City Paper is not for tourists
From Random House Webster’s Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus:
white (hwiet, wiet) adj.
1.) of the color of pure snow and of the margins of this page; reflecting nearly all the rays of sunlight or a similar light.
2.) light or comparatively light in color.
3.) (of human beings) marked by slight pigmentation of the skin.
It used to be so easy to be a white guy. Likely as not, you were born that way. Your dad was a white guy, and his dad was, too.
And it was good to be a white guy. In the movies, the white guy always caught the robber, killed the Indians, and got the girl. White guys were on television all the time. A white guy was president of the United States.
A white guy would always be president of the United States.
In school, you read books written by white guys, who told you what white guys thought, felt, and hoped for in life, and also about the fish they caught and the species they endangered. In college, you joined other white guys in a fraternity—or “club,” if you had attained the stratospheric white-guyness of Harvard or Princeton.
Later, those white guys became your law-firm partners, your clients, your fellow board members. You sold stocks to white guys. You lobbied white guys, yachted and drank with white guys, but you never, ever read another white guy’s diary. You learned to dress like a white guy: muted, tasteful colors, except on the golf course or Nantucket. Underneath everything, you wore Brooks Brothers boxer shorts.
And you were satisfied, because everyone in the world wanted to be like you.
4.) for, limited to, or predominantly made up of persons whose racial heritage is Caucasian: a white neighborhood.
But then the world changed. The change was subtle and barely perceptible, until one morning when you woke up to find yourself charged with all sorts of crimes, none of which you recalled committing. You were accused of having ignored worthy non-white-guy writers, so school boards and college professors excised many white-guy books from reading lists. There were rumors you had done something terrible to Anita Hill. Urban poverty, endemic violence, vast budget deficits—white guys were responsible for them all.
You had to watch your mouth. Things you said made people very, very angry, even though you tried extra-hard not to offend. You read the Village Voice, and you learned to pronounce “dead white male” as one word.
Flipping through the Voice, you read a piece where the writer described herself lying on a Hamptons beach and “melting into a puddle of lust.” Appraising the men on the beach, white guys all, she decided that none of them looked capable of attaining an erection.
The crowning achievement of white-guy culture—the missionary position—now counted for nothing.
“Let’s face it,” a Latino businessman told you on the phone one day. “White people are on the way out.”
5.) pallid or pale, as from fear or other strong emotion.
No longer was it good to be a white guy.
When you applied for a job, you were told that too many white guys already held similar jobs. You had never met any of those other white guys, and they weren’t helping you with the rent, but you still didn’t get the job. Wrong gender, wrong color. It was like an incurable disease.
Culturally, you were obsolete. Movies came out with titles like White Men Can’t Jump. Even the press referred to white-guy institutions, ominously, as “preserves.”
8.) lacking color; transparent.
9.) politically conservative or reactionary.
And you reacted, shall we say, badly. You voted for white guys whenever possible, but didn’t tell anyone about it. You took secret pleasure in the fact that a white guy was still president. Then one day you were telling a joke in the Xerox room and no one laughed, and the next thing you knew you had been sent to something called “diversity” training.
10.) blank, as part of a page.
Or perhaps someone else told the joke, and you weren’t even there. Or maybe nobody told a joke, but management was afraid that someone might tell such a joke, which would lead to all sorts of legal complications. Or perhaps there was concern that the office climate was such that a joke might potentially be told in the future.
Management wasn’t taking chances, so diversity training, also known as “sensitivity” or “cultural awareness” training, was prescribed for all.
Diversity training is sweeping across the corporate landscape. Sooner or later, almost anyone who works for a private company or a government agency can expect to be ushered into a conference room or auditorium to hear a highly paid consultant instruct his or her co-workers on how to make nice with one another. If this doesn’t happen to you, then you should probably look for a real job.
But what is diversity? More importantly, why does it require training?
Diversity means more than just a mixture of races, nationalities, genders, ages, and sexual orientations. Diversity means difference—difference from white guys.
The white guy is to diversity as canvas is to oil paint. White guys, diversity trainers say, no longer dominate the world or the workplace. A white-guy think tank called the Hudson Institute even said so in a 1987 report called Workforce 2000. The Hudson researchers found, among other things, that native-born white men will comprise only 15 percent of net new workers between 1985 and 2000. Five new workers out of every six will be other than white males.
White guys will have to slide over to make room for the new workers. And as non-white-guys fill the workplace, says D.C. attorney and diversity training proponent Jane Lang, white guys and non-white-guys are going to need help “getting along with people they’ve never lived next door to or gone to school with.”
Lang is responsible for one of the Washington area’s most ambitious diversity training initiatives. Last February, she settled a long-running class-action lawsuit against Pepco. The utility agreed to pay $38 million to thousands of employees and job applicants who claimed that they were damaged by Pepco’s alleged systemic discrimination. The settlement also stipulates that all 5,000 Pepco employees “shall receive high quality, mandatory cultural diversity training of at least two days duration, with refresher training at intervals.” Pepco has yet to select a contractor, but based on standard consultants’ rates, the whole package could cost the utility (and ultimately its customers) upward of $1.5 million.
“It’s something we were thinking about for a long time,” says Pepco spokeswoman Nancy Moses. “We were happy to agree to it.”
Among local corporations, MCI, the Washington Post, and Amtrak have instituted diversity training programs, as have five of the largest D.C. law firms. Corporate motives for diversity training run the gamut from lawsuit avoidance to damage control after an ugly incident to a growing sense that affirmative action has failed.
Diversity consultants are proliferating, charging fees that begin at about $2,000 a day. Background-wise, trainers are a mixed bag. Many earned their diversity credentials at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or in corporate affirmative-action offices. Dianne Sutton worked as an investigator with the agency for 11 years, and Reagan-era EEOC Commissioner Joy Cherian recently set up shop as a private diversity consultant. Others have worked in counseling, personnel, or organizational development, but no fixed set of credentials is required to become a trainer: Lauren Nile, training director of the National MultiCultural Institute, was a lawyer before she entered the diversity business.
What these consultants have in common is allegiance to Workforce 2000, the report that pays their rent each month. Diversity trainers are almost unanimous in their interpretation of it: As “non-traditional” workers flood into the workplace, employers must institute cultural changes to accommodate them.
Simple affirmative action is not enough, according to diversity guru R. Roosevelt Thomas, because it fails to advance minorities and women within organizations. “Women and minorities no longer need a boarding pass,” Thomas writes, “they need an upgrade.”
Why haven’t blacks and women advanced? Thomas pins responsibility squarely on the alabaster buttocks of their white-guy bosses—“the standard-issue white male[s].”
The Hudson researchers seemed to agree: “Both cultural changes and education and training investments will be needed to create real equal employment opportunity.”
They had no intention of unleashing the diversity monster, however. The Hudson numbers showed merely that non-white-males would form a growing proportion of potential workers. Without proper training and education, those potential workers would be shut out of the high-skill workplace the Hudson researchers forecast.
“Minority workers are not only less likely to have had satisfactory schooling and on-the-job training, they may have language, attitude, and cultural problems that will prevent them from taking advantage of the jobs that exist,” the Hudsonians wrote. “Without substantial adjustments, blacks and Hispanics will have a smaller fraction of the jobs of the year 2000 than they have today, while their share of those seeking work will have risen.”
Yet diversity trainers ignore these conclusions, and equate a diverse workforce with a diverse workplace. They conclude that it’s the corporate culture—you-know-who’s culture—that’ll have to change.
“Some conclusions were drawn whichweren’t completely justified by numbers we cited,” says the Hudson Institute’s William Johnston, project manager for the study. “Such as that white men were disappearing. That’s clearly not happening.”
What a relief. But the diversity trainer’s job is predicated on the decline of white men—and on their essential difference from other groups. (White guys, by definition, are nondiverse.)
In Beyond Race and Gender, Thomas’ seminal diversity textbook, he compares the changing workforce to fuel for a car. “Imagine that…the only fuel available to you will be a mixture of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent something else,” he writes. “You have a choice. You can ignore my prediction and continue to drive as usual. But if you do, and I’m right, your car will eventually grind to a halt, with perhaps terminal damage to the engine. Or you can…adjust—or even change—your motor to ensure that you can burn whatever fuel you can get.”
The metaphor is effective—perhaps too effective. Its fundamental assumption is one of racial incompatibility. Members of other groups are so different, Thomas implies, that they can’t be introduced into the same “engine” without stopping or damaging it. This was how the Orval Faubuses of the world used to justify segregation in schools, the military, and neighborhoods: Those people don’t study/fight/mow their lawns the way we do.
Today, this belief is called “valuing differences,” and it is a central pillar of diversity dogma. In its sanitized version, the notion originated with one Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist who has written several books on cross-cultural interaction. Decades before diversity training was invented, Hall articulated a positive view (as opposed to a negative, racist one) of racial and cultural differences.
“I would like to introduce the notion that all peoples have particular talents—culturally produced—some of which can be translated into skills useful to mid-20th-century American life,” he told a Labor Department audience in a 1967 speech titled “The Manpower Potential in Our Ethnic Groups.”
For example, Hall said, people of Spanish-speaking origin “seem to have a humanizing effect upon bureaucracy,” something “that those of us of North European heritage cannot seem to accomplish.” At the time,Franco’s fascists ruled Spain. Blacks, Hall declared, “have interpersonal skills.” For instance, he cited a Chicago hospital where “many so-called “culturally disadvantaged’ Negroes are proving themselves, with the minimum of training, to be highly successful therapeutic aides in the treatment of the mentally ill.”
This prompted one listener to wonder whether “all the Negroes in the Chicago area will want to work with human-type jobs, as opposed to mechanical things?”
“What I am suggesting,” Hall said, wriggling out of the clinch, “is…that we spend a little more time finding out what people do best.”
Society used to have a pretty clear idea what different ethnic groups “do best”: Blacks made excellent porters, nobody could wash clothes as well as the Chinese, and so on down the list of stereotypical ethnic occupations. Nobody wants to return to those days, and yet diversity training rams home the notion that all groups are created different—only some are more different than others.
Diversity trainers have built upon Hall’s rudimentary ideas. Dianne Sutton begins her training sessions by reeling off a list of stereotypes for each ethnic group. Blacks are “lazy and shiftless,” “stupid,” have “big expensive cars and flashy clothes,” “don’t care if they’re on welfare,” but are “musically gifted, great rhythm, terrific entertainers.” Chinese are “quiet, polite, and deferential,” but “love to gamble.” Jews “control Wall Street and the banks.” WASPs are “honorable” but “snobbish,” “guilt-ridden do-gooders” who are nonetheless “wealthy and powerful.”
“I try to offend all people,” Sutton says. Invariably, she finds that audiences want more. “They say, “Why don’t you have our stereotypes in there?’ ”
The point is to show how “we all stereotype,” then get beyond stereotyping. But the technique can sometimes backfire. A list of stereotypes generated in a diversity training session at the West Coast grocery chain Lucky Stores later surfaced as evidence in a discrimination lawsuit against the company.
Yet the idea that members of a given cultural group tend to think, act, speak, and approach life in predictable ways is a basic concept of diversity training.
Sutton uses a two-column chart to illustrate the ways Anglo-Americans differ from “other ethnocultural groups.” Anglos desire “mastery over nature,” while others are said to live in “harmony with nature.” Anglo “competition” contrasts with others’ “cooperation.” “Time dominates” Anglos; others focus on “personal interaction.” Anglos practice “materialism” where others emphasize “spiritualism/detachment.” Most interestingly, Anglo-Americans believe in “human equality,” while others evaluate people according to “hierarchy/rank/status.”
The usefulness of diversity training is inevitably cast in terms of group relations. “Competency has been redefined,” saysJudith Katz, a veteran diversity trainer. “Just having good technical skills is no longer enough. You need to have the ability to engage with a diverse group of people.”
For example, she says, one of her clients was a company that goofed big-time by sending its “best and brightest”—a pack of white guys in suits—to meet with the Philadelphia school board and make a presentation. According to Katz, the white guys did not know how to interface with the diverse school board. “They knew when they walked out of the room that they had not made the sale,” she says.
13.) auspicious; fortunate.
14.) morally pure; innocent.
15.) lacking malice; harmless: white magic.
Anticipating the diversity movement by two decades, Hall warned his listeners: “A shrinking globe, growing national and ethnic awareness, and the enormity of our urban crisis will eventually force us to give up the self-centered luxury of expecting others to conform to our own North European, middle-class, work-oriented ways.”
Hall did not spell out how to wean white Americans from their workaholic values, but the encounter-group and self-awareness movements of the late ’60s and ’70s provided a model. Among the first to apply training-group methods to whites was Katz, whose pioneering 1978 text, White Awareness, was one of the first systematic training manuals and is still widely used.
Katz makes no bones about what must be done to solve our racial problems. “Whites need to be re-educated,” she writes.
What’s wrong with them? Katz’s answer: “White people do not see themselves as White. This is a way of denying responsibility for perpetuating the racist system and being part of the problem. By seeing oneself solely as an individual, one can disown one’s racism.” (emphasis in the original)
White Awareness outlines a training course to help whites overcome denial. Katz developed the program as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, indoctrinating dorm advisers in the evils of their racism. The program comprises 48 exercises (a 12-step program times four) by which a group of whites can identify and grapple with their racism. The group should include whites only, she writes, so as to “avoid exploiting Third World peoples for White people’s learning.”
First, racism is defined; then the white participants are required to design a racist society, which they compare to existing institutions. In later exercises, white guys and girls act out scenarios of institutional racism, such as a confrontation between white school administrators and angry black students presenting nonnegotiable demands.
In one exercise, the trainer is to give a multiple-choice test about black culture to show the cultural bias inherent in standardized tests. “Do the Beatles have soul?” it asks. (Answer: no.) Another question: “ “Bo Diddley’ is a a) camp for children, b) cheap wine, c) singer, d) new dance, e) mojo call.” Pupils listen to recordings of Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby, and explore their responses to the slogan “White Is Beautiful.” The trainer is to close the program and send his or her pupils forth into the world to the strains of War’s “The World Is a Ghetto.”
19.) the quality or state of being white….
21.) a person whose racial heritage is Caucasian.
That all whites are racist, and therefore need training, is assumed.
“I was in a workshop my junior year with the National Conference of Christians and Jews,” says Katz as she sits in the front room of her Capitol Hill townhouse. “It was 85 percent black and Puerto Ricans, 15 percent white. Basically, what came out of that was a realization that racism is a white problem. That’s how White Awareness started.”
“For a long time,” she continues, “people looked at racism as a black problem: “How are we going to help blacks with their problems?’ It became clear to me in this workshop that where power lies was within the white community. In other words, that the real power for change was really with whites as a group. Not necessarily the individual white person, but whites as a group.”
When the book was published, Katz was an assistant professor of human relations at the University of Oklahoma. In 1985, she left her tenured position to become a diversity consultant. She is now a co-owner of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group Inc., a leading diversity firm that has grown from two employees in 1985 (Katz and a partner) to more than 30. Katz, a self-described “child of the ’60s,” who demonstrated against war and racism, now peddles herservices to major corporations. “Fortune 50s, mostly,” she says, musing, “I never wanted to work in a corporation.”
For clients, diversity work does not come cheaply. The standard Kaleel Jamison contract costs $500,000 for the first year of a three- to five-year commitment. “That’s less than the [Total Quality Management] people get,” she points out, and less than other consultants—“white men”—charge for engineering and other technical services.
Most diversity-training courses last between one to three days. The training is most effective for a group of 35 people or less, although some companies make do with a two-hour mass lecture. The demand for their services seems to be bottomless. Lauren Nile, of the National MultiCultural Institute, says she trained “every single day” in October. Diane Sutton, who normally conducts two- and three-day workshops, bills as much as $25,000 in a good month.
Katz considers herself much more than a diversity trainer. She aims to transform entire organizational cultures—Creating High Performing Inclusive Organizations, in her trademarked phrase. “Our focus is helping organizations change their culture…to be more inclusive of all people, and connecting this as a business issue.” The goal, she says, is to eliminate “oppression” from the workplace in any form; workers rarely display their full talents in an “oppressive” environment, she says, quite rightly.
Who’s oppressing whom, however, is at least open to question.
Katz disowns the tart rhetoric of White Awareness, calling it a product of “my anger phase…I was doing a lot of anger.” But she sticks to her basic premise that whites are racist to the core.
“When I walk into a system,” she says, meaning corporation or office, “I know it’s going to be there, ’cause it’s in me. I assume there’s a lot of ways in which I’m racist because of the culture I grew up in. We’ve made it such a loaded negative word that we always want to defend ourselves against it, as opposed to acknowledging the fact that how could you not be a racist? People get freaked out.”
White racism, real or alleged, is the Saddam’s bunker of much diversity training. The National MultiCultural Institute, one of the leading organizations in the field, uses a handout titled “Learning About Our Racism” that lists correct and incorrect attitudes for diversity trainees.
Wrong: “I deny being White and do not see my whiteness supporting racism.”
Right: “I own the positive parts of being White and accept the reality of parts of my whiteness supporting racism.”
Wrong: “I believe I have no role in supporting racism.”
Right: “I recognize the role I play in supporting racism (implicitly or explicitly).”
Wrong: “I anticipate getting it all together at some future point.”
Right: “I accept the “onion’ theory that I will continue to peel away layers of my own racism for the rest of my life.”
Feel better yet?
No? Well, the sins of white guys are grievous and many—so many that it’s hard to know where to begin. Colonialism? Slavery? The Crusades? “What do we see today?” thundered W.E.B. DuBois in his 1920 essay, “The Souls of White Folk.” He saw colonial wars raging across Africa: “Machine guns against assegais; conquest sugared with religion; mutilation and rape masquerading as culture—all this, with vast applause at the superiority of white over black soldiers!”
One might argue that white-guy values constitute a punishment unto themselves—after all, it’s not fun to belong to a race of suicidal alcoholics. But in diversity training, we have at last unleashed retribution worthy of our sins. In its most severe forms, diversity training hits the white guy where he lives: his own library-paste-hued skin. No matter what he says or thinks as an individual, the white guy is guilty, if only by association—and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it.
He’s no ordinary oppressor, either. Being white and male makes one a “double oppressor,” says Bo Razak, one of the few white-guy diversity trainers. “Of course people as white men didn’t create this racist, sexist society,” he says, “but we benefit from it.” And the double oppressors reinforce our dominance by unconsciously inflicting “microaggressions” upon others. In other words, they do and say mean, stupid things just because they’re white guys.
But some diversity trainers think their colleagues could display a little more sensitivity to white guys. “The philosophy seems to be that everyone else is OK; all we need to do is overhaul the SWAM [straight white American male],” write diversity trainers Henry B. Karp and Nancy Sutton (no relation to Dianne) in the July issue of Training magazine.
“The whole thing turns into a game, a competition involving whose group has suffered the most,” write Sutton and Karp. “It quickly devolves into a whining contest, then moves into a final stage called “Get the SWAMs.’ This last phase allegedly is not intended to get even with SWAMs; it’s…to let them see the effects of their behavior so they will become enlightened and never do it again.”
It’s re-education, in other words, as practiced by authoritarian regimes from Inquisition-era Madrid to modern-day Beijing. You may think you’re a nice guy, the message goes, but you’re the heretic/communist/bourgeois enemy. As the Salem witches were believed to be possessed by demons, whites are infected by racism. Criticism of the program is a sign of unreconstructed racism—that can only be cured with much more diversity training.
Which is not to say that some white guys couldn’t use a little mental readjustment. Such as the agent in the Oklahoma City office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms who posted a card on a wall that read “State of Oklahoma Nigger Hunting License.” Or the high-ranking male agent in the same office who continually pawed, kissed, and propositioned a Hispanic rookie agent—or the white guys everywhere who paw, kiss, and proposition their female underlings. But do all white guys therefore require re-education?
In several cases, diversity training has been used explicitly as a punishment. Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott (an honorary white guy?) was sentenced to undergo sensitivity training after her racist gutter-mouth became public knowledge. Among other unsavory epithets, she called two of her ballplayers “my million-dollar niggers.” Schott recently emerged from her eight-month suspension; no word yet on whether she’s been cured of bigotry.
University of Pennsylvania freshman Eden Jacobowitz was hauled before the university disciplinary board for calling a group of black women “water buffaloes.” Jacobowitz was given the chance to clear his record by attending diversity training. He refused, becoming the first conscientious objector in the diversity wars.
Other examples abound. Earlier this year, the Frederick, Md., sheriff’s department agreed to put all town policemen through sensitivity training as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by a black lawyer who had been stopped for drunk driving. After a District social worker shunned a client who told her he had AIDS, the D.C. Commission on Human Rights ordered the Department of Human Services (DHS) to institute sensitivity training for its social workers. Diversity training may also be the Roto-Rooter that purges racism from the Denny’s restaurant chain.
Or it may not: You can regulate conduct, and even language, but doing so won’t kill racism. It only drives it underground.
17.) a color without hue at one extreme end of the scale of grays, opposite to black, that reflects light of all hues completely and diffusely.
18.) a hue completely desaturated by admixture with white.
White guys, needless to say, aren’tcrazy about diversity training.
That’s just a symptom of the disease, says Tom Finn, another white-guy diversity trainer. “We as white men do at some level feel threatened by the diversity movement because we have sort of a zero-sum mentality, where if someone else moves up, we have to move out. That may even be part of our culture, that we think that way.”
Finn uses a model called “Dimensions of Diversity,” created by Brigham Young University professor Kate Kirkham. “The worst case scenario” for a trainer, Kirkham writes, is “someone who thinks that society now provides equal opportunity for everyone who makes an effort….[and to whom] everyone is an individual personality.”
There’s the rub, the pivotal contradiction of diversity ideology: To better treat one another as individuals, we must stop seeing people as individuals, and instead acknowledge their identities as members of a particular group.
Not only is that a contradiction, but it goes against the white-guy Weltanschauung as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights—two documents which diversity ideology scorns, although both were crafted to preserve nonmajority rights. White guys don’t see themselves as a group. This is partly a sign of privilege, but it also reflects the basic expansiveness of the white identity. For much of American history, the American concept of whiteness has been expanding to incorporate other groups. It grew slowly, to be sure, but it did grow, from a core of English settlers to include Scots, Dutch, Germans, and Scandinavians. A little later, Irish and Italians and Jews joined the fold. Sure, no Manhattan law firm would hire Mario Cuomo out of law school—but he did OK.
“The large fact, larger than exclusion, is that non-WASPs were welcome,” writes Richard Brookhiser in The Way of the WASP. “Welcome enough, anyway, that most of them stayed, and more kept coming.”
“For most of the history of American immigration,” Brookhiser writes, “the dock or the tarmac was the first step in becoming WASPs.” This is true of no other quasi-European nation—think of South Africa, or Germany and its treatment of Turkish immigrants.
Diversity jargon rejects the “melting pot” metaphor and also its underlying premise: That people of diverse origin can function as equals and are entitled the chance to do so, free from racial or ethnic presumptions. In Diversityland, each group is deemed “special” in its own way, cordoned off from the rest by velvet ropes.
Each group needs to be treated in a different way, according to sex, race, age, sexual preference, handicap, and country of origin. Diversity trainers provide us with mental index cards to tell us how to treat an Asian differently from a Hispanic, a Korean differently from a Taiwanese. “People want a how-to,” says D.C. trainer Dianne Sutton. “They want these recipes: They want to know, if he’s a young white male from the Midwest, how do I treat him? Or if he’s a black male, how do I treat him?”
Now nobody wants to be a WASP, not even George Bush, who couldn’t help it. The tarmacs of WASPdom—of whiteness in general—are crowded with refugees, nervously clutching their frayed Mark Cross luggage as they wait to board the last choppers out. Onetime WASP allies have long since deserted us. “Jews Are Not White,” proclaimed Tikkun editor Michael Lerner in the Village Voice last spring.
This is progress?
Even other white guys shun us. Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times has said that he’s bringing no more white males into the paper’s Washington bureau until further notice, according to the American Journalism Review. When A.M. Rosenthal assumed editorship of the New York Times in 1986, he placed an immediate embargo on the hiring of “non-blacks,” he has said.
This is payback, white guys are told, for centuries of exclusion and oppression. And all we have to show for our glorious reign are a few lousy country clubs and law firms. Say it loud: We’re white and cowed.
“What we as white guys could use is a whole bunch of awareness about our group identity,” says Finn. “The most important thing I try to do in diversity work is to help white men get an understanding of the fact that we are seen as a group, and that we behave in certain ways that come from our group identity. That single thing is the hardest for white men to understand. It’s not hard for women or African-Americans to understand, because they have it in their face all the time.”
Finn might want to think twice before he unleashes white awareness upon the world, though, if history is any guide. White guys’ prior attempts to circle the ethnic wagons have been nothing short of disastrous, producing such embarrassments as Ole Miss, the Ku Klux Klan, and Patrick Buchanan. So we get skittish when diversity trainers color-code everyone according to their race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, etc., and hail the resulting confusion as “unassim ilated diversity.”
23.) the white part of something.
White guys are special, too; that’s the bad news. Forget what you learned in school about the Founding Fathers and all those other dead white guys. The white guy’s road to self-knowledge shall be paved with guilt, not glory.
Razak identifies four stages of white awareness, the first being denial: “It ain’t me, Lord, it’s the other guy.”
That gives way to guilt: “Oh shit, it is me.”
Followed by “incompetence”: “I see I’m part of it, but I don’t know what to do.”
At the highest stage of enlightenment,Razak says, “you say, “Well, these women and people of color are also important to me, and I can be in another network if I get kicked out of the old one.’ ” This is a fine goal. Yet it seems doubtful at best that the divisive methods employed by many trainers can lead white guys to that blissful state.
Even some trainers agree. “I’m a little angry right now because people are doing [the training] so poorly they are polarizing people,” says Dianne Sutton. “Instead of celebrating differences, they’re polarizing. You’ve got angry white males, angry blacks, angry Hispanics; everyone’s very angry.” She says she has been called in to clean up a “mess” made by another trainer.
Sutton, a Star Trek fan, points to Captain Kirk as the very model of a modern multicultural manager—one who never needed sensitivity seminars to tell him how to lead his multifarious colleagues. He would have scoffed at “onion” theories of racism, or any of the other mumbo jumbo that forms the basis of so much diversity work. Even though he was a white guy, Kirk simply led, without labeling anyone.
Why, then, is corporate America opening the can of racial worms—and footing the multimillion-dollar bill?
By airing minority-group complaints in the controlled climate of diversity training, the corporate masters can “own” the grievances—and then replace the racial worms in a bulletproof can.
Diversity training sets up an innocence contest among competing groups—blacks, Latinos, women, immigrants. Whites, and especially straight white guys, can only win this struggle by fully confessing their own guilt, their own original sin (which is their skin), in the purifying presence of a diversity trainer.
Who’s the most innocent of all?
White guys, in the end.
How this works is nicely illustrated by a training video called A Firm Commitment, produced and sold to law firms by the San Francisco Bar Association, that dramatizes a fictional law firm’s efforts to grapple with diversity and minority discontent.
Three white partners meet in a conference room to discuss the departure of minority associates. “Bill Jackson has told me he’s leaving at the end of the month,” says a woman lawyer, her voice full of urgency. “That makes four minority associates we’ve lost this year.”
“Associates come and associates go,” says the white guy on her right, blond and bespectacled. “Regardless of what flavor they happen to be.” His name is “Sidney.”
But Jackson is taking clients with him when he goes, his partner says, and he’s also accepting a pay cut. “He says he would be more comfortable somewhere else.”
“More comfortable?” asks Sidney, displaying all the sensitivity of a polar bear. “What does he want, a leather chair?”
“It won’t be long before they’re all gone,” she says. The firm’s clients want more minority lawyers; one has even “asked to see our statistics.”
“We can’t afford to have this kind of a reputation,” the managing partner interjects.
“So?” Sidney asks. “Hire a recruiter from the NBA.” Typical white-guy thing to say.
“Sidney! You can’t continue to make remarks like that!”
Cut to Sidney, smugly enduring a diversity training seminar.
That the law firm wants to hire minority lawyers and keep them happy are both laudable goals. Its reasons for doing so, however, make Sidney seem refreshingly sincere: The firm needs to keep clients, maintain its minority “statistics,” and protect its reputation—to make white people look good.
This, ultimately, is what whites seek via their loudly professed commitments to diversity, their diversity task forces, and Creating High Performing Inclusive Organizations—and make no mistake, such initiatives are almost always dictated, approved, and financed by white-dominated boards and committees.
Whites seek innocence. They seek redemption. And the only route to this is via expiation of their sins.
Yet their concern is primarily selfish, notes black essayist Shelby Steele. “Blacks, then, become a means to this redemption,” he writes in an essay titled “White Guilt.” “And, as such, they must be seen as generally “less than’ others. Their needs are “special,’ “unique,’ “different.’ They become “different’ people with whom whites can negotiate entitlements, but never fully see as people like themselves.”
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Jack Hornady.