Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sensitivity Training, and Political Correctness

Last night my sweetie subjected me to Penn and Tellers Bullshit. It was all about sensitivity training and how useless the seminars are in the workforce.  The basic thesis is that what these training sessions promote is group think, and that non alignment is punished.  The idea is that these training sessions occur to stave off potential lawsuits.

I don't believe that personal realignment can be achieved in this manner. To become an ally of the marginalized peoples of this world has to be a personal decision as it requires great dedication to decolonize a mind.  That said, I do  believe that society would be improved if people would  acknowledge that it is necessary to validate our shared humanity.

Those that are resistant to change often state that the pendulum has swung to far, and that they feel as though they don't have the right to free speech anymore, however if free speech means creating someone as other then it isn't really free is it?  The choice of specific language may not have consequences for the speaker if they inhabit a certain body, but it will certainly have an effect on the listener.

If I were to stand in front of a latin[a] lesbian and repeatedly say things like spic, carpet muncher, lesbo, etc, it may not effect me as a person, but to her it would be assaultive and reductive speech.  Not only would I be asserting difference, I would specifically be positioning myself as better than her based on hetero privilege and erroneous race hierarchy. The attempt to reduce others is based in a selfish desire to escape a social system in which certain groups are privileged, and others are marginalized however, this approach is only the internalization of oppressive behaviour that has been aimed at us.  We wrongly assume that because these same tools have been beneficial to white males that we may employ these strategies against other bodies of colour to create an artificial uplift. This creates a combative relationship between marginalized bodies that eliminates social cohesion as a possibility, thus we end up working at cross purposes with no one achieving any concrete gains.  How does this relate to sensitivity training you are probably wondering at this point? Sensitivity training is part of the arsenal of tools that actually build animosity rather than create a sense of community.  We don't learn to speak to each other and critically unpack privilege, instead we learn to repress certain language that society has decided is offensive.

Telling someone to be silent without engaging with them on the history of why the isms as they stand are harmful produces no lasting results. Instead, people further entrench themselves in their individual privileges as a form of armour against being spoken to, instead of with.  Conversations regarding isms must be ongoing conversations. One cannot simply attend an eight hour seminar and experience a metamorphosis.  I am a very committed trans ally and yet I know that even as I speak out in favour of trans rights my message can sometimes be lost behind my CIS privilege, so much so that it detracts from my thesis and will occasionally drive the subject matter away from the issue at hand. If I as an ally am not capable of removing all of the unearned CIS privilege in my speech or behaviour, how successful will someone who has no desire to change be?

So now that I have laid out all of the critique, where are my solutions?? You are never supposed to criticize unless you have a solution right? (I am told this constantly) In truth I have no concrete solutions on how to effectively combat unearned privilege other than to say that we must begin to engage one another.  Critical thinking must be taught from the very earliest of ages in our school systems.  It is critical that children learn from a very early age to recognize isms and how they interact.  This is usually not taught until University ensuring that it is a message that only certain classes of people will learn and then only if they so desire to be taught.  Ironic isn't it that class another "ism" effects who learns to critically engage with intersectionalism.


6 comments:

frau sally benz said...

I've had a sensitivity training (usually called diversity training) post in the works ever since I saw this episode too.

Warning: I actually took a social cognition class where the entire second half of the course was how to effectively break down stereotypes and make people understand their privilege, so maybe my passion for this topic is a bit much for some.

I can't stand how the issue was wittled down to nothing in this episode of Bullshit. Yes, the type of training they were talking about (an outsider comes in to lead employees in a mandatory workshop of some sort where they preach nonsense they made up) does not work. At all. It is never founded on actual research, and the leaders are almost never trained.

But! The episode could have at least mentioned the fact that there are other initiatives that are very effective. The most effective is when a team of employees does their own research and training and then essentially becomes the diversity training team, if you will (there was a technical name for it that escapes me right now). 1) This increases knowledge & passing on accurate info, 2) B/c the programs this team create are not mandatory and usually more interesting/creative, people are more willing to attend, 3) Employees are more open to it also b/c they are fellow co-workers, not outsiders, and 4) It increases accountability b/c their actual job is to increase not just diversity but privilege awareness.

There's a lot more, but that's the condensed version. *phew* Got it all out! Off my soapbox for now.

Danny said...

Those that are resistant to change often state that the pendulum has swung to far, and that they feel as though they don't have the right to free speech anymore, however if free speech means creating someone as other then it isn't really free is it

Yeah there are a lot of people out there that think they're rights are supposed to take precedence over the rights of others.

Renee said...

@Danny What people are viewing as rights are usually cases of unacknowledged privilege.

Danny said...

@Danny What people are viewing as rights are usually cases of unacknowledged privilege.

Precisely. (emphasis obviously mine.)

The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

It was all about sensitivity training and how useless the seminars are in the workforce. The basic thesis is that what these training sessions promote is group think, and that non alignment is punished.
Speaking about the workforce, I do not believe this type of training promotes group think. Not at all. I think it teaches people what not to say so people can go to work without all the external hostility one has to face outside of work. Well at least that would be the goal if everyone adhered to the guidelines. What I have found is, people, and in my experience it has always been white men, learn how to follow the guidelines (to a tee) and still stick the knife in and twist it. Always letting one know that they were able to get away with their misdeed by following the guidelines. This usually cuts deeper than if they were just out and out hostile and we all know (the people at work) where so and so stands. There seems to be fun to be had playing the cat and mouse game of beating the “politically correct” system by playing word games.
I have facilitated a few of these workshops in the past and to be honest I always find that it is amazing what is taught or facilitated is necessary, but apparently it is judging by many of the answers I used to get.
I don't believe that personal realignment can be achieved in this manner. To become an ally of the marginalized peoples of this world has to be a personal decision as it requires great dedication to decolonize a mind. That said, I do believe that society would be improved if people would acknowledge that it is necessary to validate our shared humanity.
I don’t believe that personal realignment can be achieved in this manner either. This makes me think about what we expect from one’s job, assuming that this training only comes from one’s workplace. Is it the employer’s responsibility to see to it that individuals work on their personal realignment? Well yes to a point, as much it takes to make sure a workplace is not hostile. However, to fully reach actualisation it would have to be a personal journey. And who will facilitate that journey but oneself? It is my opinion that the people who are self-motivated in working on their personal realignment are probably not the people who made it a need for such training to begin with.

Renee said...

@The Fabulous Kitty Glendower
what not to say so people can go to work without all the external hostility one has to face outside of work. Well at least that would be the goal if everyone adhered to the guidelines. What I have found is, people, and in my experience it has always been white men, learn how to follow the guidelines (to a tee) and still stick the knife in and twist it. Always letting one know that they were able to get away with their misdeed by following the guidelines. This usually cuts deeper than if they were just out and out hostile and we all know (the people at work) where so and so stands. There seems to be fun to be had playing the cat and mouse game of beating the “politically correct” system by playing word games.

That is exactly the point. Most people are aware of the things that they say and or do that are obviously racist. Each one of this seminars I have been to simply provided a list of what is sexist, racist, and homophobic without critical engaging as to why and how the isms interact to create someone as other. There was no conversation about privilege and how the historically hegemony of white males is damaging to other bodies. Unless you are continually critically engaging on these important issues nothing can be gained. Giving people a list of trigger words or statements to avoid is not helpful in terms of growth or radical engagement.
Companies use it as a tool to avoid being sued, and the employees look at it as a break away from the traditional work day. In the end the only people that really loose are those that are being targeted in the first place. This is the reason that I suggest that this kind of conversation needs to begin in primary school before ideas become entrenched in young minds. If we teach children to recognize privilege they will be less likely to 'other' people as they grow.