Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Diversity Training

In previous years we had hospital-wide training on back safety, confidentiality, and infection control, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before we would all get herded in to conference rooms in groups of 20-30 for political training.

Sensitivity to foreign cultures is fine, but that’s not where our problem is. People who go into mental health have generic liberal prejudices. We are more likely to be fascinated by foreign cultures than disapproving. I grant that the fascination is often na├»ve and can be condescending. But for ill-disguised contempt, nothing beats our attitudes to certain American groups.

Diversity training was done in PowerPoint, of course. A woman from Colombia opened by lecturing us in Spanish, illustrating to us that we don’t speak Spanish and she does. Perhaps it’s news to some folks that when you don’t speak a language, you have trouble understanding what others are saying, but I thought I had that idea down pretty well already. Ironically, Gisella’s Spanish is now a bit hesitant, as she has been in the US for 40 years. She shared her “personal story.”

Next there was a short cartoon of a wombat who explained to us that we’re all in this together because there’s only one planet. Trees, insects, rocks, cute kids in may hues, it’s all together, y’know? All one. Diversity training seemed to be suddenly veering off into environmental and religious instruction when we were quickly returned (whew!) to Cambodian folk medicine. Not that this will help you understand Ghanian or even Thai folk medicine when you encounter it, but it’s definitely cool, and not to be despised. Got that, you bigoted buffoons? Maybe the wombat wasn’t so bad after all.

I noted to the diversity instructor that translators often bring problems of their own, because they are often drawn from a different class in society. Translating gives them one of their few remaining opportunities to exercise their old hatreds, as friends of ours found when they tried to get accurate school testing for their new Romanian gypsy daughter. My suggestion was unwelcome. Translators are the chosen solution.

To psychologists and social workers, it's hunters who are suspect. No one comes right out and says that, of course, but the sudden seriousness of murmur and catch in the voice is unmistakable. “There are guns in the house,” or “he owns a gun.” That’s a reasonable concern if the person has threatened violence or suicide, but it’s also used as code-speak for possible wife-beater, limited coping skills. “Isn’t there something we can do to get the guns out of the house?” “We should ask the wife if she feels safe.”

Threatening actual violence to a president is a mixed bag. If you just smash paintings in the gallery of college presidents because you think they’re George Bush and Pat Robertson, all you will draw is covered smirks. Even if you wave a knife around later. At least, that’s what happened here last week. Laughingly suggest it would be a good idea to shoot Bush and Cheney? That won’t raise any red flags – just jokes that my colleagues thought were out of my hearing. Trying to run into the Bush motorcade with your car? Are we sure she’s crazy? Ha ha. Some of us wish she’d succeeded. Ha ha. I’ve been here long enough to recall how seriously comments about Clinton were taken. I remember the quiet declarations then: I’m very uncomfortable letting this person back onto the streets.

It’s not only PC prejudices, of course. Clinicians try not to obviously stereotype gay couples, but they do covertly. Gay therapists seem especially hard on the transgendered. It’s not always easy to see the difference between “understanding gay/Sudanese/reservation/urban black culture” and “stereotyping gays/Sudanese/Navajos/urban blacks.” There is an interesting dynamic with the prejudices of the line staff, however. Your diagnosis, and thus how insulting and difficult to manage you are, will be a much bigger issue than whether you are rich, poor, gay, straight, or what color you are. They might tie your pathology to your group memberships and say the most impolitic things about you, but if you are pleasant and polite they will turn around next day and see your sociopolitical status as a positive: He’s just a sweet old gay guy, but that bothers his neighbors so they’re harassing him. The exception to this would be a child molester. Your politeness will only make people more nervous then.

But hey, back to the training, what? Slide 15: Immigrants come from many places. Slide 16: Not all Hispanic dialects are the same.

There are bigotry buttons you can press all day in the psych biz, and no one will raise a brow. Some kinds of diversity are not to be celebrated, and no one creates animations with wombats and cute kids to make sure you’re treated well.

The military is a place for people who “need a certain amount of structure.” As opposed to say, lawyers and university professors, right?

Serious Catholics are “rigid” but find “comfort” in their faith. (They probably also have hidden sexual issues.) Unlike those of us who work for large government social service bureaucracies.

People from states which voted 51-49 red are less educated and more violent than people who came from states which went 51-49 blue.

For more of the same, see my earlier post on multicultural tips for human services.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was on a business association board in the late 1980's when the progressive powerhouse Digital Equipment Company appointed a diversity officer - a petite white woman from their PR department. I recall her big issue then was the difficulty that DEC had in retaining black workers in New Hampshire because cities like Portsmouth just didn't have a good New Orleans culture and you could even get "black" food there. My remarks that I had trouble finding fish and chips and real maple syrup for my pancakes whenever I went to New Orleans on business were met with stares. Oh, that's right - the once great titan Digital Equipment is no more. They went out of business in the 90's - failed. I guess they just couldn't get their diversity training up and running fast enough and were out competed in the marketplace. A word to the wise...