Last month I published an article about dealing with a racist in the workplace. One of my readers wrote and we had a lovely exchange. They wondered why, as a Humanist, I was talking about white supremacy.
I'm not going to include my entire discussion with them here, but I do want to make something clear.
If Humanism is to mean anything, it must be about ensuring all humans are treated with dignity. If there are people who violate the dignity of others, regardless of the reason, it is the proper place of a Humanist to stand in opposition to the dehumanization of others.
I am not straying from Humanist topics when I talk about the problem of racism. I am asserting and advocating for a core humanist value, dignity for all. All Humanists oppose supremacy and any ideology that dehumanizes our fellow humans. White supremacy is such an ideology. This isn’t controversial and I did not stray from the topic of humanism. This is literally central to the philosophy.
Discussing what to do when someone does NOT treat other people with dignity is a valid and necessary conversation to have. I talked about white supremacy as that is the form of supremacy I encounter most often and the topic I’m most asked about when confronting racism in the workplace.
I live in the south in a community that was literally the capital of the confederacy in Florida. We have 3 known active white supremacists groups. People in the local Facebook group actively talk about shooting black people who come into white neighborhoods and until this past Nov, we had members of the confederacy re-enactment group on our county commission. Things are getting better though, so I don't want you to think it's all bad.
My point is that, for me, white supremacy is a real threat to my real neighbors and any suggestion that it is not a problem is going to be met, by me, with disbelief, anger and frustration.
To deny white supremacy is a problem is to deny the reality I live and work in. Talking about white supremacy is a valid topic as it really exists and really is a problem. I singled it out because not only is it the dominant form of supremacy I personally encounter. It is the dominant form of supremacy that my clients ask me about help addressing when they ask about how to deal with racism in the workplace.
To be fair to the person who wrote me, their company had subjected them to a diversity or harassment training that told them they were racists just for being white. As a trainer, I am horrified that anyone would conduct such a training. I view that sort of approach as not only counter productive, but harmful and it results in exactly the sort of anger and frustration and refusal to engage that this person first approached me with.
My point. Racism is real. White supremacy is a real threat to real people. AND, some training programs and interventions designed to fix the problem are horrible and counter productive.
The way through this is to not assume ill intent, but to listen. If you find yourself in a training that feels abusive, it may very well be. But don't let that experience shut you down to talking about race entirely.
We need to fix this problem we have. And we can only do that by staying engaged despite how difficult it is.
And, if you are in a position to hire someone to do a diversity or harassment training, please contact me. So much of what we do starts with a false assumption and that is, if we just tell people it's a problem, the bad behavior we don't want will stop. Never in the entire history of humanity have evil people, like white supremacists, stopped being evil just because we point out the harm they are causing. Instead, we should be providing training programs that teach people who to get unwanted behavior, directed against them, to stop. That is what people want to learn, including the people who are not behaving - ideally.
Anyway, rant over.