- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

A "racial etiquette" based on black rage and white guilt has "hijacked" the civil rights movement, according to a Syracuse University history professor.

"This racial etiquette steers us away from what the civil rights movement had as its most promising direction," Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn said yesterday in a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Drawing on radical rhetoric from the 1960s and "encounter group" psychology from the 1970s, "race experts" have substituted "a culture of therapy" in place of the civil rights movement's concern with legal and political equality, Mrs. Lasch-Quinn said.

The therapeutic approach to race relations is embodied in "racial sensitivity training," which has been implemented at many major corporations and is now part of freshman orientation at leading colleges.

Mrs. Lasch-Quinn cited Price M. Cobbs, author of the 1968 book "Black Rage," as a pioneer of sensitivity training. In 1967, Mr. Cobbs helped lead an "encounter group" at California's Esalen Institute called "Racial Confrontation as Transcendental Experience."

In what has become a standard practice in sensitivity training, Mr. Cobb and other seminar leaders inflamed racial anger among black participants and hectored whites to admit their own racism. Whites who denied being racists were accused of "lying."

Another famous sensitivity experiment, begun by Iowa teacher Jane Elliott, involved dividing classes by eye color and requiring them to behave according to discriminatory rules based on those divisions. These experiments, which have caused participants to "break under pressure and begin to cry," were turned into a film, "Blue Eyed," which is now used in sensitivity training sessions.

But reducing race relations to emotional therapy has harmed legitimate efforts toward racial equality, Mrs. Lasch-Quinn said.

"We fail to submit these practices to scrutiny at our peril," she said. "There are no studies showing that [sensitivity training] helps."

Corporations and other institutions force employees into sensitivity training, she said, as a "kind of a shield" against discrimination lawsuits. "It's part of their defense if they get sued," she said.

In her new book, "Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution," Mrs. Lasch-Quinn cites Beverly Daniel Tatum, a dean at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, as an advocate of "racial identity theory."

In her 1997 book, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race," Mrs. Tatum elaborated a developmental theory of identity that suggested "race consciousness" as important to blacks, and said whites could experience "a euphoria perhaps akin to religious rebirth" by confronting their own racism.

Such an approach leads to a "cult of identity," Mrs. Lasch-Quinn said, which is ultimately "demeaning and dehumanizing."


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