Hate Crimes & Anti-Racism Activism

The New York Daily News is reporting that hate crimes in the NYC area are up by 20% this year. And, whenever I read or hear reports about hate crimes, I think about the kind of ‘anti-racism’ training that goes on afterward for people convicted of these crimes. As I’ve mentioned here before, there’s nothing systematic in place to either evaluate programs already in place or to establish some kind of systematic anti-racism education in this country to counter the systemic racism. Given what currently passes for anti-racism, that might be just as well. In a deeply interesting article from Critical Sociology (Volume 32, Issue 2-3), authors Sarita Srivastava and Margot Francis analyze a number of “anti-racist” and “anti-homophobic” trainings in corporations and other organizations. Here’s a short bit from the abstract (linked above):

One underlying rationale of these efforts is that more knowledge of “the other” — non-white and queer participants — will lead to greater equity. This article investigates this premise through empirical research into anti-racist and anti-homophobic workshops in a variety of settings. In particular, our analysis focuses on the uses of “storytelling” and other workshop strategies commonly employed to encourage the disclosure of personal stories by and about the “other.” We argue that, particularly in anti-racist contexts, these strategies have exacted a heavy toll on the tellers, reinforced the exclusionary notions of identity that underlie a racist culture, and had only a limited effect in fostering organizational change.

The rationale for these sorts of workshops, like the mandatory “sensitivity training” that those convicted of hate crimes often (though not always) have to go through, both rely on the same premise that the authors above highlight: “knowledge of the other will lead to greater equity.” This variation on the “contact hypothesis,” relies on those who are bearing the brunt of an unfair system to educate those who are benefiting from that same system, whether that’s racism or heterosexual privilege. Srivastava and Francis do a nice job in this article of not flattening these two forms of oppression, but instead, offer a nuanced and complex view of the ways that they are the same and different mechanisms.

The question to me becomes, how do we engage in “authentic” (and, I use the quotes here to suggest that this word itself is problematic in various ways) anti-racism within the contexts of the takeover of anti-racism workshops by corporate trainers and diversity professionals? Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer, but I think it’s one of those difficult questions it’s important to ask.