Diversity training doesn't work. Here's why.

"Diversity training."

What comes to your mind when you read those words?

a) Listening to boring speakers who use meaningless buzzwords like "cultural competence" and "tolerance."

b) Participating in awkward workshop exercises. Privilege walk, anyone?

c) Learning painfully obvious things, like "racism is bad." As if you didn't already know that.

d) All of the above.

It's no wonder diversity fatigue is sweeping across America.

The truth is, I believe that most diversity training doesn't work.

Why not?

Because so many diversity trainers focus on all the wrong things, like:

  • Training people to hide their racism
    Yes, you read that correctly. Many diversity trainers don't push people to challenge their own racist beliefs. Instead, the seminars teach people to be more aware of the non-verbal cues (the fancy word is "microinequities") they send out that may tip others off to their racism. The philosophy is: hide your racism in order to create a more harmonious workplace.
  • Celebrating diversity
    It's much easier to engage in feel-good, uncritical celebrations of diversity and multiculturalism than it is to tackle the complex issues surrounding race and racism. But focusing on "celebrating diversity" only encourages people to turn a blind eye to racism, and promotes the myth that we live in a happy-go-lucky, color-blind world.
  • Making people of color teach white people about racism
    Let's face it: Most diversity trainers aim their messages at white people and treat the people of color in the room as teaching aides. There's an unspoken assumption that only white folks need to learn about race and racism, and that everyone else should share their stories and experiences in order to help their white colleagues achieve anti-racist nirvana. This approach alienates people of color and makes white people feel angry and resentful. Racism is not just a white problem -- we live in a racist society and all of us have absorbed these racist messages, whether we are conscious of them or not.

People are tired of tiptoeing around issues of race. They are tired of safe cultural tourism. They are tired of companies who know how to say the right things but can't back up their words with action.

It's time to go beyond diversity buzzwords and oppression olympics.

I'm putting forth a new framework for discussing race and racism. Will you join me?

Contributing editor Carmen Van Kerckhove hosts the podcast Addicted to Race and blogs at Racialicious, Anti-Racist Parent, and Race in the Workplace.


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