Antiracism Campaigns: Twenty Years of Making Racism Worse

Will Shetterly
Jun 19, 2020 · 4 min read
DTankersley (WMF), CC BY-SA 4.0

Antiracism is like bloodletting: it makes the problem worse.

If you google “is diversity training effective?” the first hits are about how it’s not or how it might be changed in the hope of making it effective. It continues to be an enormously profitable industry despite decades of failure.

Studies over twenty years come to the same conclusion: Antiracism fails because it reduces complex problems to race, which strengthens the idea that race matters enormously.

In 1998, a government study in Australia found,

The problem with anti-racism campaigns is that there is no clearly understood or agreed method of changing people’s prejudices, values, attitudes or behaviour. What is known is that direct confrontation is likely to be counter-productive. … In 1997 the Council of Europe coordinated a year of anti-racism campaigns and activities throughout Europe. A survey at the end of the year, conducted in European Union countries by the polling organisation Eurobarometer, found that rather than a decline in racism, it had been marked by a growing willingness on the part of Europeans to openly declare themselves as racist.

A 2011 study at the University of Toronto found a similar result:

Aggressive anti-racism campaigns might actually increase bias toward other groups…

Today, the situation hasn’t changed. From Why Diversity Programs Fail:

Do people who undergo training usually shed their biases? Researchers have been examining that question since before World War II, in nearly a thousand studies. It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash.

That report includes a fact my father told me about when I was a boy:

Evidence that contact between groups can lessen bias first came to light in an unplanned experiment on the European front during World War II. The U.S. army was still segregated, and only whites served in combat roles. High casualties left General Dwight Eisenhower understaffed, and he asked for black volunteers for combat duty. When Harvard sociologist Samuel Stouffer, on leave at the War Department, surveyed troops on their racial attitudes, he found that whites whose companies had been joined by black platoons showed dramatically lower racial animus and greater willingness to work alongside blacks than those whose companies remained segregated. Stouffer concluded that whites fighting alongside blacks came to see them as soldiers like themselves first and foremost. The key, for Stouffer, was that whites and blacks had to be working toward a common goal as equals—hundreds of years of close contact during and after slavery hadn’t dampened bias.

The same effect has been observed time and again in labor struggles: Nothing unites us like the sense we’re working together to make a better world for everyone.

A few relevant links:

Does ‘diversity training’ work? by Kenan Malik:

Diversity training is really a PR exercise, a way of projecting a positive public image. “Diversity” has become a brand, a kind of Benetton shorthand for cool, liberal modernity. And any organisation that wants to brush up its image signs up. When the BBC wanted to shake off its fuddy-duddy image, it replaced its big globe balloon logo with shots of wheelchair-bound dreadlocked basketball players and Indian classical dancers. When the Arts Council wanted to become more relevant it launched its Year of Diversity. When Ford motor company was revealed to be “whiting out” black faces on its posters, it instituted a glossy, multi-million-pound diversity programme.

Why Unconscious Bias Training Doesn’t Work—5 Ways to Actually Make a Difference:

Unconscious Bias Training Perpetuates The Problems America Strives To Fix: “trainings designed to help non-diverse populations better understand how diverse populations naturally think and act in the workplace and what motivates them to buy in the marketplace have fueled divisions and silos not eliminated them.”

To improve diversity, don’t make people go to diversity training. Really.:

One key difference, Kalev said, is that while “a diversity task force is something you do in-house, diversity training is a product you buy from a consulting firm.” Consulting firms, she said, often use the prevention of legal trouble as a sales pitch for mandatory training programs, even without data showing their effectiveness.

Asked about how diversity managers have responded to their research, Kalev said they “tend to agree with us. They have the same inclination from their own work.” And diversity consultants? “They don’t like us so much — which makes us even more assured [of] our findings.”

The 5 Weirdest Things That Can Cause You to Be More Racist

5. Being Told Not to Be Racist

How anti-racism lessons INCREASE pupil intolerance: They ’cause animosity to other cultures’ | Mail Online:

Dutch study finds discussing sensitive ethnic concerns can be counter-productive

Originally published at

A Universalist in an Identitarian Age

“I am human; nothing human is alien to me.” —Terence the Playwright

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