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Training Is Not Enough

Something I’ve been thinking about in general for a while, recently brought to mind again by Seal Press’ apology and promise to get some training. This post is not about them or about that book or Amanda, just so we’re clear. Not directly. This post is about how diversity or racial sensitivity training is actually not enough to really change a company or organization or a person.

A few months ago there were several articles about how diversity training wasn’t all that effective in creating a more diverse workplace, but mentorships and having people in the company whose job it was to diversify and teach people about prejudice and bias was, in fact, very effective. This doesn’t surprise me. You force employees to take a class they don’t want to be in, they probably won’t listen half the time, and then parrot back what they think the teacher or their employer wants them to say. It’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes people will not change their ways unless someone is standing over them (metaphorically, anyway) watching.

This happens outside of the business world, too. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about people who held unconscious, or even conscious, biases about one group or another, then had to spend a lot of time with someone from the group they were biased against and learned just how fucked up their views were. But this doesn’t always happen. There are plenty of Black Friends(tm) that can attest. It’s mainly when the Black (or whatever) Friend calls out the biased person on their actions or speech that change happens.

My advice to any person or group looking to stop making missteps like putting a bunch of really racist images in a book and thinking it’s just some fun camp (or whatever): Hire someone to be in charge of telling you when you’re being insensitive or downright prejudiced, racist, sexist, whatever. Find someone who has a background in anti-oppression activism. Find someone who has maybe one thing in common with you, but a bunch of things not in common with you. Find someone whose job it is to be an outsider, but someone you must listen to.

My advice to everyone else: Start a consulting business now! You’ll probably have a lot of work thrown your way…

47 comments to Training Is Not Enough

  • “Hire someone to be in charge of telling you when you’re being insensitive or downright prejudiced, racist, sexist, whatever.” Oh, hell with that. Hire some women of color, for cripes sake. I’ve been interviewing for an admin job in NYC for the past four months and I’ve seen support staffs of every conceivable race and ethnicity; you can’t tell me Seal Press can’t find a single woman of color to put on staff!

  • Thank you. There is no such thing as “racism rehab” – you can’t go, finish a class or three and then proclaim yourself racially sensitive. It takes work. And the desire to change.

  • And speaking as someone who’s 1) been through those sorts of training courses and 2) had African-American friends (both men and women) who’ve let him know when he’s said something stupid, I can attest that the second option is far more effective. The other thing to remember is that it’s not a one-time-oh-I’m-cured sort of thing either. It’s a matter of lifelong learning and occasionally forcing yourself to reexamine yourself to make sure you’re not slipping back into bad habits.

  • LOL.

    Where’s the job? Can I be in charge ? Not that I would do it but… it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

  • Veronica

    Vice-President in Charge of Not Being an Asshole, I suppose.

  • I know the cultural diversity training comes up in police agencies a lot too to address the racism and sexism inside them. I pestered my city’s agency about its new training and you’d think it’s as classified as a CIA brief. Then they say they’re changing it again.

    A few months ago there were several articles about how diversity training wasn’t all that effective in creating a more diverse workplace, but mentorships and having people in the company whose job it was to diversify and teach people about prejudice and bias was, in fact, very effective. This doesn’t surprise me. You force employees to take a class they don’t want to be in, they probably won’t listen half the time, and then parrot back what they think the teacher or their employer wants them to say. It’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes people will not change their ways unless someone is standing over them (metaphorically, anyway) watching.

    Exactly.

  • Ico

    Yeah, word to this.

  • Or start paying those people who are already doing this job all the time.
    Most of the time, people just expect you to educate them, to explain, devote your time and energy to negotiate basic stuff everyone should have known in the first place (see “don’t touch my hair” or “why is it that…?”-questions). So those educaters are already there I guess, they’re just being used as cost-free educators.
    It’s as if all the Black people should be happy and greatful when they get to voice their opinion or experience at all, and consider the fact that their not-so-conscious co-workers choose to learn something from them (see -”cookies”) a huge favour.

    So… how about a universal scale of charges (like in Rent-a-Negro.com) that applies automatically?

    - pointing out stereotypes: 30 $
    - staying calm while doing so: 140 $
    - staying matter-of-factly and continuing to explain when co-worker gets all defensive: 80 $

  • I have had to sit through a few of these cultural and sexuality awareness seminars. People walk away unmoved and often mock what the seminar leader was attempting to teach. Unless and individual is committed to understanding the point of view of another, there will be no significant change. One cannot legislate the thoughts of another.

  • Dianne

    I’d been wondering if diversism training was any more effective than, say, abstinence training. The answer appears to be yes, but not very. Makes sense. Even assuming the best intentions on everyone’s part, it’s hard to change habits and changing a habit that is to your short term benefit (as racism is to whites’ direct benefit even if it is to their long term detriment) is next to impossible without reinforcement.

    The VP in charge of not being an asshole could also be the VP in charge of noticing the unnoticed (women, POC, the disabled, gays and lesbians, etc). So that when the other VPs start saying, “Oh, sure, we’d love to (hire, publish, etc) more (women, POC, etc) but we can’t find any good candidates” the VPICONBAA could say, “But what about (fill in the blank.)” It can actually work remarkably well. People often brighten up immediately and take the suggestion.

  • karnythia

    LOl. I just did a post today on my LJ about expectations of POC in their own spaces and made reference to the idea of paying us to explain things to you. Great minds. I say we go into business together immediately.

  • yeah, it sort of reminds me of, like, well, what is that, anyway? racist rehab? a week or a month or a day and then “okay, all better now!”

    well, no; “work the steps.” or um something.

  • d’oh! wrote that before even reading the rest of the comments, sorry Latoya…

  • I second Incertus. Racism is fundamentally a caste segregation problem. My tendency to step in it is inversely proportional to my degree of racial integration.

    I’m also concerned that “antiracist” training tends to have a paralyzing effect on whites, giving them an excuse to live racially segregated lives by telling them that in order to socialize with people of color, they must make themselves uncomfortable. That’s a completely different approach from the immersion method. Simply put, hanging around with more black folks makes me LESS worried about saying racist things, while I’m pretty sure getting and completely buying into antiracism training would make me MORE worried about saying racist things. It’s like the difference between learning a language by immersion and practice, and learning a language by reading a book and never actually spending any time around native speakers.

    My advice to the two editors at Seal Press: Hire, publish, and hang around with more WOC. That cured my Joe Biden Syndrome. It will cure yours, too.

  • I find the tech industry to be deplorable when it comes to -isms. They’re the most heinous people sometimes.

  • Kathy

    There is diversity training where I work, but it’s only due to a condition of a settement in a lawsuit. The training consists of a 58 minute film that doesn’t really
    address anything, they had to search really hard to find this film, or else it was something on sale to be discontinued….
    I think creating a business teaching about racism and bias is a great idea, and not just for employers but to schools as well.

  • Adam

    I work for a Fortune 50 company here in the U.S. We have annual diversity training meeting for all 75,000 employees. There is a lot of emphasis on “acknowledging differences” among groups and “creating a work environment that is inlcusive to all”. While, on the surface, it is good, it does not require anymore than lip service than from people like me (white and male).

    But, we actually have quite a few forums and “lunch & learn” discussions from Asian-Americans, Latin Americans, and other groups. They are actually very good. Of course, we have a huge business interest in learning more about various groups…so we can market and sell effectively to them.

    However, discussions on socio-economic racism, sexism, etc. often do not enter the discussions. I think employers like mine take the position: “leave that to the universities”…or “we cannot use work time to discuss political points of view”….

    Yet, having an accoutability partner, particularly from a different background than mine, would be extraordinarily beneficial. – no, a tremendous blessing of God.

  • Kim

    I had no idea research showed this, but it makes sense and I don’t know why I didn’t consider it. My multicultural class opened the door for me, but there was only so much that could be accomplished and it often left me with a lot of the anger and confusion of a racial dialog with none of the greater understanding. Tom Head said some things that really related to my experience as well.

    The only thing about Seal Press hiring a person of color or an accountability person is, aren’t they a company of two right now? Are they able to afford something regular like that? Of course, the low-budget solution if it IS a problem would be to actually talk to PoCs, reguarly. And make it a point to do so.

  • Kim, I agree–if they really don’t have the budget for more than two employees (which I find hard to believe; who handles distribution, design, etc.?; amazing if two people can run the entire division), there are still plenty of opportunities to bring in the perspectives of POC, even in a traditional publishing model.

    Getting more WOC authors, for example–and not just to do “WOC books” (which sometimes feels like the feminist movement’s answer to “race records”), but to do books on general women’s issues. I don’t see a single book on their front page that couldn’t have been written or edited by ABW or Brownfemipower or Nubian. (I also don’t see a single POC on any of the book covers on their front page, which is another concern.) WOC are just as able as white women to read and write books about…let’s see…sex, money, sex, weight loss, sex, motherhood, and sex. But WOC are more likely to cover these topics in a way that includes the experiences of WOC, and whites who can’t pull it off are really offering an inferior product.

    Another option might be hiring more WOC as technical editors, on books where they have technical editors.

    Or just making sure to host signing events and so forth at POC-owned venues from time to time.

    There are plenty of opportunities to better incorporate WOC into what they do, and some don’t even involve money.

  • Heck, here’s a good example: Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love. Was it a “WOC book”? No; it was a book about motherhood written by a WOC and inclusive of WOC perspectives and WOC concerns and respectful towards WOC as an audience. Can white folks write books like that? Sure. Many do. I for example try to, and I think I’m better at it than I used to be, and I think I will be better at it in five years than I am now. And I think this is the sort of thing that every nonfiction writer needs to be conscious of, right up there with serial comma usage and dangling participles.

  • was thinking about doing this consultant idea at the grad school i went to… i was studying to become a therapist, and whew, i became terrified when i became more conscious about what can happen when white folks therapize people of color. really scary. so i tried to basically school the teachers WHILE doing classes… long story short, they were receptive enough, but there was no way for me to do their work for them AND do my schoolwork.

    now that i am out of school for a minute, i might be able to reconsider this consultant idea! whew. there would probably have to be just one introductory training to introduce me, and then take it from there… hmmm….

    by the way ABW, been steady bloggin about your blog. Thanks for bringin it! I will be submitting to the Carnival Of Allies really soon. and also, have you heard of the Black Science Fiction Society? its like a myspace just for us. 100 of us are there. peep it if interested! bless up

  • Katie

    Noah -

    In the interests of giving credit where credit is due (particularly where it is due to WOC), I’d like to note that your suggestion is not “like” that of damali ayo’s Rent-A-Negro – it IS that of Rent-A-Negro.

    http://www.rent-a-negro.com/index.htm

  • Katie -

    absolutely! I couldn’t find the rates for “explain things to white co-workers” on the page, so I made my own rates. I’d be filthy rich by now if this were true money.

    I think the discussion is super interesting, because in the part of Europe where I live, we’re not even in the stage of anti-racism trainings existing for or in companies. So from your perspective as more experienced and training-critical, what would you say, is better: to not start the trainings for said reasons (but what should happen instead?) or go through the same process as the US – start trainings to find out after a while that they don’t work some of the time. .?

    …only before some funny thinking starts…. I’m a WOC, in Germany.

  • There’s a magazine called HR Magazine and it offers a lot of info about diversity in the workplace, training and such.

    Also – another random thought – what you describe works well for people of different religions too.

  • jennie1ofmany

    @ Tom Head:

    Kim, I agree–if they really don’t have the budget for more than two employees (which I find hard to believe; who handles distribution, design, etc.?

    Just as a point of information, a small imprint of a larger publishing company will often contract out the non-editorial work to the publishing services of the larger company. Small presses that don’t have larger parent companies will often contract out the design, formatting, and production work on their books.

    Distribution works better when it’s handled by a larger, more centralized group, so you’ll often get very small publishers contracting out their distribution to whoever does the warehousing for their books. I’ve worked for companies that did the editorial, layout, and design for two-person publishing operations; another small publisher I worked for kept its editorial in-house but had a larger university press handle all its distribution and warehousing.

    I don’t know what Seal’s organization looks like, but I’d be willing to bet that they share a lot of services with Pegasus, and that a very small number of people are actually dedicated to Seal’s list.

  • brownblackandqueer

    Word.

  • I third incertus and second Tom Head. I’ve wanted to not be bigoted for pretty much all my life but I have still had to work at examining and letting go of a lot of unwanted prejudices. Interacting with people who are different colors than me has been more effective than anything else.

    Doesn’t SPLC have a “mix it up” program for public schools?

  • Sorry for the double post. I just remembered in my high school they put on a whole program with acting, music, dance etc. for sensitivity/diversity training. It was a very well-organized program. I remember how defensive I felt at the time and while I doubt I would react the same way now it still was much more effective for me to sit by and talk to the black students in my classes.

  • Tanya

    My experience of diversity training has been that people walk in with their pre-conceived notions securely in place and don’t listen to what the presenter and/or their fellow workers are saying. Lecturing really isn’t a great way to teach anybody anything they aren’t already interested in learning and/or think they already know. I love the idea of mentor-relationships, and I’m going to start thinking about how we could implement some sort of program like that where I work now (which really could use it!).

  • Slightly OT, but:

    I’m viewing this site at work, and I tried to click on the “Rent-a-Negro link above. I had seen it before, and even wishlisted the author’s book. But I hadn’t visited the site recently.

    Just thought y’all might be interested to know that the State of Tennessee blocks access to that site for its workers on the basis of “racism and hate”.

    *sniff, sniff…Anyone else smell bullshit?

  • I have had to sit through a few of these cultural and sexuality awareness seminars. People walk away unmoved and often mock what the seminar leader was attempting to teach.

    Yeah. I saw this at a seminar being given by a woman from the ADL to law enforcement officers addressing hate crimes and incidents in schools. The officers near me laughed, joked through the entire program. I asked others if they noticed anything and it was mainly officers from one agency. I sent an email of concern to the sheriff after I tried to ask his office about it and was told that he didn’t have time for these things and didn’t I know how many people worked in the agency (well yes, actually I did.). Five months later, I was interviewed by the supervisors of the officers I had seen acting out.

    I don’t believe that anti-racist or sensitivity training is going to change things at Seal Press.

  • It’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes people will not change their ways unless someone is standing over them (metaphorically, anyway) watching.

    That’s true.
    But I think another reason why classes aren’t enough is simply that people don’t learn from one exposure. They learn from multiple, varied exposures to new ideas. And those ideas need to find new meaning for them in their real lives, not in a textbook or classroom.
    The simple fact is that people don’t change overnight. It’s often a slow, gradual process that evolves over a long period.

    They aren’t going to change overnight no matter how it’s done. But I absolutely agree that a classes aren’t enough.

  • Excellent point. Even when a person hears things and can parrot them back, it doesn’t equal meaningful change until it really sinks in–which is usually facilitated by one-on-one & repeated interactions.

    Taking “diversity trainings” is a good way to get off the hook without actually changing.

  • littlem

    - pointing out stereotypes: 30 $
    - staying calm while doing so: 140 $
    - staying matter-of-factly and continuing to explain when co-worker gets all defensive: 80 $

    Putting up with it your whole life:
    *priceless*

    ABW, I wrote to some allies saying that I was harboring no illusions that either the author or the press were interested in “doing better” — unless and until there is some possible adverse consequence to their own direct self-interest if they do/did not.

    They were not pleased with me (you all know who you are ;-)).

    But I really think it’s a question of incentive. It’s like white shoe law and accounting firms who don’t change their discriminatory hiring practices — on paper — until they get sued.

    You can’t make money doing diversity training — even if you’re really good at it and there’s really a need for it — until someone wants to — or must — hire you.

  • In law enforcement what is interesting too is how often the management when shopping around for how to do diversity training, or they want to know how to work with a community of color, they very often go to a White “expert” on that community rather than working with the community itself.

    Taking “diversity trainings” is a good way to get off the hook without actually changing.

    How true. And in some working environments, it’s like bailing a boat with a paper bucket. If it’s the only thing that’s being done for a racially and/or genderly hostile workplace, it might actually make things worse. I mean, what if they teach employees about Kwanzaa for example and then one of the supervisors says about a grieving family who just had one of their own shot by police, “this is really going to ruin their Kwanzaa”? It’s not like that hasn’t happened.

  • Katie

    Oh the hilarity. Check out the latest post on the Seal Press blog – it’s for a book called “Tales from the Expat Harem.” It’s apparently about living as an expat in Turkey. The choice of words for the title, the cover art, etc. – just UGH.

    I left a message on the entry. Doesn’t seem like their diversity training has happened yet, because, y’know, when it does, they’re not going to do stuff like this anymore. Right? Right?

    The level of entitlement and white privilege/supremacy there goes to 11.

    http://www.sealpress.com/blog.php

  • Radfem writes:
    “when shopping around for how to do diversity training, or they want to know how to work with a community of color, they very often go to a White ‘expert’ on that community rather than working with the community itself.”

    And speaking as a white guy, I’d argue that these “experts” tend to have VERY toxic ideas about how whites should feel about POC. They tend to promote unproductive guilt, shame, and discomfort (turning antiracism into some weird monastic tradition of narcissistic self-flagellation), and not a whole hell of a lot else. For that matter, some POC who give diversity/antiracism trainings do the same thing, though in my experience such classes tend to be much much more useful when they’re actually taught by POC.

    Whites who make inflammatory remarks don’t just need to become “sensitive” in some weird segregationist lawsuit-avoiding sort of way. They just need a good strong megadose of reality. In the case of Seal Press (and I hate to keep singling out Seal Press), for example, I’d say to the editors: “Why are you thinking of taking antiracism classes when you’re getting perfectly good antiracism training FOR FREE courtesy of the WOC bloggers you’re not listening to?”

  • Katie, OH GROSS!!!!

    Some people don’t learn a fucking thing. (((sighs loudly)))

  • what’s inherent in your (great) argument, of course, is the existence of POC in senior, or at least not bottom-of-the-barrel positions, with job security. people who have weight within the company structure (if you’re talking about an employer), and who won’t be fired for their pointing this stuff out.

    which brings it all back to the material reality rather than going through the motions

    also raising some interesting issues w/r/t employment law. The presence of training and offices to deal w/diversity is often used, in court, to argue against a company being racist. Judges have come to look for these formal but symbolic institutions as proof the company is not racist. If companies had to explain why they had no POC in senior positions, instead….

  • katie, if Seal Press expects to be treated differently from Stormfront they have to earn it for a long, long time.

  • Katie

    A certain Claire has left an amazing refutation of the Seal Press editors’ comment on the “Tales from the Expat Harem” thread. It’s worth checking out. Just…brilliant.

  • That diversity training or racial sensitivity training doesn’t seem to be doing them any good…
    http://www.sealpress.com/blog.php?p=http://www.sealpress.net/blog/2008/05/today-and-expat-harem.php

  • Mnemosyne

    It’s no coincidence that the one place I worked at that was pretty diverse was a California state agency that was required by state law to review the resumes of a minimum number of people from each ethnic group (white, black, Latino/a, Asian, etc.) And, wonder of wonders, you ended up with a lot of people in leadership positions who were not white. In the department I worked in, the head of the department was an Asian woman, the two sub-heads were Mexican-American (one man, one woman), and the rest of the staff was pretty evenly divided. I think that out of a staff of 15 people, three or four of us were white. It’s not a “quota,” or whatever the current scare phrase is. It just required that you throw your net out further for applicants than you might otherwise be inclined to do, and once they got a good reputation, they got more and more applicants from minority groups.

    My current company (one of the top 100 of the Fortune 500) has its problems , but fortunately my division depends a lot on raw talent and they finally figured out that they can’t afford to discriminate against talented artists anymore if they want to stay competitive. It’s still majority white (especially in the upper ranks) but there are more and more young faces hired every day that are not.

  • kali

    No sign of the second printing minus offensive illustrations (of the Jungle Book) yet – was it just a delaying tactic on Seal’s part?

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