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Why Is American Express Blocking An Audit Of Its Race-Based Staff Training?

American Express building
Image CreditFlickr/Ken Lund

American Express pledged a whopping $1 billion to advance “social justice,” yet the company is trying to hide some of those supposed racial justice efforts from the light of day.

Recently, the company’s top lawyer petitioned the federal government seeking its permission to block the contents of American Express’s race-based employee training programs, among other racial initiatives, from public view. The feds should not abide the charge card giant’s attempted obfuscation.

The American Express legal request came after we at the Free Enterprise Project filed a shareholder resolution asking the company to conduct a racial-equity audit, including of its race-based employee trainings, and to issue a report on its findings.

American Express argues that shareholders don’t have a right to view these materials. It asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for permission to remove our proposal from its annual proxy statement. If its lawyers prevail, AmEx will disenfranchise its investors by denying them the right to vote on our resolution.

But if the company’s racial trainings are noble and worthy of its employees’ time, why would American Express seek to block its shareholders from viewing and evaluating them? Surely if the company thinks its materials are helping with the “task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage,” as one of its leaked training materials states, then it would want those lessons shared near and far. Perhaps the charge card company’s protestations mean that what is known about these re-education programs are only the tip of the iceberg — and what is known is damning. 

AmEx Borrows from CRT Playbook

In August, an AmEx whistleblower provided journalist Christopher Rufo a slew of documents that are part of the company’s “Anti-Racism Initiative.” The program is a treasure trove of racist tripe right out of the critical race theory playbook.

For example, employees must rate their levels of privilege — based on skin-surface characteristics — and then if members of a subordinate group are present in a room, one must defer to them before one speaks. So, if, for example, a black female is present in a room, all white folks should stay silent until that black female gives her opinion or analysis of the topic.

Just out of curiosity, as a straight white male who holds the most senior position at the firm, does American Express Chief Executive Officer Stephen Squeri need to wait for everyone else in the room to speak before chiming in? Those meetings must take forever.

At one notable event as part of this initiative, AmEx invited Khalil Muhammad — a descendant of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad — to tell the employees of a charge card company that capitalism is rooted in racism. All this uncovered insanity is part of why we are seeking the company’s full slate of potentially racist bilge through our shareholder proposal.

What’s to Hide?

Why would an AmEx whistleblower expose a company’s practices if they are all above board and increase corporate productivity and moral? The programs are clearly causing discord within the halls of American Express and much of corporate America. The rest of AmEx’s “anti-racism initiative” is likely horrifyingly worse since the firm is expending scarce legal resources (and shareholder money) to try and block our resolution.

We firmly believe that our proposal would help AmEx, its employees, its shareholders, and other similarly situated corporations. Employee trainings should be designed to increase worker morale and productivity. As we note in our proposal: “[t]raining materials that are too controversial or toxic to release to shareholders are necessarily inappropriate for use with employees, so that publication will increase executive thoughtfulness and decrease overall company risk, to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

Will the Biden administration’s SEC do the right thing and allow our proposal to go forward? After all, President Biden and his allies regularly tout CRT-type trainings and he reimposed them on federal workers after President Trump ended the practice. If Biden’s SEC agrees with him that these trainings are valid and upright, they should have no qualms about allowing our resolution to proceed to AmEx’s shareholders for a vote.