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Nicole Levitt: Woke Ideology Is Corrupting the Mission of My Employer, One of the Largest Domestic Violence Nonprofits in America

“There was no way I was going to sign a statement saying that I was racist or that all white people were racist or that all of any race was anything. So I refused to sign it.”

Nicole Levitt, an attorney who represents domestic violence survivors, recently filed a discrimination complaint against her employer, Women Against Abuse, for, among other things, asking white staffers to sign declarations that all white people are racist, including themselves, she says.

She shares her story with us, and why she believes woke ideology has corrupted the mission of her employer, one of the largest domestic violence nonprofits in America.

“There were a lot of discussions about defunding the police … [but] our clients need the police to stop the abuse. … What is the social worker going to do in one of these violent situations? Domestic violence situations are some of the most deadly calls for police officers,” Levitt says.

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Jan Jekielek:

Nicole Levitt, Such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Nicole Levitt:

Thank you for having me.

Mr. Jekielek:

Nicole, you work for one of the largest domestic violence nonprofits in America, Women Against Abuse. You went into this because this was a very important issue for you. But sometime in the summer of 2020, you realized that something was really amiss. Tell me about what happened.

Ms. Levitt:

After George Floyd was killed, my organization, just like organizations all across the country, had DEI trainings and seminars and racial justice meetings. It was okay at first, but then it started getting excessive. It came to a point where I felt the trainings were all relying on stereotypes, discrimination, and scapegoating. And we were also split into affinity groups.

I found the idea of being split up on the basis of race to be very regressive, and it wasn’t something that I wanted to take part in, so I stopped going to the meetings. We were still being bombarded with material every day about white supremacy. When white people keep quiet, your silence is violence. Everything is white supremacy. It’s a smog we all ingest. It got to the point where I felt it was really excessive and, frankly, illegal.

It all came to a head for me when we were asked to sign a contract that would govern our behavior in the legal center. One of the items was that all white people are racist, and no one is an exception. There was no way I was going to sign a statement saying that I was racist, or that all white people were racist, or that all of any race was anything. I refused to sign it, and then I had to go to a meeting with the DEI consultant at the time. It was supposed to be a short meeting, but it ended up being a 90-minute-long session on thought reform. The reason they gave me for having to go to the meeting was to ascertain whether I was safe to be around my black and brown coworkers, and my black and brown clients.

Mr. Jekielek:

There are so many points I want to explore here. Before we do, I want to find out a little bit more about you. As I understand it, there are only 10 lawyers in the largest domestic abuse association in America, and you’re one of them.

Ms. Levitt:

It’s about 10, yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

How did you get into this? Please tell me more about where you come from. 

Ms. Levitt:

Okay. I was in private law practice, and I also have a license in therapy, so I wanted to combine the two. I started representing domestic violence clients for free when I was in private practice. And I really loved it. We also had a lot of potential clients come in that had domestic violence issues and did not have the money to hire a lawyer. I always found it so heartbreaking when we had to say, “Sorry, but we can’t help you.” They poured out their story to us for an hour, retraumatizing themselves, and then in the end, we couldn’t help them because it could end up being a very large expenditure. When I got the opportunity to work for a nonprofit where that wasn’t an issue, and I wasn’t going to have to reject a potential client because of money, I was really thrilled.

Mr. Jekielek:

You described a situation where you were having general discussions with the legal center in your organization, and that people were stunned when you said you didn’t think there was racism.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes. I was like, “What are we talking about? We’re not racist.” Everyone here is committed to racial justice. We represent black and brown clients, and we do a good job of it. We’re very thorough. So, I couldn’t see where the racism was coming from. The issue here is the new definition of racism, which is prejudice plus power. But I was stunned. Everyone was looking at me like I had two heads when I said, “I don’t think we are racist.”

Mr. Jekielek:

There was this apriori assumption that racism has to be there. This is a component of critical social justice. You felt like this is how things were working, even before the DEI consultants were invited in.

Ms. Levitt:

No. I didn’t see it before the DEI consultants came in.

Mr. Jekielek:

I see. So, please tell me about that. What was this consultation about?

Ms. Levitt:

We had a lot of different and educational materials on white supremacy from Tema Okun, Ibram Kendi, and Robin DiAngelo. We were presented with a lot of those materials and prodded to discuss them in a workplace setting. Some of them were more like confessionals, which I found very odd for a workplace setting. But I talked to people at other institutions and found out that it was going on there too. It sounded like it was really going on all across the country.

You’re not allowed to dissent from any part of this ideology. And if you do, you’re branded as racist or bigoted or problematic. People need to just get used to the idea that people might call them racist or bigoted or problematic and not worry about it, or else you’re going to be forever beholden to these ideas. And if you do that, you will lose your integrity.

Mr. Jekielek:

Was there some specific moment that really affected you and you realized that this was something that you couldn’t be a part of?

Ms. Levitt:

I definitely didn’t want to be a part of racial segregation. That was important to me. There were other things too, like Tema Okun’s presentation on white supremacy. It says that a worship of the written word is white supremacy. My response to that is, “We are attorneys, and words are our trade.” While we don’t worship the written word, it is very important, as is punctuality and thoroughness, which were characterized as white supremacy.

Frankly, I found that to be very disempowering for black people. If they are saying if you write well or you’re very concerned about the way you write or you’re concerned about being punctual or you’re concerned about being thorough, and that is white supremacy and those are not a characteristics of black people, then that is flat out racist. And it definitely didn’t describe my black colleagues.

Mr. Jekielek:

How did your relationships change after that? Did people know that you went into this 90-minute session? Did people know that you were bucking the trend? How did that all work?

Ms. Levitt:

They knew I wasn’t going to the affinity groups anymore. I don’t think anyone knew the rest of it, honestly. I’m not sure.

Mr. Jekielek:

What was the reaction to you not participating in the affinity groups?

Ms. Levitt:

No one said anything about it. But there was also another incident where a colleague of mine had emailed an article about antisemitism in the social justice movement. She sent it to the legal center. I chimed in and I said, “That’s great. I would hope WAA would support this as well.” And that just set off a firestorm of controversy. I got a ton of disapproving emails that accused me of furthering white supremacy, taking the spotlight away from black and brown people, and saying that anti-black racism is so much worse than antisemitism. I felt it was really excessive and very shocking that I got that response, because all I wanted them to do was put that article into our anti-racism resources. It was described as a problematic interaction that I even did that. After that, I did have frostier relationships with some of my colleagues.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let me reiterate this. You suggested adding resources on antisemitism to the toolkit.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

And this resulted in this vitriolic response.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes. We shared this article. This was in the midst of everyone in the legal center sharing articles about racism and defunding the police, so we didn’t share this article in a vacuum. But when we did, that was the response that we received. Even management said it was a problematic interaction. “Of course we care about antisemitism,” but blah, blah, blah.

The only reason why I felt that was important is because we were being asked to espouse a very specific ideology of oppressor versus oppressed. The way that they characterize Jews is on the side of oppressors. Everything is black and white, and in a binary relationship. I have found, and scholars have found this ideology to be pretty antisemitic. So, I wanted that to be part of the conversation. “What are we going to do with this part of it, guys?”

Later on, that wasn’t even in my top 10 considerations. The language that was being used was so dehumanizing to white people and black people that I didn’t want anything to do with it. I honestly believe that people in the organization espouse this ideology in good faith, because they believe it to be helpful. I don’t think they are being malevolent. I don’t say the same about some of the consultants and the originators of some of these ideas, and the people who are making a lot of money off these ideas. I wouldn’t say that. But in my organization, I think most people have the best interests of other people at heart. I will say that.

Mr. Jekielek:

As a result of all of this, you have a case at the EEOC, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Please tell me how that came about.

Ms. Levitt:

After I refused to sign the contract and I had the thought reform session, that’s when I knew I had to do something about it. I did not want it to come to this, because I honestly love my job. I love representing my clients in court. I love helping them with their issues and watching their transformation. It’s incredible. But the rest of it I could no longer abide by, and so I had a choice; keep quiet or finally do something about it. And I chose to do something about it. My hope is that this will change and I can continue working there, but I don’t know if that’s going to be the case.

Mr. Jekielek:

You are still working there, though. 

Ms. Levitt:

As of today, I am still working there, yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let me read something from the document, which grabbed me. First of all, “Levitt has satisfied all of the elements for a prima faci case of Title VII discrimination.” You can tell me what that is in a moment. “WAA has admitted to this disparate treatment, including admitting the differences in pay for white employees and promoting segregated work groups to the EEOC.” What is this about differences in pay?

Ms. Levitt:

WAA brought in some consultants to do a racial equity audit. The premise of the audit is to find where white supremacy manifests in your organization? Not, does white supremacy manifest in your organization, but where? It’s apriori, they’re going to find it. In doing the audit, they needed people to volunteer to be on the audit committee, and those people would receive a stipend. They said that the black and brown members of the audit committee would receive a higher stipend, due to the emotional labor that they would have to perform.

Mr. Jekielek:

You said something to me earlier as we were preparing for this. You said that all sorts of people write to you and say, “We didn’t realize that civil rights law applies to whites as well.” I thought that was astounding. The situation that you are describing is similar to this.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes. A lot of people are under that assumption, and it’s wrong, because the civil rights laws are for everyone no matter what your color is. It’s true that we haven’t always lived up to the civil rights laws and to our ideals in this country, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop striving, and it doesn’t mean we should just turn it all on its head and say, “Okay, because we discriminated against you in the past, now we’re going to discriminate against this other group of people.” Where does that end? No place good.

Mr. Jekielek:

I’ll read a bit more from the submission. The lawyers write, “One can only imagine the response of black or Hispanic employees who were subjected to lower stipends, excluded from “healing spaces,” told they needed to put in extra work, or told they needed to remove books by black or Hispanic authors from their bookshelves.” You’re flipping the way you were treated on its head.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes. In the beginning when we were bombarded with messages, emails, and trainings, it was all stuff like that. “White people, decolonize your bookshelf. Do the work, put in the work.” We were asked to do the extra work at home. Honestly, if it would be beneficial, I wouldn’t mind, But this was regressive and, honestly, it was discrimination, so I did not want any part of it.

Mr. Jekielek:

What exactly is Title VII discrimination?

Ms. Levitt:

Title VII is part of the Civil Rights Act, and it governs the workplace. It says don’t discriminate on the basis of race. That is it in a nutshell. Part of my complaint is also about a racially hostile atmosphere. If you’re subjected to hostile messages about race every day, that can be a hostile atmosphere in your workplace.

Mr. Jekielek:

You mentioned that there was also guidance on how you should do your work that you found potentially problematic. Please tell me about that.

Ms. Levitt:

There were a lot of discussions about defunding the police. I’m sure we weren’t the only organization doing that. While there are problems with the police, just like there are problems with almost anything, our clients need the police to stop the abuse. It’s not the total solution, but it needs to be part of a solution. I found the messaging that it’s dangerous for black and brown people to call the police in domestic violence situations to be dangerous. What is a social worker going to do in one of these violent situations? Domestic violence situations are some of the most deadly calls for police officers to respond to. So, if you put a social worker or someone who’s versed in restorative justice into one of these calls, what do you think’s going to happen? It could be very tragic.

Mr. Jekielek:

Why do you think this guidance was being put in place?

Ms. Levitt:

The whole country was in a hysteria about police brutality. The hysteria was partially brought on by the media by the way they covered any police shooting of a black or brown person. If you look at the research from Roland Fryer, he says that black people did have more violent encounters with the police, when you’re just thinking of soft violence like being roughed up. But as far as being shot and killed, they actually are not killed more than white people or any other group. We were just being whipped up into a hysteria about it. The people who are saying, “Defund the police,” most of them really thought that would save people from getting shot by the police.

Honestly, the police are not perfect. There are times when they don’t believe victims or they tell victims the wrong thing. Some of it might be a mistake and some of it might be callousness. But I believe reform is the way to go, not just defunding. Whether or not Philadelphia has actually defunded the police, they have definitely pulled back. Our most marginalized neighborhoods have gotten much worse. A lot of our clients come from the most marginalized neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

Mr. Jekielek:

This is something we’ve covered on American Thought Leaders. There is an epidemic of violence and murder, and it’s correlated with the reduction of police presence. We’ve done our own reporting and talked anecdotally, but there’s also data that shows that people in the inner city tend to be very pro-police actually. They want more of a police presence.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes. I have spoken to people from marginalized communities who have said, “This year I had to go buy a gun. I’m getting my concealed-carry license. My house was shot into, my car was shot up, and my neighbor’s house was shot into.” I can think of at least four examples of people telling me that. I don’t think, in the end, that defunding the police did any good. It actually did the opposite—it harmed people. We have the highest amount of shootings that we have ever had. I would say on average, maybe three shootings a day. It is the highest number of murders that we’ve ever had. It’s in all neighborhoods, it’s not confined to this neighborhood or that neighborhood. It is everywhere.

Mr. Jekielek:

What do you hope can happen with your organization? Let’s use it as a model for the bigger picture, too.

Ms. Levitt:

Organizations need to realize that this type of DEI training is disruptive to an organization. It pulls organizations away from their core missions, and it’s very divisive. There are DEI programs that are not divisive that will bring people together, and those are more humanistic. They will never divide people up by race, because they’re more about bringing people together.

Irshad Manji has one called Moral Courage. Sheena Mason has another, The Theory of Racelessness. Eric Smith and Jason Littlefield have created EmpoweredEd Pathways. Those are just three examples. Fair for All is doing excellent work in this area, and we need to look at that. If you need to have a DEI program, have one that is not going to be divisive, and have one that’s going to bring your employees together. And you really don’t need to have any soul-baring sessions at work. Stay focused on your mission, and just do that. If people need therapy, they can do that on their own time, just provide them with the resources.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to explore this. You saw the mission of your organization shift. It’s not just the attitude towards the specific job, but you’re saying the mission changed.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes. Anti-racism became part of the mission; based on Ibram Kendi’s definition of racism being prejudice plus power. Anti-racism means treating different racial groups differently, assigning characteristics to someone based on their racial group,based on the color of their skin. That’s all part of this anti-racism. To me, that is racist.

Mr. Jekielek:

Kendi had a theory about how to overcome contemporary racism. How does he say it?

Ms. Levitt:

His theory is that the remedy for past racism or past discrimination is discrimination in the present. The remedy for present discrimination is future discrimination. Why are we keeping the discrimination? To me, that’s the part we have to get rid of it. It’s not a remedy.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to talk about a paper you wrote. I noticed it at the top of your Twitter feed, so obviously this is something very important to you. It’s titled, “How Social Justice Extremists Spawned a Generation of Progressive Anti-Semites.” You co-wrote it with David Bernstein and Daniel Newman.

Ms. Levitt:

Basically, critical social justice is antisemitic at its core. Why? Because it divides everything into a binary of black and white, oppressor versus oppressed. Those aren’t categories that Jews fit into. It pushes Jews into the category of white, or white-adjacent, or benefiting from whiteness, which is very evil in their eyes. Jews are put into that category, and so discrimination against them is fine. It doesn’t matter. They have power, and they have privilege. The end result is there’s a huge argument on Twitter over whether Anne Frank had white privilege.

Mr. Jekielek:

Yes, I thought that was cosmically bizarre when I saw that discussion. For the benefit of the audience, she perished in the Holocaust.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes, at a very young age.

Mr. Jekielek:

There’s a  strange ignoring of reality, it seems, when it comes to applying these critical social justice principles. It ends up with this extreme situation of Anne Frank.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes. It’s a very crude tool used at certain times and with certain minorities. I’ve seen it also used with Asians. They use it with Israel. Israelis are painted as white oppressors and the Palestinians are painted as the brown who are oppressed. So, everything Israel does is bad, and everything the Palestinians do is good. If you’re on the side of justice, you have to be on the side of the Palestinians.

Mr. Jekielek:

I thought it was very curious that BLM had position statements on all sorts of different things. The nuclear family is the one that I remember the most, but also the one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ms. Levitt:

It was BLM’s parent organization, and I don’t know if this is the right way to actually conceptualize it, but it’s called Movement for Black Lives. They endorsed BDS, which is a movement to not deal with Israel at all in any way, with any form of investment or teaching. And it’s very anti-semitic.

There were a few BLM leaders that actually traveled to Israel and met with some Palestinians. Included in the group of people that they met with were some known terrorists. I lived in Israel for two years. I lived there during the second intifada, and I worked with the Terror Victims Association. At that time, there were bombings and shootings every day.

Israel’s a very small country. Everybody knows somebody who was killed, and everybody knows somebody who was injured or who had witnessed a terror attack. When I see what that kind of rhetoric can lead to, I’m not going to have anything to do with it. And honestly, that’s how I felt about the rhetoric against white people. It’s very dehumanizing. And as Jews, we’ve been down this road before, we’ve seen it. It doesn’t lead to anywhere good.

Mr. Jekielek:

We keep hearing about this idea that speech is violence and people talk about being traumatized with microaggressions. Given your understanding or expertise around trauma, how do you understand that?

Ms. Levitt:

If someone is constantly exposed to negative speech, that can definitely traumatize a person. But as far as microaggressions go, it’s not an aggression, but it’s a microaggression. What is that, half of an aggression? I don’t see how that fits in with trauma. There are a lot of experts who will say I’m wrong, but I think the opposite. I’m going to go with Jonathan Haidt’s view; coddling people and saying that every little hurt you experience is a trauma is not going to help you. It’s very disempowering.

Mr. Jekielek:

What do you hope the outcome of your suit will be? There’s your specific case, and there’s a lot of people watching this very closely.

Ms. Levitt:

I hope more people stand up to this. I hope people realize that there are more people like them than they think, and they too can stand up to this. This isn’t about me and there wasn’t anything special about me that made me stand up to it. Anyone can do it. You just have to put your head down and swim.

Mr. Jekielek:

It strikes me that probably most of the people working for your organization are highly motivated to help women.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

It takes a particular sort of person to put their heart and soul into this kind of thing, so it makes sense to me why you might step forward in this kind of a context. But what surprises me is that so many people don’t, even your coworkers who have a similar level of passion and desire for social change. Why do you think that is?

Ms. Levitt:

There are all sorts of reasons. Number one is fear of being painted as racist or a bigot. Number two is you lose friends when you do it, and you put your job in danger. One of the biggest things is just the cost of going into the legal system. It can cost tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring suit, if that’s what needs to happen.

I have my own legal fund at Jewish Institute for Liberal Values. It’s at jilv.org/nicole. There needs to be more institutions that will help people do this, because on your own it can be really overwhelming.

Mr. Jekielek:

It is a fund for you, but you didn’t create it.

Ms. Levitt:

I did not.

Mr. Jekielek:

It was created when someone noticed that you needed help.

Ms. Levitt:

Yes.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to clarify that for the benefit of our audience. I wish you the best of success. Any final thoughts as we finish up?

Ms. Levitt:

I would like everyone to remember that the civil rights laws are for everyone. This issue, although it’s often painted as a Right-wing issue, is not about Left or Right, it’s about right or wrong. Are we going to allow discrimination or are we ready to stop it?

Mr. Jekielek:

Well, Nicole Levitt, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Ms. Levitt:

Thank you.

Mr. Jekielek:

Thank you all for joining Nicole Levitt and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

We reached out to Women Against Abuse, or WAA. A spokesperson acknowledged Nicole Levitt has filed a claim with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. WAA said, while it, “cannot comment on this open EEOC claim,” it believes, “our actions in relation to Ms. Levitt and our racial equity work were legal.”

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