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Anti-Racism DEI Theory Ethnographic Essay

Diversity trainers can’t cure cancer.

So you’re doing some implicit bias training? I’ll bet you haven’t thought much about what that means.

In 2019, the Board of Education in premier Kansas City suburban school district voted to reject a $97,000 “Equity Work Consulting Agreement” with Educational Equity Consultants. The Board rejected that they “needed” any advanced training in bias awareness.

Bias training does not recruit white folks into a BIPOC-led multi-cultural movement to upend the white supremacy-steeped systems that cause bias in the first place. Bias training (ironically) unconsciously participates in white supremacy by giving your macro-level organization a pass. Focusing on employee bias obscures the system that allows the profiteers to plunder in the first place.

“It’s not your fault because your racism was conditioned, but let’s leave tackling the system that conditioned that racism in the first place to someone else.”

-Your Employer

The acknowledgment that racism created racialized cognitive distortions in white psycho-social behavior is just the start of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s diagnosis of metastatic racism in America. Make no mistake about it, racism is a cancer.

Diversity Committees don’t cure cancer. And I’m yet to learn about cancer that’s treated with training.

So what’s the problem with bias training?

Unconscious (or implicit) bias training purportedly helps white people avoid socially conditioned beliefs hidden in your brain that are (supposedly) “unconsciously” ingrained in the daily actions and behaviors of dominant groups.

The thinking goes something like this: if you make people aware of these biases, they’ll be less likely to act on them, making the world a better place for everyone. We might even equip white folks with a strategy or two to adjust their thinking patterns.

The evidence proves time and time again that white folks are resistant to this messaging, even though there are near-bespoke designed programs that work exceptionally well. White men sometimes get caught up in their feelings when we start throwing phrases like “White Fragility” around.

There are hundreds of “diversity trainers” and consultants who do this work. There’s also a cottage industry of webinars and badges. The recipe is simple: the more clients they work with, the more credibility they have. Look at the website of Educational Equity Consultants. Their A1 website funnel item is “Landing page with lots of fancy words > About Us > Client List.

But who’s measuring outcomes on bias training? No one. It’s impossible.

It’s helpful to think of implicit bias training like substance abuse rehab. If they stay clean, the program worked. Extol the virtues of the magic implicit bias training! If the person is still biased at the end of the program, it’s a personal failing. They’re an addict.

If you’ve committed to unconscious bias training, let’s take a look at what you’ve committed yourself to, exactly.

  • Bias training admits that many (if not all) people acting on behalf of your organization are commonly engaged in biased behaviors.
  • Bias training arranges to have someone deliver the message to your employees that synaptic responses of their brain are compromised by systemic racism.
  • Bias training agrees that whiteness is a damaging cognitive distortion that lives in white psychology.
  • Bias training accedes that all white folks are potential hazards or roadblocks to people of color in your workplace.

By doing the training, you’ve low-key agreed that every historic decision made by a white person in your organization was already compromised. Don’t have any people of color on your team at work? No black professors at your college? There would have to be dozens of individually untraceable bias incidents likely responsible for that, right?

SYS👏TEM👏IC: In case you’re keeping score, that’s the ballgame.

You’ve just agreed that racism lives in the brains of white people and that they play out colonizer psychology on the bodies of BIPOC (sometimes without even knowing it).

That’s the end of the road as it were. The only path forward is the psychological decolonization of the colonizer.

A white man recently admitted to me that he owned a copy of Between the World and Me, but stopped reading if halfway through. This July 14th marks five years since this book was released. How long are we going to wait on white men to read the last 80 pages?

“But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.”

“Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent.”

Excerpts From: Ta-Nehisi Coates. “Between the World and Me.”

Implicit bias training isn’t the large-scale white folks could otherwise set themselves to completing.

Coates is saying people who believe themselves to be white are addicted to plunder at a level that jeopardizes all life on earth. So what’s the problem? Bias training is just the dreamers way of slowly waking up? Wrong. The phrase “unconscious (or implicit) bias” is a white-people-approved logic that circles the conversation back to “individual acts of racism.”

White supremacy is so pathological that it manages to twist “Systemic racism has altered the synapses in your brain,” to “If I focus on my bias performance, there’s less of a chance that people will call me racist (personally).” Recognizing your individual biases is no doubt better than not. But understanding your biases merely serves the psycho-social instinct to avoid being called a racist, even if it means subjecting yourself to momentarily uncomfortable “training.”

Training in bias-avoidance is individual and proximal, nowhere near the scale of anti-racism work that our country requires. If you train a white person to avoid individual behaviors without preparing them to see how white supremacy lives in systems, you’ve perhaps inadvertently produced a much more effective racist.

They’re more effective because they’ve covered their stripes. You’ve just tailored the sheep’s clothing to the wolf. They’re more effective because the logics are still deeply embedded in their brains. It’s already impacted where they live, where their kids go to school, their job. Honestly, many white folks are deeply compromised by the disease of racism and hate. No 3–4 hour seminar can change that, only years of reflection and striving to be anti-racist.

Bias training can’t be where it ends.

Systems create these biases — the traditional-American nuclear family, education, criminal justice, mass media, housing, technology, finance, retail capitalism. In a way, bias training enables psychic-doubling, which further complicates the schizophrenic logic that exists within capitalism. Yet again, we’ve just found a new and creative for white people to see racism as “individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”

“How to Be An Anti-Racist” is the new hotness for white folks to pick up. A New York Times Best Seller. Millions of white people will skim it to have surface-level conversations in diversity book clubs.

When they get to the sentence, “Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist,” the doubling will kick in; everyone will ignore it and move on.

Typically, anti-bias training doesn’t aim for anti-capitalist messaging. As long as they train white people to avoided bias, they’re free to “fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same.” Most white people won’t fight one of the twins at all.

Asking white folks to become aware of their biases is the absolute least we can do. The end goal of bias training (if done correctly) should be helping white folks understand how race has distorted their sense of self so that they’ll strive to be anti-racist every single day. Organizations across America can honestly skip straight to that messaging right away. Skip the training and the book club meetings.

White folks need to start organizing around affirmatively anti-racist agendas in teams at work, social circles, student groups, local governments, product teams, startups, etc.

Anti-racism should be part of your leadership DNA, not bias-training.

Teaching white folks to make the solution all about their behavior is the last card white supremacy has to play, and it’s working.

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Originally published on Medium