I recently attended an online equity, diversity and inclusion workshop, often called EDI training.
The course did not require or ask people to identify their race or culture, and people were not required to turn on their cameras for the online conference call.
During this session, it became clear that it was geared toward people who are not minorities.
It was an interesting experience. I found components to be abrasive, implying that if people aren’t fully “woke” in the realm of equity, diversity and inclusion, then they the problem.
I was spoken to as though I am the problem and everything I have in life was obtained at someone else’s expense; it felt accusatory.
I wondered if I explained my thoughts, if the facilitators would say: “Don’t worry, this isn’t being said to you.”
This experience gave me an interesting perspective on how other people may feel when taking training like this.
In my work I strive to identify uneven power dynamics. Groups that have been historically been on the losing end when faced with these uneven power dynamics often avoid them. This can be present in the workplace, in education and in health fields.
I often share the concept that reducing hierarchy creates an environment that feels safer to many people.
We’ve all had a boss who constantly reminded us that they were our superior. Even people who are not predisposed to avoiding these relationships find them unpleasant.
In the EDI training, it felt as though the workshop co-ordinators had taken the upper hand, and created an uneven power dynamic between themselves and those that they had predetermined to be “white.”
I know this may be a common approach for EDI training, and maybe I just don’t fully understand it. I am not someone who feels we should minimize experiences.
In my experience as a communications professional, I know the importance of creating an approach that allows a message to be better received.
A theme of the workshop was that when a white person helps a minority, they are not doing it to “help” the individual, but to try to remove the white person’s “brutal legacy.”
These words seemed very harsh to me. I know there have been times where people who would identify as “white” have helped me and it was because they wanted to help me as a person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been tokenized, I’ve had people place stereotypes and implied bias on me, but I don’t think the majority of people do this on purpose.
In responses to this column, I’ve received many emails from readers that start with, “I’m an old white guy, and I’ve never thought about things like that before.” I’ve received emails from readers thanking me for sharing my thoughts and not making them feel guilty in the process.
At the time, I thought it was odd. “Why would I make them feel guilty?”
I spoke with a few of the participants during and after the workshop, all of them white. Each person stated that they felt terrible and mentioned that they needed to be “picked up off the floor.”
I am not an expert, and in my thoughts on this approach to EDI training, I might be the minority.
I write this in hopes of reaching readers who have taken EDI training using a similar approach. The approach is one where if someone questions it, they are going to be considered a racist, entitled, or self-centred.
These are hard topics to discuss, and there is information that needs to be shared. Even with that, I don’t think punching someone in the gut is a good way to make friends and build partnerships.
>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org