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.

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