In my experience, these sessions focus mostly on teaching white folks how to better understand non-white coworkers, clients, and/or customers, and very little on whatever it is that's "white" about white folks--in fact, the word "white" rarely even gets mentioned. White workers commonly resent being told that they don't already know how to work alongside non-white workers, and they often roll their eyes at the mere mention of "diversity training."
Since white people as a group are still in power, and since most of them have been socialized into largely unconscious modes of racist thought and behavior, you might think that "diversity training" would include some direct, intensive untraining of common white tendencies. It seems, however, that in most diversity sessions, if whiteness ever does receive direct attention, white folks often get offended at how they're being portrayed, instead of educated about their own tendencies and habits.
Take the case of Dennis Supple, a heating and air-conditioning mechanic working for the city of Denver. During a diversity training session, Supple's hackles were raised by the portrayal of a white, blue-collar worker like himself, in a video entitled "Laughing Matters — Think About It."
As the following clip from the video illustrates, its producers' method for teaching workers that racist jokes are hurtful to others was to show a character named Billy cracking such jokes in the workplace.
The eight-minute anti-racism video is itself racist, Dennis Supple said, because all it does is "hammer the white guy." By portraying "Billy" as the sole racist joke-cracker, the video supposedly does the opposite of what it claims to be doing, because it perpetuates a racist stereotype, that of the white, blue-collar ignoramus. Supple also said that the city of Denver's diversity program as a whole is "racially motivated against white males."
Supple threatened to use the equity in his house to sue the city into halting its use of the video. This threat, and the publicity it generated, were apparently enough to prompt city officials into pulling the video. Whether Supple was really motivated by the perceived insult of a resemblance between himself and "Billy," or instead by his more general resentment over the very idea of "diversity training," remains for me an open question.
As the case of Dennis vs. "Billy" illustrates, getting white folks to reconsider their actions in a racially diverse workplace is usually awkward, at best. White workers often feel that such "training" talks down to them, and they usually don't see a race-related problem that requires training in the first place (and if they do see such a problem, it's usually something they consider racist against whites, such as "affirmative action").
It seems to me that another problem with such sessions is that whiteness mostly goes unnamed. As a result, white people can feel left out in a way, and yet, vaguely uncomfortable, as if they, the unnamed yet targeted "white people," are being blamed for all of the problems that brought about diversity training in the first place.
Would naming and discussing whiteness more directly in such sessions make them more effective? Or would confronting the socially induced proclivities of white people take too much time and unlearning (or untraining) by white workers, and make them even more resentful of the whole process?
YouTube has tons of clips from "diversity training" videos; some are advertisements for training providers, while others satirize such efforts. The actors in the video below poke especially effective fun at clueless white producers of diversity training materials, highlighting as they do so several common forms of white oblivion.
Have you participated in workplace diversity training efforts? Did they directly address whiteness somehow? Did any methods or parts of this training strike you as especially successful, or unsuccessful? And does it seem any better or worse for non-white people to sit through these sessions?