"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sensitivity Training–Stalinist Indoctrination

A close friend of mine worked at non-profit agency which received contracts from the federal government to manage development projects in the Third World.  It had a mission to save lives, reduce poverty, and to improve the living conditions of millions.  It was the classic ‘do-good’ organization which, although it was as competitive as any for-profit firm and operated with as much of a bottom line mentality as Wall Street, clung to its liberal image of alleviating the world’s misery.

This image carried over to the firm’s internal management. There could be no distinction between what it did in Africa and how it operated in Washington.  If it helped the poor and disadvantaged there, it had to do it here.  The CEO, an unreconstructed Sixties liberal was intent on hiring as many minorities as possible, praising them to the hilt once they joined, and overlooking any failings they might have had as managers or employees. The atmosphere was one of entitlement and intimidation – all the in the name of diversity – and minority hires knew they had a free ride while managers feared that with one false move, they could be brought to task.

The CEO was not stupid, and although he really did believe that he could continue to play a role in promoting racial harmony and in atoning for the sins of the past, he knew that he would gain favors and points from USAID for the impressive racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of his staff.  A PhD African, for example, could be put in the same racial bucket as a mail clerk from the ghetto; and an MBA Cuban American whose parents had fled Castro in 1959 and made millions in Miami could be counted as ‘Hispanic’.

As can be expected, a number of ‘diversity’ grievances were aired by minority employees, many of them frivolous, but then again, if you openly and transparently create a climate where they are in a privileged, untouchable category, what do you expect?

My nephew, a successful lawyer who has defended many large corporations against ‘diversity’ lawsuits was quite straightforward about how he would deal with all minority-based grievances.  He would assemble all the company’s top executives and all company and private legal counsel in the board room, and invite the complainant to voice her concerns.  She would enter into the well-appointed penthouse offices, redolent of wood, brass, antiques, and plush with corporate elegance, and seated facing the twenty or so executives and attorneys arrayed around the table.  Unless she was as dumb as a stone, she would get the picture even before the top officers spoke.  The chambers themselves, with their framed portraits of past CEO’s and Presidents of the Board, former US Presidents, and Supreme Court Justices, and their incredibly impressive old-school leather chairs and polished tables shouted: “If there is anything – anything – irregular about your claim, you will regret ever setting foot in this room”.  According to my nephew, ninety-nine percent of claims were withdrawn by employees within a day after the sit-down.

The CEO of my friend’s firm was far too much a child of the Sixties to even consider intimidating any minority, and was willing to given in, capitulate, and spend valuable overhead money to pay off miffed employees with or without a legitimate claim.  Most employees thought that he was doing no one a service, and was simply contributing to an ill-conceived program of political correctness.  The firm was becoming a Soviet gulag where informers were rewarded and non-believers and dissidents exiled to Siberia.

All this was not enough, however, and the CEO decided that a little sensitivity training would assure that no employee would even think about offending a minority. Once every staff member had been appropriately retrained and indoctrinated, there would never be a need for lawyers, pay-offs; and the cause of racial reparations would be furthered. 

The participants in the training knew that they were in for a rough day when they were asked to self-select into different categories – white, black, Hispanic, gay,  etc. Although any one employee could easily fit into a number of categories (the supreme catch for a diversity-fixated CEO was a female, gay, black woman), you had to pick the one which best expressed who you were. There were a few old-line WASPs still working at the company who groused sotto voce that there was no category for them; but being good workers, they complied. 

It got worse from then on.  The trainers whipped, beat, humiliated, degraded, denounced, and mistreated the participants just as hated white overseers did on the cotton plantations of the South.  No one was exempt, no matter how exemplary their past or that of their families.  Liberals, conservatives, Quakers, Freedom Marchers, sit-in veterans, survivors of the dogs of Alabama and the nightsticks of Mississippi were all harangued and tongue-lashed.  You are guilty, guilty, GUILTY! shouted the facilitator, and you must change your ways.

Not only were white people lashed, tarred and feathered, and strung up; but black people were venerated.  If it wasn’t for black people, the facilitator began, there would be no Europe or no America.  Africa was the birthplace of humanity, the soul of life, and the fount of all goodness, purpose, and genius.  The African diaspora is not just a wandering tribe, a formerly enslaved population, she said, but a messianic tribe destined to give the world what it gave them 100,000 years ago when their ancestors emerged out of Mother Africa – light, wisdom, and spirituality.

Then came the intimidation.  “Don’t you dare treat one of our brothers or sisters bad”, she intoned, cocking her head, giving the white audience a taste of militant, chicken-neck, pulpit rhetoric.  “Or there will be hell to pay”.

Ironically, the son of my diversity-beleaguered friend went to a private school which, because of its historical role in Abolitionism in the 19th Century and its continued commitment to racial equality, also insisted on diversity training for all students; and he had to put up with what his mother had.  As in the case of her non-profit firm, the school also went out of its way to create a diverse racial environment, and blacks were represented in a far higher percentage than the national average.  Not only that, it did not count privileged blacks or Africans like the corporation, but insisted on recruiting students from the ghetto. Most of these kids had had little contact with white people before, the city being one of the most racially divided and apartheid-like in the nation, let alone sitting in class with the super-smart, wealthy, privileged sons and daughters of the power elite.  The school knew that minority students would ‘struggle’ and ‘face challenges’, but it was important for the rich white kids to see what the real world was like. Needless to say, these rich white kids wondered what these totally out-of-place black kids were doing at the school; and the de facto segregation of the city was mirrored at the school  - black-only cafeteria tables; black-only sections in the bleachers; black only social groups, etc.

To make matters worse, diversity training was not just provided in discrete classes or courses, it was institutionalized.  Every function highlighted a black student as keynote speaker, master of ceremonies, or honoree. Every assembly, every school meeting was opened with at least an indirect reference to racial equality, black performance, ability, and talent, and white atonement.

After a year of this nonsense and repeated complaints by her son, my friend moved him to a no-nonsense, conservative, Republican school which valued performance, period.  He was much happier.

The daughter of another close friend went to another private school in the area. This one had no affirmative action program, no diversity training, and no bullshit whatsoever about guilt, racial equality, atonement, or veneration.  Because of its slightly lower entrance standards, it attracted students from the upper middle class, both white and black who just missed the cut at the top schools. Not surprisingly this naturally diverse student body got along. There were no blacks-only anything.  The fact that the school did not fall over themselves to single out racial inequality, the students were free to make up their own minds about their classmates – who was dumb and who was smart; who was talented, gifted, athletic, beautiful – without regard to race.

Before reading Kathleen Parker’s article in the Washington Post (2.24.13) I had thought that this sensitivity training nonsense had gone away.  Unhappily, I see that it has not; but I thank her for letting us all know that the 2013 version of indoctrination still exists.

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