Have you ever been asked to go on anti-racist training and find yourself rolling your eyes with your thought bubble stating ‘Here we go again! Why do I need this? I’m not a racist!’ I’ve delivered anti-discrimination training for a number of years and yes, on its own it is not the answer. However there are times when it is necessary intervention to prevent situations escalating in the workplace. The fear of getting ‘it’ wrong, or actually getting ‘it’ wrong is a real dilemma for many and the cause of a lot of misunderstanding that can easily move from personal prejudices to discrimination.
It was my training experience that found me last week in Germany taking part in the development of anti-racist training for the very people who roll their eyes. In professional terms we call them resistant learners. It is part of a European project that involves partners from Scotland, Iceland, Germany and Romania and focusses on intercultural approaches.
So day one, I find myself round the table with colleagues I only met the night before from the participating countries. The first exercise was us getting to know each other. As someone who does not like icebreakers, this worked! A lot of laughing and finding out interesting facts about everyone. I found I had a lot in common with my German, Icelandic and Romanian colleagues. But we are different, right? We don’t share the same customs, activities, beliefs, behavioural norms and values, right?
This is the key to this training, exploring the concepts of Interculturalism and multiculturalism. You see, many organisations focus on ‘cultural awareness’ training as a way to combat racism. While the intention is good, the outcome often perpetuates the concept of ‘otherness. ‘They do this, we do that’. It leaves no room to value what we have in common as humans.
For years we have worked with the policy that multiculturalism is about equality and respect. However what it has become in practice is something different. This is due to how authorities take action on the ground. How politicians and media represent its meaning. When the word is used, the ethnic majority don’t recognise it’s about them too. It became a by word for ‘other people’ who share customs, activities, beliefs, behavioural norms and values that ‘British people’ don’t. It left visible minority ethnic people to be homogenised, stereotyped and open to prejudice from the ethnic majority. Multicultural approaches left no room for us to explore, to change or to create opportunities. In practice the concept became an opportunity to place communities in a box leaving no room for mutuality. Multiculturalism forgot about Interculturalism, the opportunity to recognise our commonalities and valuing people on an equal basis, the opportunity to share the spaces we live, learn and work without living in fear of one another.
We see this through the recent events in the UK that have perpetuated the idea that years of immigration have taken away ‘British Values’ and that the UK has lost its identity. This rhetoric infers that ‘British Values’ are superior and anything else has been the cause of everything that is wrong in the UK. There is no discussion about Interculturalism and this makes it easier for politicians and individuals to use visible minorities as the scapegoat for everything wrong in this country.
So while I recognise anti-racism training on its own is not the answer, I would say this particular training session would benefit the public sector, the third sector and private sector organisations. There is no guarantee that attitudes and behaviour will change, however it just might be the intervention an organisation needs to create a fair and respectful working environment.
More information about our European partnership project, INAR, is available here.