A Bitter Gertrude Reblog: Diversity Training Will Not Save You

I copied this post today because I thought it spoke well to the present race situation, not only in the USofA, but all around the world. Also, because Bitter Gertrude does not allow comments on her blog. I know I wanted to comment, and I am sure a lot of her other 6125 followers did too.

But first, she said:

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Every company, every school, every nonprofit is scrambling to hire a “Director of Diversity” or relying on their current one to navigate them safely through this crisis. Nearly every organization has felt the need to respond in some way. White-run organizations– including police departments all over the country– are promising further “diversity training” for their staffs. The problem is: Diversity training doesn’t work.

Why it doesn’t work is not the fault of the DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] professionals working in the field. Quite the opposite. The problem is how we– especially white people in positions of power–approach the issue of racism. We think of it as “a problem” that can be “solved.”

White supremacy is not a workplace issue that a diversity specialist can “solve” for you. It’s a systemic cultural issue that manifests in the workplace [and society] in the same way it manifests everywhere else.

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A group of young Black people wear masks that say “I CAN’T BREATHE” as they attend a protest in Chicago. Photo by Nam Y. Huh.AP. Source: “Do the Work: An Anti-Racist Reading List” by Layla F. Saad.

Upper-level management is almost entirely white across the US, and white people don’t think of ourselves as “racist”– we think racism always lies somewhere else, with someone else. We think of it as a relatively simple issue– we’re “not racist,” so Jerry in Legal can just stop being racist by following a few simple guidelines and the problem will be “solved.”

We think this issue is about how individual white people treat individual people of color, and while that is absolutely one aspect of this, it’s not everything. You can fire a racist cop or a racist politician or a racist investment manager, but the replacement is just as likely to be racist– intentionally or unintentionally– if you don’t address the underlying issue of systemic white supremacy, and you can’t do that if white people aren’t willing to do the hard work involved.

Diversity training is an invitation to begin that work, not a “solution” to racism in the workplace or otherwise.

White people– especially white liberals who consider themselves “woke”– imagine diversity training will be our moment to stand up and denounce the racism of those bad people somewhere else while our Black colleagues clap. The moment we realize that this work demands examining our own complicity and the ways in which white supremacy has shaped us as white people, we react defensively, even angrily.

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What white people imagine diversity training will be like           (Pictured: A white woman with blond hair and a bright blue dress [Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones] is held aloft by a crowd of people of color dressed in earth tones, all reaching for her.) Let me tell you two brief stories about diversity training.

I once worked in an extremely liberal workplace in an extremely liberal area. The org, despite its progressive identity and location, had never done any DEI work in its history, and there were some resultant problems. Three women of color & I co-founded its first DEI committee. I believed most of these progressive white people would embrace the journey ahead and we would Get Things Done. I was spectacularly wrong.

Most white staff were defensive; several were openly hostile. Many were offended at the very idea they might need diversity training. One of the worst offenders flat-out refused to attend; in staff meetings, others crowed about their hostility to the trainers (“I really got her!”) or pointedly stated that the “ideal community” was “homogeneous.” White leadership protected and defended the bad behavior. Eventually, the hostile work environment forced all four of us out.

What a child I was. This was before Robin DiAngelo’s book [White Fragility] came out, and I was still under the naive impression that progressive white people would “be better.”

Those employees (with one exception) sat through those diversity trainings. They sat through every single one. And it did almost nothing. The average retention there of Black staff is two years.

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You may have already heard my second story: A few days ago at a protest, police in San Jose, CA shot their own diversity trainer at point-blank range with rubber bullets for daring to try to stop them from continuing to fire on peaceful protesters. They illegally aimed for his groin and ruptured his testicle. Witnesses captured the moment on camera, confirming that the trainer was standing, hands up, in broad daylight, speaking calmly. And they shot him.

I don’t doubt that this man, Derrick Sanderlin, is an excellent diversity trainer. What I doubt is that the cops who shot him had any interest in taking that work seriously. Yet the SJPD, just like the org in the first story, just like almost every company and organization in the nation, have “diversity” listed as part of their mission.

“Diversity” isn’t the same as “equity.” A “diverse” culture can still be a white supremacist culture. Whatever you think the presence of Black people will do for your org, it’s not going to happen if they know you’re hostile to their truth.

A universal truth of teaching is that you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn. Diversity training  is useless if white people are not willing to accept that we’ve been just as impacted by white supremacy as people of color. We have to be willing to accept that our culture relentlessly produces and promotes racist ideas, and we have to be willing to fully accept that people of color are far more adept at identifying and defining them. And while this post is about racism, please remember that the same can be said for women and sexism, [LGBTQ2S and homophobia,] trans people and transphobia, people with disabilities and ableism, and so on for all marginalized groups.

White people must listen and believe when people of color identify for us the impact white supremacy has had on them. After that, cleaning up our mess is our responsibility. People of color, diversity trainers, and anyone else can suggest solutions all day long but it’s our individual responsibility as people– not just as working professionals– to act on those solutions.

Overthrowing systemic white supremacy is a revolution that starts in your own heart and mind. It’s a lifelong process of anti-racist work. Each new day will bring a new realization of a racist concept you have been taught that you need to confront, examine, and work against. That feeling of defensiveness is your clue that you’ve hit paydirt. Whenever there’s a discussion of race or racism, and you feel defensive, you’ve found an area that needs work. It’s your job to stop yourself from reacting defensively and do the anti-racist work required.

There’s no Certificate of Completion. That Certificate of Completion you got for doing your workplace diversity training is nothing but an invitation to reconstruct your own humanity, and that work will never be done.

The work is all there is. It’s one foot in front of the other, and you will fail. We will fail. But we must keep trying. To pretentiously quote Samuel Beckett, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

The stakes could not be higher. Lives [and people] are counting on us to do this work, and those lives matter.

[As the boy’s sign above states: ALL LIVES MATTER!]

[Anything in square parentheses above are my additions.]

rawgod’s commentary:

As I said above, Bitter Gertrude has stated the problem well, but it is still not enough. Systemic Racism, otherwise known as Organizational Racism, is almost entirely INVISIBLE to white people. To start, show me a white person who does not believe that people of colour can cure racism without white leadership? (This has already been disproved in apartheid South Africa!) There are many reasons why this is believed to be true, 1) because it was white people who explored the world, killing aboriginal people wherever they were found, enslaving them, raping them, and whatever else they did; 2) the richest nations in the world are white (not noticing they made most of their wealth off the backs and bodies of people of colour; 3) most white nations have more stable and less corrupt governments than poorer nations with lots of people of colour.

That is just a start. And the main gist of those three ideas is that people of colour are not able to govern themselves, they have little power compared to white people, and because white people will always win armed confrontation between races. Those ideas, built right into whites from their earliest days, even though few realize they have them, are what systemic racism is all about. Whites just believe they are better.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some white people who realize these racist ideas, but if they encounter these kinds of treatment of people of colour, they keep their mouths shut if they are alone. They know how dangerous white people are, and they don’t want to involve themselves in other people’s problems. As Bitter Gertrude said above, not confronting the problems is not being anti-racist, it is being covertly racist. Whites too fear racists. They have a lot to learn.

Author: rawgod

Still a Hippie, and proud of it. Have my BSW, now retired. Would have preferred to be a Dr. of Philosophy, but the university I went to wouldn't let me study my own philosophy. Your gain, their loss. I live on the edge of society with my partner, five cats, a broodmare, and a three year-old filly who might make her racing debut this coming summer or fall. Remember the name, Tricksy T Clanton.

6 thoughts on “A Bitter Gertrude Reblog: Diversity Training Will Not Save You”

  1. This statement, unfortunately, sums everything up … A universal truth of teaching is that you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

    And regrettably, most “white” people simply don’t want to learn … or change.

    This doesn’t mean we stop trying, but we must accept it’s going to be a long, hard road and most likely will not happen during our lifetime. The current generation may (hopefully) get things started — and may even make some progress — but it’s going to take many years of continual effort to bring about permanent change. After all, the “white” people have been claiming superiority for how many hundreds of years?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Since ancient Greek, at a bare minimum. Probably longer.
      As for the learning statement above, I would have said it a little differently, not in opposition, but as an addition: One cannot reach a person who is not ready to understand. Trying to do so only creates misguided ignorance.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Excellent point, Nan. If you don’t have it (empathy, outreach….whatever you want to call it) in you, all the “diversity training” in the world won’t change what’s embedded in your heart and mind.

      Liked by 1 person

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