By Alan Bean
Recently, I have been looking into the possibility of doing some consulting work as a diversity trainer. After spending fifteen years driving the back roads of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi confronting racial bias in the criminal justice system, I am extremely sensitive to the often subtle nuances of racial bias and racial resentment.
Many of the narrative campaigns Friends of Justice have sponsored have provoked entirely different reactions from people of color and people of non-color. There are always a few exceptions, of course, but most white people get extremely defensive when phrases like “racial injustice”, “racial oppression” or “racial bias” are slipped into the conversation. The same reactions rise when words like “homophobia”, and “sexism” are introduced.
My assumption was that diversity trainers would need to anticipate and defuse the strong emotions they inevitably encounter in workplace settings. To test my hunch, I ordered Howard Ross’s Reinventing Diversity. Ross feels like a minority because he is Jewish and like a member of the dominant group because he is white. He has worked as a diversity consultant for several decades and his thinking has shifted dramatically in recent years.
At a training in central Louisiana, a white man with roots in the region admitted that the stories he was hearing left him feeling torn and confused. “Here’s my problem,” he said. “My father and grandfather were the most important people in my life. They’re both gone now, but they taught me everything I know. They taught me fishing from the time I was this high.” He motioned with his hand. “They were leaders in our community, helped people. My grandfather was the pastor of my church. They taught me to be a good father . . .”
And then he dropped the bomb. “But they were both members of the Klan. (more…)