RACE EXPERTS: HOW RACIAL ETIQUETTE, SENSITIVITY TRAINING, AND NEW AGE THERAPY HIJACKED THE CIVIL RIGHTS REVOLUTION
By Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn
Norton, $29.95, 267 pages
REVIEWED BY WALTER E. WILLIAMS
America’s race industry “encourages disingenuous behavior by whites and exempts blacks from standards of expression and behavior to which others are expected to adhere.” That’s one of the conclusions Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn reaches in “Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil rights Revolution.” We’ve all seen this. Black college students can successfully demand separate dormitories and separate graduation exercises whereas similar demands by white students would be condemned as racist and not tolerated.
Black student unions are accepted but white student unions are not. Whites can be guilty of racist statements, attitude and behavior but not blacks. That’s because of the half-baked reasoning that since blacks have little political and economic power, they can never be guilty of racism for identical statements, attitude or behavior. For the average person these are ludicrous ideas but they’re currency on college campuses and these ideas are finding their way down to businesses and government.
Race experts teach young blacks that American society is racist. That vision produces a world of endless slights. The most benign statement can be interpreted as a racial insult. The author cites one race expert’s reasoning in a chapter appropriately titled “A World of Endless Slights.” A teacher kept encouraging a black student to attend the school dance. When the student declines, the teacher says, “Oh come on, I know you people love to dance.” When the student confided her humiliation to a white girlfriend, her friend responded, “Oh, Mr. Smith is such a nice guy, I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that. Don’t be so sensitive.”
While the race expert sees a racial insult, both by the teacher and the friend, the author says there’s an alternative explanation. “You people” might have referred to the fact that the class was eighth-graders and teenagers love to dance. Even if the expression did refer to blacks, it might not have been made with malicious intent. The teacher’s age, nationality or region might not have provided him complete familiarization with the taboos of today’s racial etiquette.
Failing to acknowledge, even denying, the tremendous racial progress made in America, and instead keeping the racial cauldrons bubbling, has created and fueled a thriving and profitable “ethnic diversity industry.” The author says that diversity training has become widespread so much so that a 1992 study found that 65 percent of major corporations conducted diversity training sessions. A 1995 survey showed that 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies had initiated a formal diversity management program. By 1994 there were an estimated 5,000 diversity trainers and probably there are many more now. Diversity trainers earn from $1,500 to $2,000 a day and top diversity consultants commanded $8,000 to $10,000 per day in 1993.
Courts and government administrative agencies have provided diversity consultants with good leverage over corporate executives. It’s made explicit on some diversity consultant’s web sites: “Not attending to diversity impacts the bottom line because of the real costs of discrimination cases, the potential loss of government contracts and the financial ramifications of a damaged corporate image.”
Their offers of threatening evidence include references to: Texaco’s 1996 $170 million racial discrimination settlement; Shoney’s 1992 earnings loss as a result of settling a racial discrimination suit for $134.5 million; and Smith Barney’s 1998 agreement to spend $15 million on diversity programs to settle a case brought by plaintiffs charging sexual harassment. Major firms like Coca Cola, Disney/ABC, USAir, and Intel make lucrative grants and contracts to race experts involved in diversity management.
At many universities some of its faculty are in lock step with the race experts. They provide the professional literature and pop psychology cover to justify diversity training. They establish university courses and programs, research institutes aimed at giving intellectual legitimacy to the newly configured racism once called affirmative action and now renamed diversity and multiculturalism.
An exploration of diversity training materials suggest several common tendencies: The drafters see negative stereotypes as the cause of racial or cultural tensions; they seek to replace negative stereotypes with a new understanding of group attributes; they seek to convert old forms of behavior to new ones based on a more “enlightened” way of thinking about differences in other words, according to Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, the way prescribed by them.
Multiculturalism and diversity holds that ethnic identity should be a central factor in educational and social policy decisions; as such it is the old racism wearing a politically correct guise. Racism isn’t simply the view that one race is superior to another. Racism is a view that says race should be a decision making determinant. Racism requires the destruction of a person’s individualism. The individual sense of identity is group determined. His worth is determined by membership in his ethnic group. The only authentic sense of pride and self-worth is gained from one’s own achievements, not from inherited genetic characteristics.
Superficially, at least multiculturalism, diversity training and racial etiquette are intended to promote racial harmony; however, intentions and results often don’t match up. Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn argues quite convincingly that multiculturalism and ethnic diversity programs might instead breed contempt for and condescending behavior toward blacks. “Race Experts” is a scathing indictment of the new politically correct thinking on race.
Walter E. Williams is John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.