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How Does Racial Sensitivity Training Actually Work?

What will Riley Cooper learn in racial sensitivity training?
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Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper will attend sensitivity training after a video showed him using a racial slur toward a security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert. How do you teach racial sensitivity to an adult? With movies, role-playing, and lots of talking.

For an ordinary wayward employee, remedial racial sensitivity training tends to last between two and four hours. The trainer begins by asking the subject to give his version of events. There’s usually some kind of excuse or explanation at the end of the story. If Cooper undergoes this kind of training, he will likely claim that using the N-word was a remnant of his upbringing or a moment of weakness rather than a manifestation of actual racism. Others claim that their comments were taken out of context or misunderstood. None of those excuses matter in a half-day meeting, though. The goal is to help the client understand how his behavior, not his views, affects his colleagues. It’s nearly impossible to undo any underlying racism in a few hours. Most importantly for the employer, the session provides some legal and public relations cover.

Diversity trainers prefer multiday group sessions to one-on-one counseling, if the employer will pay for it. The entire Philadelphia Eagles team, for example, might be asked to watch clips from movies like Brian’s Song or 42. A directed group discussion would ensue. (What changes enabled Jackie Robinson to survive racist abuse? What role did his teammates play? How different is today’s sports culture?)

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