Racial Justice Training: Why “Training” Doesn’t Apply to Equity + Inclusion

It’s time for us to check-in about that word – “training”.  We use it so you can find us because it is likely what you are putting in the ol’ search engine.  This of course makes sense.  We’ve all been socialized to use that word.  It is commonplace.  It’s short and sweet and to the point. You need racial justice training – and so you – like I did back in the day – go on the hunt for a trainer to deliver the training.


What we’ve come to learn since 2015 is that our learners have within them all they need to realize equity and inclusion and to go on (or continue as the case may be) the journey to achieve racial justice and other forms of identity justice (Trans-Justice, Gender-Justice, and on).


To surface that which is already there, what we do is provide a structure and a safe space for our learners to collectively develop a deeper understanding of the experiences of humans with unique identities from their own – their colleagues, those they serve, and those they walk past in the grocery store.  This deeper understanding is our simple and specific definition of empathy.  And empathy is what makes it all pop.


Training is for Dogs

Several years ago, I was participating in a two-day conference for facilitators of Cultural Humility. On the second day, I sat next to a person who had just arrived at the conference, and they asked me to catch them up and summarize the previous day’s explorations. I shared with them that we’d discussed the words training and trainer, which had sparked a robust discussion.


She nodded in agreement as I described the ensuing discussion and said, “Yes, I agree—training is for dogs, education is for people.” While I concurred, my immediate thought was that it was a bit dismissive of dogs, let alone humans.


Historically, humans have been treated as biorobots in work environments. In fact, during the clean-up of Chernobyl, the team was even referred to as biorobots by the Soviets. Since the industrial age, there’s been a factory mentality that humans are trainable robots—learn a task, do the work. There’s this idea that you apply pressure to something, and a widget pops out.


But humans are neither widgets nor robots. (Nor, I would add, are dogs.)


Treating humans like widgets is, in our view, what is leading to the Great Resignation.


So, what to do?


What we have found to be helpful to groups like yours is for:

  • Individual team members to deepen self-awareness of their own identity so they know where there are points of connection and points of uniqueness – with their colleagues, those they serve, and those in the grocery store. This is, in part, diving into the first Principle of Cultural Humility – Self-reflection and Lifelong Learning.
  • Teams and groups to have an agreed upon structure for ongoing, sustained conversations about Culture + Identity. (Agreements)


In effect, we work with those we serve to set the stage to learn with and from each other.  That working with is collaboration.


Once that is in place – then those we serve go on a journey of learning about the experiences of humans with identities unique from their own.  As they do, they more deeply tune into what it would be like to have experiences with systems (grocery stores, banks, hospitals, courts, and on) if they had a different identity.  That is empathy.


All humans have the capacity for empathy.  Sometimes it just needs a little nurturing.  (Or, in some cases, a lot).  Sometimes a little encouragement.  Sometimes a little support to be expressed skillfully and artfully.


Each of us brings the inherent human capacity to learn and understand. We all have complex emotions and experiences. We can share and empathize with our fellow human beings. This is how we genuinely learn—by understanding situations from other peoples’ perspectives.  As we learn, we begin to connect.  Connection is what supports us to continue the journey of learning and working toward equity + inclusion to achieve racial and all forms of social justice.  Connection deepens our sense of empathy.  When we skillfully and artfully express that deeper understanding back to our fellow humans – colleagues, served persons, and on – we are expressing empathy.  This results in connection. Connection or rapport is the number one indicator of a positive outcome in any service relationship and retention of the team.


Every human we encounter is a vast library from which we can learn.


Sharing over Training

In our view, there is no such thing as racial justice “training” or even human services training. What we believe is in our name –  Share Collaborative. We come to share and collaborate and support further connection amongst your team and those you serve.  During our interactions, we’re coming together and sharing. We’re sharing ideas, concepts, and experiences.  Our offerings are designed in such a way that most of the lecture comes from our learners.


Our contribution is to facilitate conversation and skill building — to support the humans in our sessions to increase their awareness, intention, and effort to further employ the concepts and skills we share.


An excellent example of this sharing philosophy is in how we all express empathy to each other. When we’re listening to a friend who tells us something that upset them, we might say, “Oh my gosh, that really sucks.” Unconsciously, we’re demonstrating to the person that we get it from their perspective—we deeply understand, we empathize. We might not even think about it because it’s innate to our communication and caring of others.  That caring is compassion.


People already know how to connect and reflect. They already know how to empathize. So, during a Share Collaborative session, we guide our learners to be more intentional, skillful, and artful about expressing empathy. Empathy is crucial because it’s the gateway to building connection and rapport. It helps us cut through shame and blame and allows people to feel heard. We call this intentional communication and way of being with on another “holding space.”


Even the most experienced human can learn from another human’s perspective.

Making it Real

On our own, any of one of us might read a story that’s happening in another city, state, or even halfway around the world to a human that we’ve never met. The story may impact us, but it may not move us into action. But, when we are sitting next to a colleague or friend, and they’re sharing how bias, prejudice, racism, orientation-ism, genderism, ableism, and on has impacted their life or the life of their ancestors, something starts to shift in us.  Our self-awareness grows, our awareness of how we want to “show-up” for one another grows, and our intention to effect change soon follows.


When we make those human connections, the stories impact us more deeply. They become more “real” to us. We connect with them more immediately, more viscerally.


At Share, we’re providing a structure and an opportunity for people with unique identities to come together within a given team and hold space for each other.  To listen and to learn from the human library seated right next to them.  In the experience, they start to understand and empathize with the experiences of folks that don’t share their identity. They begin to connect with each individual’s uniqueness, which then forms a foundation of connection and effects change.


There’s always a point where we connect, even with very unique identities from our own.  From this point, Me/We starts to surface.  That is inclusion.  That is belonging.


During our explorations, people often realize that they want to express their compassion by choosing to show up in another person’s best interest and attempting to alleviate their suffering. It’s not about “fixing” someone else but about how we can support each other to address what is going on internally regarding equity and inclusion.


Compassion is choosing to show up as an advocate for folks who don’t share my identity. To be an ally. It’s the difference between being a non-racist (being aware and doing nothing) and an anti-racist (being aware and doing something). It’s not something you can tell or “train” people to do. To have an impact, people need to connect with other human beings. This connection generates the energy that encourages change. It allows them to learn more about different cultures, opens diverse pathways to listening and learning and eliminates the concept of “othering.”  It avoids putting humans into boxes.  It disposes us up to be curious and open to another’s ideas, experiences, and unique and inherent wisdom.


During a foundational share in our Cultural Humility session, a participant worked in healthcare. He’d been there for a long time—nearly 50 years. He started talking about a population he served and how their healing methods were “primitive” and “backward.” The person used this type of offensive language, expressing a very closed mindset of how one heals the body. He wasn’t open to entertaining the possibility that ancient practices support healing in a non-Western way, or there could be a bridge between the two unique healing approaches.  In this case, his judgment was getting in the way, and all of his implicit and explicit biases and prejudices were coming out.


When we want to connect and empathize with others, we have to set those preconceived ideas aside. We have to be open and curious.  That means we have to take a look within ourselves. We need to be willing and able to come to the experience ready to listen and learn.


When we have a common structure for having the often difficult and challenging conversation about culture and identity – it becomes healthier and more generative.  Shame and blame are not going to support this person to change their perspective.  No one can “train” him out of that fixed mindset.


Since we had onboarded he and his colleagues to The Agreements, the group started to support him to consider, be curious, and open to how the particular group he was referring to could employ their indigenous healing approach with the potential of offering them to adopt an additional approach should they find it helpful.  It was a critical conversation they were having in a helpful and forward moving way.  We didn’t “train” them to do that – we provided the structure for it to happen.

Cultural Competence and Racial Justice Training: A Different Idea

Having worked in human service for 25 years, I don’t recall an opportunity to sit down with my team and explore what it is like to have a different identity unless we created those opportunities. They don’t naturally arise, but these chances to share honest insights and conversations are vital.


When we started creating opportunities to share within our team, it was eye-opening. Yet, three hours flew by and felt utterly insufficient. To get beyond the socialization of historical biases, prejudices, and isms, we have to practice. We need to build up this atrophied muscle—the ability to connect, relate, and deeply understand another person’s perspective.


So how do you train that? How do you train racial justice? How do you train Cultural Humility? Well, I don’t think you do. I believe we create the structure for people to teach themselves, share, and learn from each other. We have to share to understand what equity and inclusion means to each of us and to us as a whole. At this point, we’re all still finding out. We’re at the beginning of the conversation. It’s a continuous process. Like going to the gym one time and expecting immediate results—it’s not going to do much good.


Our approach at Share Collaborative is to have an initial surge—a four-hour session where we identify Stewards to guide further conversation. From there, we encourage monthly conversations that your Stewards guide, exploring different aspects of what it’s like to walk around with an identity that has historically been (and tragically often still is) oppressed. This often results in people wanting to do something about it, not only with themselves but also with their team and the humans they serve. It goes beyond simply listening. It’s about showing up.  It’s about doing.  It’s about advocating for policies and procedures to be evolved and creating inclusive spaces.  It’s about creating a profound sense of acceptance and belonging. We have to bridge the gap between those who have been working a long time to make the world an equitable place, those that have just begun the journey and those who don’t yet know there’s a journey to go on. Until they realize it, they’re like a bull in a China shop, getting in the way of inclusion being nurtured and grown.  We can’t do it without all of us – or at least the vast majority of all of us.  A 50/50 split ain’t going to do it.


Instead of training, we have to support each other to come to a new awareness that we’ve been taught and socialized into a lie for hundreds of years. We’ve woven a history with some really bad science and some terrible ideas that have resulted in tragic consequences. Truly awful things have happened historically, in our recent past, and most likely and tragically just now.  We need to face up to it, we need to understand it, and we need to do something about it.  Watching a one-hour video in isolation once a year to check off a box is not going to help.  Our belief is that setting the structure and cadence of ongoing conversations will help.


Once we collectively realize that we’re on a journey to overcome 500+ years of systemic oppression, we can start to adjust the expectation—it’s not going to happen in one training, webinar, or conversation. Instead, we begin to institute the framework for team members to deepen their capacity to be equitable, inclusive, and celebrate diversity.


Rather than training, we’re setting up the space to take the first steps on our long but necessary journey forward toward a more equitable and inclusive world.  To get outside the boxes and get to Me+We.

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