Meet the Theater Teacher Who Stood Up to 'Anti-Racist' Activists at the Height of the 2020 Moral Panic

Earlier this year, while working as a visiting teaching artist at a New York City public high school, theater director Kevin Ray pitched a potential lecture about plays involving magical realism, since his students were reading a book of that genre at the time.

"They didn't want that," Ray told National Review. Instead, the teachers asked Ray to develop and teach a workshop on "Theater and Toxic Masculinity," he said.

"I refused to do that because I believe criticizing and demonizing teenagers based on their identity is cruel bullying," Ray said. He was transferred to a different class over his objection, and no one at the school explained to him what New York state academic standard would be fulfilled by teaching so-called toxic masculinity in an English Language Arts class.

The theater nonprofit that placed Ray in the high school agreed that teaching about toxic masculinity was an inappropriate use of his talents. But the teachers’ insistence that he focus his lesson on progressive grievance politics suggests the moral panic around race that followed the murder of George Floyd still holds sway in New York City’s K–12 education system, particularly in cultural spaces such as the performing arts.

When the wave of progressive racial activism crested in the summer of 2020, Ray was working with New 42, a leading performing-arts group whose mission is to get young people interested in theater. The organization leaned hard into the leftist preoccupation with diversity, equity, and inclusion that dominated cultural institutions across the country in those early months of the pandemic, demonizing "whiteness" in its communications with employees and creating a hostile workplace in the process, according to a complaint Ray filed in federal court.

"We acknowledge how essential it is for us to re-think and dismantle white-centered practices that have been embedded in our nonprofit for decades and have caused harm and pain," reads the "Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging" page on New 42's website.

This preoccupation with rooting out racism came to define Ray's experience at New 42. For many months, he documented a hostile environment laced with insults, stereotypes, and race-based discrimination packaged as "anti-racism," according to the complaint, first published by the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism, a nonprofit that represented Ray in the suit.

In over 70 emails exchanged between staff, countless workplace training sessions, and other interactions with his colleagues, Ray watched as an obsession with race corrupted New 42's educational mission.

As the incidents mounted, Ray sent a letter to the New 42 human-resources department, but instead of helping him navigate a difficult situation, they immediately "hired attorneys to investigate," he said. Rather than putting a stop to what he saw as illegal discrimination, the company retaliated by refusing to give him any further work assignments, according to the complaint.

New 42 "doubled down" on their divisive ideology, Ray said, and circulated as required reading a paper by activist author Tema Okun titled "White Supremacy Culture," which states, "whiteness is a death sentence."

"Do they also want the children of New York City to know this? Why are they sending that around to staff if they don't?" Ray asked in a documentary about his case produced by FAIR.

In response, Ray sued, alleging violations of his civil rights. New 42 and Ray recently reached an agreement that prevented the case from going to trial, but neither FAIR nor New 42 would comment on its terms.

Ray first realized New 42 was entirely captured by a commitment to “anti-racism” when leadership began segregating employees by skin color for some meetings and diversity trainings, he alleged in the complaint. The sessions required RSVPs and offered alternative, segregated trainings for black, Hispanic, or Asian teaching artists.

New 42, which receives some federal and state funding, also circulated materials to staff members claiming that white people should have separate "affinity groups" because "racism is a white problem."

White individuals would not be welcome in certain discussions with minority staff because they lack the qualifications and intelligence for them, the materials suggested. The documents shared with staff said that "mixed race dialogues are often inappropriate for White people, given that placing White folks in interracial dialogue is like placing pre-algebra students in a calculus class," the complaint added.

"White people need something akin to a remedial course," the document said.

New 42’s management then went a step further by demanding that white employees admit to guilt and agree to punishment before joining the race conversation. "White groups will replicate the worse facets of dominant culture, so White folks who participate in affinity groups must be explicit about their desire to be held accountable for anti-racism," read one hand-out distributed to staff.

New 42, the legal filing alleges, hired the Glasgow Group, a DEI consulting firm, to better achieve its “anti-racist” objectives. One of the four pillars of the firm's services is to make privileged employees "experience discomfort" by subjecting them to "cognitive dissonance" that will ostensibly pressure them to reform their bigoted thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

In a video obtained by FAIR, CEO Rodney Glasgow told colleagues that "the upset that we're seeing, is because we're doing the work."

Ray also said that the company would often begin meetings with a ritual in which employees would be asked to disclose their home address and apologize for living on land stolen from Native Americans.

One email to staff, Ray alleged, demanded that he and other white employees, who were singled out as the "Non-Black members of our ensemble," pay back their meeting fees in the form of reparations to a black colleague who called them out on a Zoom call for being complicit in intra-company racism.

New 42's infatuation with identity grievance politics is widespread in the arts-in-education universe, Ray said.

"This specific incident has ended for me, but the underlying problem is still very present," he said. "We are still in a context in theater where identity grievance politics rebranded as so-called social justice is taking over everything."

In April, Ray became aware of a professional development conference called Face 2 Face, hosted by the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable, which was focused on training instructors to deliver quality arts programming to schools. He planned to attend but skipped it in protest after he learned the workshops were riddled with woke language.

One session, titled "Honoring Radical Pedagogies in the Creative Writing Curriculum," was supposed to explore "how specific pedagogies can dismantle dominant learning traditions within western education," according to a brochure of the event reviewed by National Review. In another workshop, "Community Building Through Anti-Racist Practices," participants were asked to consider their "aspirations for moving toward developing practices, policies, and procedures that subvert the racist norms of the capitalist systems they operate within."

"How is this applicable to a kindergarten arts workshop?" Ray asked. "I don't have an expertise in politics and neither do kindergartners."

The dogma being fed to the teachers will ultimately filter down to students, Ray added.

Another session discussed gender theory, asking participants to brainstorm how to make education and theater inclusive for transgender-identifying or gender-fluid students. In a workshop titled "How to Build a Black Utopia," participants are directed to "practice a joy-based framework of trauma-informed arts rituals and responses that build upon indigenous and endogenous wisdom."

The theater world has also been infected by the modern education system's focus on "social-emotional learning," in which students are constantly made to discuss their emotional states and bombarded with mental-health check-ins. Ray said its proponents argue that theater deals with emotions and feelings all the time, therefore it's important to infuse lessons with a focus on mental health.

But in theater, "it's the emotions of the character, not the person" acting that matters, he said.

"You're asking me to ask a second grader to differentiate between themselves and the character. They can't think that way. As a 50-year-old, I don't always know how I'm feeling," he said. "We're going to ask a second grader as part of a theater activity? And when I find out, what am I supposed to do about that?"

But when you challenge progressive orthodoxy in theater, you will face backlash, Ray said. Some of his former employers have shunned him since the New 42 case came to light.

Ultimately, the obsession with racial identity is being imposed top-down by activist educators; it’s not something that most parents want their children exposed to, Ray said.

"The arts has too many adults foisting political paranoias onto children. I don't hear about parents who are going to the school saying 'you must teach my children race essentialism, you must teach my children that gender is a spectrum.’ I'm not hearing that from parents, but I am hearing it from a lot of artists," he said.

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Meet the Theater Teacher Who Stood Up to 'Anti-Racist' Activists at the Height of the 2020 Moral Panic

Kevin Ray sued his employer, an education nonprofit, after his colleagues’ anti-white discrimination created ... READ MORE


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