Another Way to Respond

We have seen how Prof. Paul Griffiths responded to a social justice email and how the Dean and others in turn responded, leading to Griffith’s punishment and making him feel that he needed to resign.  But I wonder how the social justice folks would reply if a different approach was used.

Here is how the original email to Griffiths and all other faculty read:

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

On behalf of the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee, I strongly urge you to participate in the Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training planned for March 4 and 5. We have secured funding from the Provost to provide this training free to our community and we hope that this will be a first step in a longer process of working to ensure that DDS is an institution that is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture. While a number of DDS faculty, staff, and students have been able to participate in REI training in recent years, we have never before hosted a training at DDS. Those who have participated in the training have described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing. We recognize that it is a significant commitment of time; we also believe it will have great dividends for our community. Please find the registration link below. Details about room location will be announced soon.

Duke Divinity School will host a Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training on March 4 and 5, 2017, 8:30—5 pm both days. Participants should plan to attend both full days of training.

“Racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history. To understand racism and effectively begin dismantling it requires an equally fierce, consistent, and committed effort” (REI). Phase I provides foundational training in understanding historical and institutional racism. It helps individuals and organizations begin to “proactively understand and address racism, both in their organization and in the community where the organization is working.” It is the first step in a longer process.

ALL Staff and Faculty are invited to register for this important event by which DDS can begin its own commitment to become an anti-racist institution.

So I wonder how the social justice advocates would respond to the following email.

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

I received the email from the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee that “strongly urges” me to attend the 17-hour Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training session.

This email has made me feel unsafe.

The email states that this session will “be a first step in a longer process of working to ensure that DDS is an institution that is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture.” I read this to imply that DDS is in fact non-equitable and racist in it practices and culture, thus the need for this “first step.”

So I am left wondering if the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee is implying that I am a racist and this is why I am so “strongly urged” to attend the “training” session.  But on what basis is such an implication conveyed?  Because my skin is white?  If so, I would consider that a microaggression, where someone is invoking common stereotypes in order to make assumptions about me simply because of my race.

The email also reemphasizes this point by declaring racism is an “ever-present” force “which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals.”  But this time, it adds something that I find threatening – promising that “Phase 1” of the training is only the first step of a “fierce” response.

So again, is the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee trying to imply I am a racist and thus, by attending, I am admitting to racism and thus need appropriate “training.”  But then again, if I choose not to attend, am I signaling I am a racist who does not want to receive remedial training?  Either way I go, I find myself in an unsafe space and feel as if I am being harmed.

The situation becomes all the more harmful when we consider the inherent ableist assumptions inherent in such training sessions (regardless of the topic). For whatever reason, I am someone who has great difficulty sitting through 17-hour training sessions for any topic.  I find myself often getting annoyed, impatient, and/or agitated because I can’t stop myself from obsessing about all the work that is not getting done because I am occupied with the session.  I’m not sure if this is because of my genetics or because of the way I was raised, but it puts me at a disadvantage when compared to people who enjoy such types of sessions.  What if I become annoyed with some aspect of the session simply because of my disability when it comes to actively participating in training sessions?  Will this be misinterpreted as some form of suppressed racism?

What’s more, such training sessions are typically designed for sociable personalities. A common feature of such sessions is multiple “break out” groups where a small number of people sit in a circle and have a discussion guided by some group leader.  There is usually some form of peer pressure that expects everyone to contribute.  Often, game-like activities are included.  All of this favors the sociable personality. And I do not have that type of personality. I often feel stressed and uncomfortable in such settings, which can be especially debilitating if I am also annoyed and agitated. So again, will my unwillingness to play along in such activities be misinterpreted as me holding on to my racism?

It is important to realize there is scientific evidence showing a significant genetic component to such personalities.

See: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/jan/26/congeniality-genes-sociable-party

Expecting someone who is not sociable to spend a large portion of the sessions’ 17 hours to be sociable is like expecting an ADHD student to sit still and pay attention to a 3 hour lecture on the presidency of Martin Van Buren.

The stress from the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee’s email has become unbearable and I have lost sleep over this.  Do I attend an ableist training session and subject myself to such discrimination while at the same time seem to be tacitly agreeing I have a racism problem that needs to be addressed?  Or do I not attend and send the wrong signal that I am not opposed to racism?  Will that decision come back to haunt me during future Phases of the promised “fierce” effort?   Or do I actually send this email to all my colleagues, who could potentially misinterpret something in dozens of different directions?

I’m not sure what to do.  But I would like to respectfully inform the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee that they have created a unsafe environment and would request that they refrain from sending out such harmful emails in the future.

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10 Responses to Another Way to Respond

  1. TFBW says:

    Don’t bother trying to play the race or sex cards: SJW standards do not recognise the possibility of racism or sexism against straight white males, no matter how overt it is, because those are “oppressor” categories, not “marginalised/victim” categories. Recognise the asymmetric warfare.

    I like the “ableist” angle, though. Identify the personality profile that is threatened by group training exercises and unproductive time-wasting as “conscientious introvert”. By sheer merit of the fact that this is the intersection of two personality traits, this identifies a minority. Better still, it identifies a particular personality profile which is almost certainly under-represented (if present at all) in exactly the sorts of HR departments and committees which come up with this nonsense. As such, it has great oppressor/victim narrative potential, particularly with regards to micro-aggression. The “autism spectrum” should almost certainly be worked into the narrative, too.

  2. Michael says:

    Don’t bother trying to play the race or sex cards: SJW standards do not recognise the possibility of racism or sexism against straight white males, no matter how overt it is, because those are “oppressor” categories, not “marginalised/victim” categories. Recognise the asymmetric warfare.

    I hear ya. But I would not really be playing the race or sex card. I would be highlighting that they are relying a stereotypes to reach conclusions, which is a no no in academia (well, it used to be). Of course it would not matter, but it would be fun to watch supposed scholars rationalize the their reliance on stereotypes.

  3. pennywit says:

    Can’t say I’m any kind of social justice warrior, I lean a bit to the left. I’d tell you the same thing I’d tell a liberal puling about such stuff: Deal with it.

  4. TFBW says:

    I would be highlighting that they are relying a stereotypes to reach conclusions, which is a no no in academia (well, it used to be).

    I understand why you call it stereotyping, but I think it’s far more pernicious than stereotyping, and that trying to represent it as stereotyping is rhetorically ineffective (in the sense that the only people who will agree with you are the ones who don’t need persuading). I’m still having a hard time explaining the difference analytically, but I’ll attempt to illustrate it by example, and maybe you can see where the lines are drawn.

    In the OP, you say:

    So I am left wondering if the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee is implying that I am a racist and this is why I am so “strongly urged” to attend the “training” session. But on what basis is such an implication conveyed? Because my skin is white?

    Yes, that is exactly the basis on which the implication is conveyed. You are white and therefore racist whether you act in a racist manner or not. You are a member of a racist group, and are guilty of racism by fact of membership in the group. This, in and of itself, is not a sin, because you didn’t choose to be born white and privileged. If you confess your innate racism, express self-loathing for your whiteness, and meekly subject yourself to remedial re-education, then your racism will not be held against you. If, on the other hand, you kick up a fuss about it, then that not only proves the already-known fact of white racism, but worse, it proves that you are a wilful, unrepentant racist. All your objections will be deemed attempts to rationalise and defend your racism.

    Perhaps the rule is this: stereotyping is only problematic when an oppressor does it to a victim; when the roles are reversed, it’s justice. You can’t complain about justice.

  5. Michael says:

    Yes, that is exactly the basis on which the implication is conveyed. You are white and therefore racist whether you act in a racist manner or not. You are a member of a racist group, and are guilty of racism by fact of membership in the group. This, in and of itself, is not a sin, because you didn’t choose to be born white and privileged. If you confess your innate racism, express self-loathing for your whiteness, and meekly subject yourself to remedial re-education, then your racism will not be held against you. If, on the other hand, you kick up a fuss about it, then that not only proves the already-known fact of white racism, but worse, it proves that you are a wilful, unrepentant racist. All your objections will be deemed attempts to rationalise and defend your racism.

    Perhaps the rule is this: stereotyping is only problematic when an oppressor does it to a victim; when the roles are reversed, it’s justice. You can’t complain about justice.

    I agree. But the trick is to get them to explicitly state this. Because once that happens, you have pinned them down and the claims can be dissected with critical thinking. It would be glorious to have a professor actually write, “You are white and therefore racist.” Keep in mind that I am envisioning such a response being made in the context of academia, where, there are still some professors who value critical thinking.

  6. pennywit says:

    Because once that happens, you have pinned them down and the claims can be dissected with critical thinking. It would be glorious to have a professor actually write, “You are white and therefore racist.”

    The statement I’ve heard is “You’re white, so you really don’t understand where we’re coming from.” Actually … sometimes the person’s been right.

  7. Michael says:

    The statement I’ve heard is “You’re white, so you really don’t understand where we’re coming from.” Actually … sometimes the person’s been right.

    Sure. Of course, the tribalistic thinking runs both ways. How can someone who is non-white be sure that whites are racist when the non-whites don’t understand where whites are coming from?

    I can understand how various tribes can have their tribe-specific concerns. But there is a huge danger in tribalistic thinking – it is prone to confirmation bias that can mutate into full blown conspiracy theories. Take the Black Lives Matter movement. It always seemed clear to me that people had very sincere beliefs, but just how much of that sincerity owed itself to confirmation bias – choosing to emphasize selective facts and examples? Science itself has finally weighed in:

    Previous studies on police use of fatal force in the United States are limited to specific cities or rely on aggregate data. This is the first analysis of its type to rely on incident-level national data and to establish base rates for police shooting fatalities…..Although the data are limited, the patterns are not consistent with the national rhetoric that the police are killing Blacks, particularly unarmed Black men, more than others because of their race and that officer-involved shooting fatalities are increasing

  8. TFBW says:

    But the trick is to get them to explicitly state this.

    You’re making me research way outside my field of expertise, but the key terms associated with this ideology seem to be “intersectionality” (or “intersectional feminism”), “critical race theory”, and “structural racism”. Supporting rationalisations include “unconscious bias”.

    About the most explicit piece of anti-white hatred I have discovered in an unpleasant evening of research is “The Point Is Not To Interpret Whiteness But To Abolish It” (1997), a talk by Noel Ignatiev, who lectured at Harvard for a while. This comes under the heading of “critical race theory”, so that seems like a potentially rich vein of nastiness. Read the talk and tell me whether it meets your criteria. I expect you’ll formulate an opinion before you reach the end of the first page.

  9. pennywit says:

    Sure. Of course, the tribalistic thinking runs both ways. How can someone who is non-white be sure that whites are racist when the non-whites don’t understand where whites are coming from?

    Funny you go on to mention Black Lives Matter. In my case, the most memorable conversation was a conversation about ten years ago with a few colleagues of color. I said something along the lines of “just be polite to the officer and it will go fine.” My colleagues told me I didn’t understand b/c of my race … and then they walked me through their own traffic stops. Keep in mind these were all professional folks, upper middle class — all in the same demos as I, except for their race. It was rather eye-opening.

  10. Michael says:

    Funny you go on to mention Black Lives Matter. In my case, the most memorable conversation was a conversation about ten years ago with a few colleagues of color. I said something along the lines of “just be polite to the officer and it will go fine.” My colleagues told me I didn’t understand b/c of my race … and then they walked me through their own traffic stops. Keep in mind these were all professional folks, upper middle class — all in the same demos as I, except for their race. It was rather eye-opening.

    I mention BLM because its a nice example of how ingroup thinking easily succumbs to confirmation bias, as cutting edge scientific research comes out a couple of days ago that does NOT support the core rhetoric of the movement. The issue here is much larger than these culture wars skirmishes. It’s an issue of whether we shall follow the lead of critical thinking or will we follow the Id. The unpleasant experiences of your colleagues is an issue that should be addressed, but only under the guidance of a rational approach and not the Id. If the Id inflates those experiences into something much more than they really are, especially for the purposes of empowering activists with an agenda, it’s going to make things worse, not better.

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