"Anti-Racism": the Mailed Fist of Multiculturalism by Lawrence Auster, recently posted on FrontPageMagazine.com, describes heavy-handed, intense, intrusive, manipulative techniques employed by "anti-racist" seminar presenters such as Enid Lee. Auster writes,
The goal of the training was that after the participants had gone through the soul-shattering realization of their own racism, of their parents' racism, and of the presence of racism everywhere, they should be seized by evangelical fervor to take up the fight against institutional racism in whatever institutions they happened to belong to.In the course of such events, employees and students, whose participation is mandatory, are sometimes reduced to tears.
Auster's article reminded me of my own experiences with "diversity" training when I was employed by the University of Michigan in the late '80s and early '90s. The sessions I attended were not as intense as the ones described by Auster, but they were still much more than a reasonable effort to regulate conduct in the workplace. They were part of a large effort to mold the personal opinions of staff.
I suppose the larger movement that includes the "anti-racist" seminars Auster mentions and the diversity sessions at U of M and all of the other practices and phenomena that are sometimes labeled "political correctness" might collapse from its own absurdity in a generation or two. But it has already inflicted major damage on American society and on the cultures of our academic institutions. The stupefaction it stives to induce might possibly render key minds incapable of exercising the full human intelligence that might be required in coming decades to confront threats to human life on earth. Or it might have a Cassandra effect: those who truly understand situations will be ignored by those in power and by the masses.
In any case, it is not some mere academic affectation like a set of quirky, dead-end mathematical theories the rest of us may safely ignore. It will, as intended, have large consequences in society as a whole. If allowed to develop unhindered, this movement that supposedly advocates "multiculturalism" and "diversity" will certainly deliver great rewards and career enhancements for those at or near the tops of the various hierarchies that advance it. But the large consequences in the whole of society will be ever more disastrous, because the initiates of the movement really don't know what they are doing, beyond arranging nice pay raises and easy promotions for themselves and their friends.
The problems of "multiculturalism" have been addressed by many scholars and writers over the last few decades. There are organizations which address some of its more egregious misdemeanors and stupidities.
The situation does, indeed, require active opposition, active resistance. This article is not about organizing or activism, but I will offer one key suggestion: Prepare youself mentally to take a stand, so that if a situation develops where you need to take a stand, you will be able to take a stand.
For example, if you are attending an "anti-racist" seminar and a co-worker is reduced to tears, you might stand up and shout at the presenter, with maximum indignation, "Do you realize you are creating a hostile working environment? That is against the law!" Put the bastards on the defensive right from the start.
There are many possibilities. Whatever you do needs to be consistent with your nature, even if it is at odds with your everyday manners. The quiet, agreeable guy who blows up in the face of gross injustice can be quite effective. On the other hand, if it is simply not your nature to issue a loud denunciation, perhaps you could devise some other type of response.
In 1991, I had a chance to take a stand. I was working for ITD, the Information Technology Division at the University of Michigan. One of our Diversity Sessions was about Women in the workplace. At some point we broke up into small groups to come up with suggestions for improving the work environment, etc., for women. I was given the task of presenting my group's ideas to the assembly at large, about two or three hundred people. One idea was my own: "Encourage women to become programmers."
One might quibble with my formulation, but all I meant was that if a woman (or anyone, really) in a non-technical position showed an interest in programming, I would encourage her or him to buy a book, take a course, etc., etc., because many people find they are fascinated with programming, they love it, they're good at it, and they don't necessarily have to have a university degree or be super brainy. My college roommate encouraged me to check it out back in '73 and that's how I found my career.
In any case, after three or four subsequent group reports were given without incident, a rather stereotypical radical feminist began ranting about my "sexist" remark. I had a strong feeling that in a few moments the entire gathering would be applauding this young woman for her "courageous" statement.
As it happened, my position had been reduced to half time for 90 days prior to its complete elimination. (The University saves on unemployment payments that way, and I wasn't doing anything important -- just maintaining the configuration database for the backbone of something called "the Internet.") As it also happened, I was a former member of a religious group whose members actually practiced shouting. They learned how to "project intention" that way, or something like that.
I put my cultic skills to good use by loudly interrupting the speaker: "What I said was completely fair! There was nothing sexist about it! And if you don't like it, you can * * * off!"
She sat down with a stunned look on her face and said nothing further.
Since my job was gone anyway and people already figured I was slightly whacked, I lost nothing. I did have some interesting conversations in the aftermath. ITD maintained an on-line forum about diversity, in which I made a few comments. People demanded that I appologize, but I didn't. At one point, someone mentioned that word of my disruption had spread all over campus and that I had become a "hero." A day or two later the forum was taken off line. I asked if I could get a copy of it, but my request was refused.
The last diversity session of the season was devoted to "understanding conflict." I composed some lengthy comments about it afterwards and posted them on a university message board. (In those days, message boards at U of M were called "conferences." Threads were called "items.") The article I wrote follows. I've made a few minor changes and corrections in it, but I've left most of my stylistic affectations intact. Enjoy!
This item is about the ITD "Diversity Program" which has just finished its third season. The program is a large scale effort that probes the opinions and feelings of staff. I think some people outside of ITD would be interested in some of the details of the program, and I believe that the program itself could benefit from some open, serious discussion in computer conferences.
To use an oxymoron, the "culture of the workplace" is naturally artificial. Many factors and processes go into the formation of a "workplace culture," including the nature of the work being done, the traditions, ethnic cultures and possible unionization of the workers, the styles, personalities and policies of the directors, managers and supervisors, and finally a vast array of labor, commercial and civil rights laws. We are enlightened enough to understand the mutability of all this. We can look at the total culture of our particular workplace and consider the aspects of it that are working well and the aspects that need change. We can try to bring about changes. It is usually true that the higher up we are in an organization's hierarchy, the more power we have to effect the changes we desire.
ITD is currently involved with two "cultural" initiatives. The most recent effort is TQM ("Total Quality Management"), which is an elaborate system of relationships and attitudes and practices developed by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Deming's ideas were widely adopted in Japan, and the industrial and commercial success of the Japanese has contributed to the popularity of Deming's ideas back here in the U.S.A.
ITD has also just finished its third season of "Diversity Training." Each season consited of five or so sessions. Each session would be offered at several different times to accommodate various work schedules. The program is intended for the entire work force of ITD, but avoiding the sessions is easier in some parts of ITD than in others. I don't recall any messages or memos coming from the management in my part of ITD saying, "Attendance is mandatory." The usual wording is along the lines of, "Please let us know which session you will attend."
The sessions deal with all the usual hot topics: race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and ethnic cultures. The final session of the 90-91 season was originally supposed to deal with the big button of religion, but, due to an unanticipated incident at the previous session (which dealt with gender issues), mass respect for metaphysical diversity won't come about until some time next fall.
There has been much real value in the diversity program. Even in the culturally progressive climate of ITD, there may be a few people inclined to act on the base impulses of sexism, racism or gay-bashing. And, no doubt, some of these people will react in a positive way to the primary message of the diversity program: that discrimination and harassment are "not OK." Others may reform themselves due to cultural changes. Those who are offended by racism, sexism, etc., become morally superior to those who practice those sins. This is as it should be. The deragatory joke, the inappropriate sexual remark, the derisive epithet are more and more often met with some form of reproach instead of snickers and camaraderie. Most people can adapt to this influence in the same way that they adapt to rigid enforcement of parking regulations. This is all a change in "prevailing correct attitude," similar to the change in our attitudes (and rules) about smoking in the workplace. For those who still don't get the message, management could try individual discussion, threat, reprimand, suspension or dismissal, according to the frequency and severity of the offenses. It is important that management actually consider the heavier handed interventions for serious cases of discrimination or harassment, rather than simply subjecting the entire work force to an ever expanding re-education program.
We can also hope that the diversity program lets people with "differences" know that they are, indeed, valued members of the work force. We are all "part of the team" regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, military experience, or any other irrelevant "difference." When management puts effort into making "people with differences" feel welcome and accepted, it is likely that such people will, indeed, find ITD a happier place to work. I believe that is actually happening, based on some of the public comments I've heard at different diversity sessions. This is a Good Thing.
Finally, I think most of us in ITD have benefitted by learning about cultural differences, and how they might affect our interactions with co-workers. When we learn about the different meanings associated with things like eye contact, social and conversational protocols among different cultures, we are much more likely to understand our co-workers, and much less likely to "take something the wrong way." This can make us happier and more productive on our jobs.
There are aspects of the program which are less commendable. First, there is the shear extent of it. 700 people attending 5 two hour sessions every is a lot of staff time. And we must also consider the losses in efficiency when the intense activity that goes into various critical projects in ITD is systematically interrupted. And there is a sort of disrespectful presumption behind the extensiveness of the program: That all or most of us "need" this much indoctrination in order for the program to be effective.
A number of the sessions I've attended have included gratuitous wise cracks about "white males," often focussing on their "privileged" status. One of the speakers at a diversity session even told a racist joke: "How many white males does it take to change a light bulb? Just one -- he holds the bulb and the world turns around him." That may be a fair point for white males in upper management, but it just isn't true for most of the rest of us. At the introductory session of this year's season, Doug Van Houweling commented on his own experience "as a majority white male." He said that the system worked for him, presumably because of his color and sex. I guess all of us white males are DVH clones at heart.
White males have also been characterized at diversity sessions as emotionally unexpressive. Sometimes the "white" aspect of this gets emphasized (as in the presentation by Thomas Kockman); other times the focus is on the "male" aspect (as in the recent session on gender issues).
The flyer announcing the February, 1990 diversity session tells us, "Dr. [Thomas] Kockman is a professor of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and president of Kochman Communications Consultants, LTD. He is . . . a nationally recognized expert with 20 years' experience in African-American and Anglo cross-cultural communication." His presentation had a number of useful insignts into some aspects of black culture that I hadn't known about, so in that way I found it very useful. On the other hand, his descriptions of "Anglo" culture seemed slanted and antagonistic. He described some norms common in white collar workplaces and attributed them to white ("Anglo") society at large. Naturally, a workplace functions best when people avoid highly emotional interchanges (whenever possible ;) ) and when they avoid discussion of "hot topics" like race, sex, religion or politics, which can mar an otherwise pleasant workplace and create irrelevant antogonisms that distract us from doing our jobs. Kochman put a weird racial spin on this issue by claiming that blacks tend to prefer "truth to peace," wheras white people tend to sacrifice truth for the sake of tranquility. (Maybe his bomb landed a bit too close to where I live. I'm doing my best to change my ways. This item is one of the results of my efforts.)
Kochman wasn't the only dispenser of cultural canards at diversity sessions. Christine Carlsen-Jones, the main presenter at the recent "Understanding Conflict" session, said that we are moving from a culture "in which one group thinks it is the only right group into a culture that says there are lots of ways of looking at lots of things . . . ." That completely ignores the vast, vast political, cultural, religious, intellectual and social diversity that exists among white people (or white males) in the U.S.A.
Later in her talk, Carlsen-Jones asked, "Is it fair that some people have to leave half of who they are at the door when they walk into work and move into a different culture that is one that they haven't had a part in shaping? Is that fair? Who decides that? Who has decided it for the last couple of centuries and maybe some of that's getting changed a little bit." The simple fact is that ALL of us leave "half of who [we] . . . are" at home. Sometimes more than half! Anyone who puts all that they are into their job needs to think seriously about "getting a life." And very few of us have a major impact on the "culture of the workplace." Greg Marks and Doug Van Houweling have a LOT more influence on our corporate culture than I do. This is natural, but it has nothing to do with race or sex, it's just a question of who is the boss.
My main objection to the diversity program is the fact that it is so psychologically manipulative. It isn't really "brainwashing" as practiced by the Communists during the Korean war, or as described in various dystopian nightmares, or as performed by a few weird religious or political cults. But it is a lot more manipulative than it needs to be. Psychotherapy is something that should occur between a therapist and his or her client. It is not something that should be done on a mass basis to the members of a work force.
Some of the psychological techniques employed are sort of laughable, and mainly serve to give us the impression that management does not regard us as intelligent adults who are capable of responding to the stated managerial intent in the areas of our interpersonal working relationships, especially with respect to the "differences" that are the focus of the diversity program. The silliness becomes insulting. For example, during this season's "gay" session, we had a "cross the line" exercise. We would all stand on one side of a line, and then the facilitators would call out some category we might belong to (religious minority, veteran status, illness -- it was a long list). Then anyone belonging to the stated category could "cross the line" if he or she felt comfortable in doing so. At the end of this grade school buffoonery, we were given the message of the exercise: "This is what it's like to be gay." Or something like that. I suspect that most of us are "different" in various ways from other people, and that we understand these differences and how they have affected our own lives. We can thus, to some extent, imagine how other "differences" might affect the lives of other people. But "differences" are themselves all different. The experiences of a white middle class suburban female, of a black middle class male, of a rich white male homosexual, of a poor black lesbian, of a Vietnam-era veteran, of a Desert Storm veteran, of a German farmer in Michigan in the early 1900s (my grandfather), and of a Ukranian coal miner in Kentucky in the early 1900s (my other grandfather) are going to have a lot of important differences. The "differences" don't stop just because we've said "difference." I can just imagine my grandpa going through diversity training: "So you've mined coal in Kentucky! That's what it's like to be gay!" He later went into farming, so I'm sure he would have recognized sixteen tons of bullshit when he saw it. Or even before he saw it.
One major aspect of the psychological manipulation is more subtle. The programs often try to focus the attention of each attendee on his or her own personal experience and life history. In a number of cases, we are given exercises that involve recall of childhood thoughts and feelings. "When did you first become aware of (racial or gender) differences?" That type of thing. In the last session, supposedly about "Understanding Conflict," we were asked to "recall for a moment all the messages that you heard as you were growing up about conflict." Why just "as [we] . . . were growing up"? Isn't it possible that our ideas about conflict have developed a bit since our childhoods? Why not consult our current adult opinions? I found this quite irritating -- it denied me a chance to quote from Aliester Crowley at a diversity session. ("The price of existence is eternal warfare." That's from his "Book of Lies," so maybe he didn't mean it. Unfortunately, when I was growing up, I went to school in a rather conservative district where they never read to us from the works of the Great Beast.)
Most of the "Conflict" session was devoted to two exercises designed to probe and mold our attitudes towards the diversity program itself. We broke up into small groups and were asked to ". . . dig down inside as far as you are comfortable going in terms of what things . . . you have experienced . . . you don't like, you're tired of, you're afraid of . . . " For each exercise we had a questionaire ("What are you happy with?" "What are you bored with?" "What are you excited about?" "What has scared you?" and so on. After filling in the spaces, we could mention "those things you're comfortable sharing." Then the group "facilitators" would report to the whole assembly on some of the comments made in the discussion. After both exercises were completed, the questionnaires were collected so that the committee could benefit from "all the written feedback."
The problem with such forced confession of opinion is that the workplace, like a public school, has a certain inherent coerciveness about it. People naturally want to please their bosses and the other "powers that be." We have bills to pay. We worry about our futures. So how do we respond to these "down inside" inquiries? Do we reveal our true opinions, and risk being labeled "anti-diversity," especially in light of a possible wave of layoffs in the offing? Or do we affect more acceptable opinions? And even if we want to be serious and honest, how can the question, "What problems exist with how things are done now?" be reasonably answered in a few minutes on ten square inches of paper? And how were such exercises supposed to help us "understand conflict?" More than anything else, they were an exercise in white collar "steam control," to borrow a phrase from Tom Wolfe. A little thought on this question does reveal an important principle of conflict management: Neutralize dissent by being willing to "listen" to it, and by providing an outlet for it in a controlled, politically ineffective context.
There is another implicit political point in all of this psychologizing. In her introduction to the "conflict" session, Ruth Addis said, "Because these sessions are about diversity issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia and prejudice, we [often] . . . have very strong opinions, attitudes and feelings associated with these topics. The diversity of these attitudes about diversity is fertile ground for conflict." That tends to portray the whole issue as a collection of psychological difficulties in dealing with minorities, women and gays in the workplace. There may very well be more ill will towards the diversity program itself than there is towards the supposed beneficiaries of it. I'll admit that I have very strong opinions, feelings, etc., about some of the political aspects of these issues and about the diversity program, but none of this has ever gotten in the way of respecting my co-workers regardless of their "differences." (In fact, I'm usually the "different" one because I'm a weird computer geek. N.b.: I don't think we need a "diversity for nerds" session -- I've found the vast majority of people in ITD to be very pleasant to work with.)
The "Understanding Conflict" session also included a presentation by the "ITD Theatre Troupe." It was supposedly a "conversation" about various aspects of the diversity program. Here are a few excerpts:
"I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of discussing all of this. This involves people's feelings and emotions. We shouldn't be prying."
"We've got to get this stuff out in the open. If we don't talk with each other, nothing is going to change. And things need to change."
"I'm tired of the politically correct PC talk. We've got rights. First amendment rights. I can say anything I want to say."
"There are some things you just can't say or do in the workplace."
"We spend too much time on diversity. Having these programs costs too much, and we're supposedly reducing our budget."
"We hear the anger too. We hear staff members who say they're leaving ITD because of the atmosphere here, we hear from staff members who say something needs to be done soon or the whole place is going to blow. Sometimes we feel like the whole division is dependent on us to make this a better place to work."
The last statement is interesting. If "the whole place is going to blow" even after three seasons of "diversity training," then maybe the program needs some serious re-evaluation. Two of the "wrong" statements given above are actually right. ITD shouldn't be prying into the thoughts and emotions of it's employees. And ITD really is spending too much time on the program. (I don't think the First Amendment is an issue here. There are indeed "some things you just can't say or do in the workplace." Most of us know that already.)
In spite of the manipulative nature of the exercises, they did lead to the expression of a few good ideas: Attendance should be voluntary, but encouraged by making the program more exciting. Opposing views should be part of the sessions since ". . . we're not inviting people to talk about conflict because we're not presenting it in our programs." (How about having Shelby Steele or Glen Lourey come in and give a talk? How about a panel discussion with Dinesh D'Souza, Cory Dolgan, Barbara Ransby and Brian Jendryka? Or Susan Watson, George Cantor, Ben Johnson and Joe Stroud? With a little effort, the latter panel could be modified to be balanced by gender as well as by color, general political orientation and block of Lafayette Street.)
Overall, I think the diversity program is a good idea. But there are serious problems that are not likely to be addressed without some serious public discussion. I hope this item will encourage some of that discussion.
Sometimes in order to get better, we need to realize and admit that in some ways we are "wrong." This has been true for me. And it is as true for the people putting on the diversity program as it is for the indended recipients of their enlightened manipulations.
Addendum, November 9, 2005:
Some of the above issues are discussed in The Religion of Anti-racism (American Renaissance, Vol. 10, No. 4, April, 1999).
Copyright © 2004
The author of this article graduated from the University of Michigan in 1977.
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