Fixing the Problems with DEI, Racial Bias, and Racial Equity Training

Dr. Atyia Martin

Bottom Line Up Front

Many organizations - businesses, nonprofits, and government - have declared their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)/Diversity & Inclusion. In an effort to support that commitment, they bring in a DEI consulting or professional development company and end up do one of two things:

  1. They host a racism or social justice workshop that provides definitions and frameworks that focus on the problem of racism and other forms of oppression; or
  2. They host DEI workshops that mostly focus on implicit bias.

In both cases, it is rare that there are clear solutions related to the organization or its employees' ability to do their jobs. This is no knock to those types of trainings, but there is so much more...

Current Learning Experiences

Many DEI, racism, and social justice workshops and online learning are missing the mark. The mark we are missing is facilitating action. I have been fortunate enough to attend too many of these types of workshops. I have attended as part of an organization; for my own development; and to study the approaches that are being taken. In all cases, I was left wondering: How does this apply to my life, personally and professionally? 

Furthermore, the learning methodologies are based on approaches that Paulo Freire refers to as "the banking concept" which is essentially "transferrals of information." "Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information."

Finally, in too many workshops, I have seen People of Color being used as props of learning rather than participants who also have needs that should be addressed with the utmost respect. On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen facilitators or other participants dehumanize and humiliate White People. I turn to Paolo Freire once again:

"The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed. No one can be authentically human while...[they prevent]...others from being so."


 "Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information." In fact, Freire says that when we are doing it right: "The students - no longer docile listeners - are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher." 

What does all this mean? We have to create learning experiences that help people to see themselves in the problems and solutions. We are content experts on advancing racial equity, DEI, and social justice.  However, content means nothing without context. With all humility, we have an opportunity to learn too. Our clients and participants are the context experts. We need to listen to them to learn so we can apply our content to their context. We also have to facilitate experiences where people do not over intellectualize, but internalize learning. Ultimately, we have to rehumanize ourselves and other people.

I will end with Paulo Freire:
"To simply think about the people, as the dominators do, without any self-giving in that thought, to fail to think with the people, is a sure way to cease being revolutionary leaders."

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