Diversity Training: The harder I tried, the worse it got

Chapter 23 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Think about five rules from the “rule book” of social interaction that you grew up with. For each rule, can you imagine how it interferes with honest cross-cultural dialogue, given what you’ve learned in this book or from other sources?

  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

This goes back to the “Zap” factor. I’m often so afraid of offending in multi-racial situations, that I don’t engage. I would rather sit back and see what happens.

  • Don’t talk about religion or politics in a social setting.

I now know that among people of other races, religion and politics overlap – and often they are the “topic du jour” among racial groups. Particularly in this highly fraught election season, I find more and more that my politics are informed by my religion, and my religion is directly related to my politics. With all the vitriol flying around, I find it difficult to talk reasonably.

  • Be kind to other people.

It has taken me a long time to be able to talk about my experiences of race in the South with people (mostly other white people) here in the North. I’m terribly of offending (accidentally) anyone, so I rarely go deeper to find out more about other people’s ideas or outlooks.

  • Never talk about people’s physical characteristics.

It was drummed into my head that we don’t point, we don’t stare, and we certainly never say anything about differences among people who can hear us. There is a woman where I live who “suffers” from dwarfism (I don’t think she really suffers at all but I’m not sure how else to say it.) One time we were playing word games (a la West Wing), and I asked “What are the only words in the English language that begin with “d” “w”? (Of course, they are “dwarf”, “dwindle”, and “dwell”). It was only after I asked the question that it occurred to me that she was in the room and I was immediately embarrassed. There was really no reason to be ashamed – there was nothing personal meant – but I still blushed. Unfortunately I just left, instead of either apologizing or even asking her if she was offended.

  • Keep the conversation light and polite.

After the string of killings of young (and old) black men by police that have been the drumbeat of the news for a couple of years, I finally got to the place where I am willing to confront people who make inappropriate remarks about the situation. I have decided I won’t tolerate racial remarks, but it has been very difficult for me.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

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