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“THE UNBEARABLE WHITEness of Being” (11/12) was, at best, an unfortunate depiction of diversity training and, at worst, the latest in a continuing barrage of reactionary, malicious assaults on the field.
It is quite ironic that, in an article filled with flagrant misrepresentations of what actually occurs in cultural diversity workshops, the author, in the first few lines, made one of the most eloquent and articulate cases that I have ever seen for why, among others, white males so badly need cultural diversity training. The highlighted statement on the first page of the article—“In the kangaroo court of diversity training, everyone’s got a grievance and white guys are presumedguilty”—could only have been written by someone who has never attended a good cultural diversity training session.
A good diversity trainer is well aware that when people feel judged, attacked, and blamed, they both feel and become defensive and are unable to hear the words of the facilitator and, more importantly, the feelings shared by other participants. It is for that reason that many diversity trainers, with the help of participants, establish behavioral norms or ground rules at the beginning of the workshop, in an attempt to create a learning environment in which the participants treat each other with respect and dignity irrespective of perspective or opinion. Indeed, it is because our training teams are so diligent in creating such an environment that, after numerous workshops, a white male participant has approached them and said, using these or similar words, “You know, I really didn’t want to come here this morning. I thought as a white male, I’d be made to feel guilty and that I’d be blamed for everything that’s wrong with society. But it hasn’t been like that. I haven’t felt that way once today. And I just want to thank you. I’ve really learned some things, and I’m glad I was here.”
A cultural diversity session done in such a manner can be an important first step in an organization’s attempt to help its employees understand and possibly even appreciate their cultural differences and thus work more productively together. In a society in which such differences have historically been the source of much misunderstanding and distrust for which we have paid dearly both in human pain and in millions of dollars in lawsuits and lowered productivity, good cultural diversity work is sorely needed. Thus far, it is the only method that we have for helping people take that first step toward increased empathy and compassion. It is a real tragedy when members of the media unjustly criticize that step (without suggesting an alternative), when it has so much potential to do so much good. I remain hopeful, however, because my historical perspective informs me that just as the unjust, fear-filled criticism of the civil rights movement eventually faded into oblivion, this too shall pass, and only the healing shall remain.
Lauren N. Nile, Woodley Park