Political Correctness is a term coined by the New Left to describe their political and cultural ideology, which blends radical traditions such as Marxism and gender feminism. Some aspects of the ideology are well-known. For example, the use of class analysis to ascribe collective guilt to every individual within an “offending” group. Thus, every man is guilty of oppressing women even if he — as an individual — has never harmed the opposite sex. Being male means that he benefits from women’s subjugation.

One of the major goals of PC ideology is to enforce a mandatory “sensitivity” through which a re-education of values can occur. In American universities, sensitivity is enforced through speech codes, propaganda in the classroom, and diversity training sessions. Critics sometimes hurl the accusation of “Hypocrisy!” at their PC opponents who show anything but sensitivity to whites, males, conservatives, Christians, or anyone else whose values differ. In this, the critics are wrong. When PC pundits mandate a cruel and one-sided sensitivity, they are being fully consistent with their own principles and methodology.

Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate realize this. In “The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses,” a book that dissects PC academe, Kors and Silverglate write of “Marcuse’s Revenge.” During the 1960s and ’70s, the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse was heralded as “father of the New Left” in both Europe and the United States. His book, “Repressive Tolerance” (1965), persuaded a generation of New Leftists that words were never neutral and that both freedom of speech and of assembly were tools of oppression in current society. In order to achieve genuine freedom, it was first necessary to repress the words, ideas and deeds that subjugated the disadvantaged. It was necessary to suppress pro-capitalist, conservative voices. Where better to suppress ideas than at their source — schools and universities. As Joseph Stalin once commented, Joseph Stalin said, “Education is a weapon whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”

The “repressive intolerance” within academia is coupled with a belief that human beings are social constructs. That is, our values, psychology, and sexuality — the very essence of our humanity — is the result of society’s programming. It becomes necessary for the bad social construction to be demolished and replaced by proper programming. This is the goal of sensitivity or diversity training which often involve psychologically brutalizing attendees.

This fall, universities across the United States will be conducting freshman orientations that will almost certainly include diversity training, for which attendance is usually mandatory and often tax-funded. During this training, students will watch films, join discussions, and participate in sociological exercises designed to shake the values that have acquired from their culture and families. Two of the most popular diversity training films are entitled “Blue Eyed”

The 90-minute “Blue Eyed” documents an experiment conducted by Jane Elliott, a $6,000 a day sensitivity trainer, in which a group of forty people are divided into blue eyed and brown eyed people. Thereafter, the former are psychologically brutalized and the latter are psychologically empowered as an object lesson in white racism. Elliott declares that this is what Newt Gingrich has been doing to minorities for years. The salvation of white people lies in their frank admission of guilt and their efforts to eliminate hidden racism and sexism from society. It lies in the rooting out of subtle oppression such as the use of the name “Betty,” which she serves to “infantilize women.”

Hugh Vasquez’s “Skin Deep” documents a workshop on race that was attended by twenty-three students. One section of the accompanying Study Guide — the section entitled “White Privilege” — declares that white privilege controls all power in society and that whites must choose to continue hating or they must assume their guilt. In the section entitled Political Correctness,” Vasquez writes, “The challenges to political correctness tend to come from those who want to be able to say anything without repercussions.” According to Vasquez, those who advocate free speech promote the sort of irresponsible use of language that led to the death of six million Jews during the reign of Nazi Germany. The solution to racism is for white people to become “allies” (protectors and advocates) of blacks, for straight to become allies of gays, etc.

Requiring attendance and sentencing offenders to sensitivity training has caused some critics to make comparisons to Soviet psychiatry and the re-education camps of some Communist countries, such as Maoist China. Such camps were actually detention centers in which selected prisoners, including many who politically opposed the Communist regime, were subjected to brutal political indoctrination. Re-education replaced bad personal attitudes with correct social ones that served the purpose of the State. The authorities responsible generally describe the re-education as a necessary and humanitarian means of allowing dissidents to take their place in the “ideal” society.

In an excellent article entitled “Thought Reform 101” (Reason, March 2000) Professor Alan Charles Kors, co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education <> described the sadism with which Elliott routinely humiliates whites who are forced to attend, reducing many to tearful confessions of previously unknown guilt. He explicitly compares the diversity training to Communist re-education camps. It is a comparison worth pursuing through an exploration of the shared assumptions and procedures of the camps, gleaned from first-hand accounts, with the guidelines offered in the Facilitator/Study Guides that accompany “Blue Eyed” and “Skin Deep.”

Some Shared Assumptions and Procedures

1. No individuals, only classes. After the Vietnam War, “war criminals” were detained in re-education camps, sometimes for several years. According to the Indochina Newsletter (October-November 1982), the “war criminals” sent to camps in June 1975 included “nearly 400 writers, poets and journalists and over 2,000 religious leaders, including 194 Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant chaplains, and 516 Catholic priests and fathers.” Although many of the prisoners undoubtedly believed they had nothing wrong as individuals, their class affiliation is what defined them as criminals.

Elliott, creator of “Blue Eyed” maintains that “A person who has been raised and socialized in America has been conditioned to be a racist… We live in two countries, one black and one white.” In the facilitator/Study Guide to “Skin Deep,” diversity expert Frances E. Kendall explains, “Privilege, particularly White or male privilege, is hard to see because many White people don’t feel powerful or as if they have privileges that others do not.

2. Confession of Class Guilt is Required. One of the standard procedures encouraged by re-education camps is a confession of guilt and public criticism of others. The IndoChina Newsletter offered an account of a detainee, “Following the written confessions were the public confessions in which prisoners would confess their ‘crimes’ before the camp authorities and other prisoners. Prisoners were encouraged to criticize each other’s confessions, said a former prisoner, which was ‘very effective in getting us to hate each other.’ The more ‘crimes’ a prisoner confessed, the more he is praised as ‘progressive’ by camp authorities. In diversity training, participants are encouraged to explore and acknowledge their class guilt. Indeed, for those sentenced to the training, a public confession is mandatory. This applies to professors who participate as well. The Guide to “Skin Deep,” in the section entitled Working with Faculty and Staff, declares,

“Most faculty and staff are likely to have grown up and/or currently live in monocultural environments. Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are often not acknowledged as reflections of a particular racial group (white), ethnic heritage (European) or gender orientation (male). Although faculty and staff are not responsible for the culture-specific beliefs with which they grew up, they are surely responsible for examining and questioning them as adults and as educators.”

(An irony of the confessions forced in re-education camps is that authorities often use them to retroactively justify the camps. Thus, the Hanoi government wrote to Amnesty International in 1981, “In all cases of people being sent to re-education camps the competent Vietnamese authorities have established files recording the criminal acts committed by the people concerned.” Similarly, the apologies that offenders are sentenced to provide and the confession of students in diversity programs are used to justify the programs themselves.)

3. False Consciousness Must Be Erased. Just as oppressors must consciously acknowledge their guilt, the oppressed must be made aware of their subjugation.

The Leninist concept of “false consciousness,” springs largely from his book “What is to be Done?” False consciousness refers a class’ acceptance of the myths about itself. For example, the workers’ acceptance of bourgeois myths about society, such as the notion that people “rise on merit” or the economic principle “of supply and demand.” It is false consciousness that prevents workers from perceiving their true class interests toward which they must be educated.

In “Skin Deep”‘s Guide, Vasquez speaks of “internalized oppression” which is defined as “taking on and believing the stereotypes or lies” about “your group.” In other words, everyone in a class that has been “targeted for mistreatment and discrimination” has internalized their oppression to “some degree” — e.g. blacks and women — and must be educated toward a true understanding of themselves.

4. Alternate Ideologies Must be Suppressed. Re-education camps often target religious groups, such as the followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, because religion represents a strong alternate value system. It is a supporting pillar of false consciousness. In similar fashion, diversity training involves systematic denegration of alternate value systems such as conservatism. In “Blue Eyed,” Elliott tells a “white male” whom she has humiliated into submission that “what I just did…today Newt Gingrich is doing to you every day…and you are submitting to that, submitting to oppression.” In “Skin Deep,” Vasquez psychoanalyzes those who support affirmative action. For example, reverse discrimination is a myth because any ‘discrimination’ whites experience is a necessary re-education that makes them aware of black oppression. As Elliott explains, “A new reality is going to be created for these people.”

5. Such Suppression Requires Thought Control. In his book “Enfer Rouge, Mon Amour,” Lucien Trong wrote of the thought control exercised in the re-education camp where he was confined. Prisoners were not permitted to read the words published in magazines and books from the former regime, to sing the words of old songs, to have ‘unauthorized’ political discussions or to speak to the camp personnel with anything but reverence. In the Study Guide to “Skin Deep,” Vasquez writes, Language is one of the institutions that serve to perpetuate racism…Thus, language is a critical element in eliminating the mistreatment of any group…Should we be ‘politically correct?’ Of course we should if what we mean by this is eliminating language that is part of how mistreatment is perpetuated.”

6. Family Ties Must Be Weakened. Another tactic of re-education camps is to break the loyalty and affiliation that prisoners naturally feel toward their families who often offer an alternate system of values. A Vietnamese prisoner wrote, “When making declarations about relatives, we had to make mention of their guilt as well. For example, when I stated that my grandfather had been a civil servant, I had to add that he belonged to the feudalistic social category.” In “Skin Deep,” a student named Dane admits his family’s racist guilt: “No way I can step back and change that (great grandparents fighting in the confederacy).” He comments, “It’s tough choosing what’s right and choosing your family.”

7. The Propagandists have Noble Intentions. The intentions of those who run the re-education camps are always expressed in noble and humanitarian terms, no matter how egregious the violation of rights may be. In the Los Angeles Times (January 9, 1998), journalist David Lamb reported on a “re-education camp for women with ‘social disorders'” — that is, for prostitutes. The camp director was quoted as saying, “We think of this as a humanitarian program. I try and try and try to explain why prostitution is wrong and why these women should learn to contribute to society. And if they don’t understand today, then I try again tomorrow.” Presumably, they are not released until they understand. The goal is not to destroy the enemy but to capture his/her free will.

The noble motive of Elliott, Vasquez and their advocates is to end racism, sexism, agism, ableism, heterosexism…just about every type of nonPC ‘ism’ in existence. The Study Guide describes the $6,000-a-day Elliot as a courageous pioneer in racism awareness training who has endured great personal pain for her stand — though she admits to having been “only confronted once by her colleagues. To add urgency to her mission, Elliott paints a picture of dire and increasing need for racism to be destroyed. For example, increased immigration is exacerbating the racial warfare within our culture. For spreading such historically inaccurate and racist statements, e.g. ‘whites invented racism,’ she is viewed with such benevolence that Disney is doing a movie of her life.

Vasquez also paints a bleak and urgent picture, opening his film with news footage of blacks being attacked, physically and verbally. From personal contact, Kors reports that Vasquez considers himself to be “devoted to eliminating ‘blame, ridicule, judgements, guilt, and shame’…But his effect, whatever his intention, is frightening, atavistic, and irrational, and his means are deeply intrusive.”

8. The Effect is to Heighten Anger and Division. At <> a re-education prisoner reported on the effect camp policy had upon the cohesiveness and good will of inmates. “[To] turn prisoners against each other by reading them [confessions] aloud to the group and asking anyone who had knowledge of anything left out or of lies in the statement to step forward.” The prisoners came to suspect, resent and hate each other, looking at the those sitting to each side as ‘the enemy.’ A program of planned confrontation — of denunciation and public criticism — systematically eroded any cohesion or co-operation among inmates.

The Guide to “Blue Eyed” describes Elliott as “unrelenting in her ridicule and humiliation of the blue-eyed people [whites]” while “the participants of color watch as white people” feel their guilt for racism. Whites are admonished to “hear people of color, no matter what tone or phrasing they use.” At the same time, they are warned, “don’t expect people of color to bleed on the floor for white people.”

The success of Vasquez’s self-stated devotion to eliminating “blame, ridicule, judgements, guilt, and shame” may be judged by some representative comments from attendees:

Brian: (Speaking about going to college amidst diverse groups) “I couldn’t bridge both worlds if it comes to a choice I’m going with my people…”

Khanh [Asian]: “White people…you were taught to love yourself.”

Judith: “I will not be less angry. I’m not here to tell you pretty things, that it will be all right…”

Mark: “(You) can’t keep blaming me…don’t categorize all white people, or you’re just doing the same thing right back”

The goal of such confrontations and expressions of racial hostility within diversity seminars are also said to be noble. In order to evolve into a society in which people love each other without ‘isms,’ it is necessary to brutalize different classes into appropriate awareness. This, too, was the goal of re-education camps. To brutalize prisoners into rehabilitated human beings who could re-enter Communist society. Both are reminiscent of Marx’s willingness to erect a totalitarian state in the belief that it would someday wither away and a happy anarchy would prevail. The only problem was that the envisioned New Soviet Man never emerged from the tens of millions of corpses that resulted from this social experiment.

Speech codes and mandatory diversity training, the sentencing of “offenders” to public confessions and psychology retraining must be opposed. The diversity industry, in which top experts can charge as much as $35,000 for conducting a cultural audit or $3,000 an hours for a lecture, must cease to be funded by tax-dollars and by companies or foundations who wish to bolster their image of social concern. Parents who wish to nurture the individual indentity and personal values of their children must the coercive indoctrination of political correctness into the souls of their offspring. Students and professors need to follow the example of Carlos Martinez and say “no.”
Wendy McElroy is a weekly columnist for, writing under the title “The ifeminist” — a column that is widely reposted on the Internet. She is the editor of the feminist website which grows by approximately 10% each month. McElroy is also a research fellow at the Independent Institute, and contributing editor to Ideas on Liberty (formerly The Freeman), The New Libertarian, Free Inquiry, and Liberty magazines. Her writing has appeared in such diverse periodicals as National Review, Marie Claire, and Penthouse.

by Wendy McElroy

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    Copyright © 2001 Wendy McElroy and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.

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