Thursday, February 28, 2008

Diversity with Courage

A few days ago I attended a diversity training session at work. It wasn't required, but I decided to check it out. As long as I wasn't forced to go I was a little bit interested. The session was titled "Black & White Folks; Patterns of Difference." It purported to be a discussion of the cultural differences and possible issues and solutions to those issues.

Honestly, I did not know what to expect when going into the seminar. I have always been fascinated by the issue of race and took many sociology classes getting my undergrad degree because I enjoyed being the devil's advocate in those siuations.

I suspected that this session might be just like some of those college classes; a group of well-meaning people making an effort to address the issue of race, but failing miserably because of the fear of offending someone. Wow, was I wrong.

The day before the session I received an email with a document attached that contained introductory information for the seminar. This was the first two paragraphs of the material.

Whoops. Uh-oh. Watch out! Here comes the diversity boogeyman, the most indiscussable of all undiscussables, the last man standing, the Osama bin Laden of the rocky diversity terrain in the United States. Better shift the subject, learn how to tap dance, hide or duck and run.

Race! The "elephant" in the room. It's present, simmering just beneath the surface, begging for attention, yet we don't dare talk about it. Why? Because we're scared to, don't know how, or both. The typical response when we get mired in a racial booby trap? We slink into silence or throw up our verbal dukes, bobbing, weaving, tiptoeing – anything but having a straightforward conversation about this, the "mother of
all diversities."

This let me know that there was a difference here.

The session began with a disclaimer that anything said in the room would stay in the room and that we all needed to check our ability to be offended at the door. My renewed hope was rewarded with a very worthwhile session filled with an honest give and take between member of each race. The attendees were all eager to talk honestly and (more importantly) openly about some pretty weighty racial issues that either rankled or confused in the passed.

All in all, it was three hours well spent. And, if nothing else, I met new friends at work who may just add a little spice to my daily life.