Jayne: White-men-only diversity quest makes Portland a joke

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

My guess is that they were too busy laughing. That’s just a hunch, but I think it’s a solid one. After all, that was my reaction.

Last week, when news came out about Portland officials attending a three-day diversity training conference, I sent a quick email to some of our Vancouver leaders to get their reaction. When I didn’t hear back from them for a couple hours, well, I chalked it up to giggles. And to snickers. And to guffaws.

What other possible response could there be? What other possible reaction is appropriate for the absurdity that came out of Portland last week? Oh, there’s nothing wrong with a little diversity training. It’s just that if the writers for Saturday Night Live were to devise a sketch mocking political correctness, this would be the result.

Portland last week sent 16 white, male employees and managers — including Mayor Charlie Hales and Police Chief Mike Reese — to a training session at The Resort at the Mountain near Mount Hood. The company conducting the training? It’s a Portland-based firm called White Men as Full Diversity Partners. Seriously. Nothing subtle like “Getting in Touch With Your Inner Prejudices” or “Touchy, Feely, and Sensitive.” The name of the company is White Men as Full Diversity Partners.

Which apparently touches upon something Portland’s leaders are missing deep in the recesses of their souls. According to The Oregonian, a spokesperson for Mayor Hales said, “Most of the city’s top administration is white and male. In order to address inequities in the city, the white male leadership needs a deep understanding of the Portland community in its wholeness and complexity.”

By all means, the way to get in touch with Portland’s wholeness is to spend three days at a mountain resort. The cost to the city? That was $56,000 of its cash and all of its dignity.

Also from The Oregonian is an excerpt of possible reading material authored by Michael Welp, co-founder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners: “Heaviest is the pain I feel when I recognize my unconscious contributions to oppression. It is the pain of ignorance; of swallowing unchallenged cultural assumptions and realizing I am living on shaky untested ground. Being open to the possibility that I have caused additional unrecognized hurt and pain leaves me feeling exposed and raw, putting me in touch with my own incompetence and humility.”

Ugh. Talk about incompetence and a lack of humility. Heaviest is my pain when I have to read that tripe. Then again, Portland is the city that has an elementary school principal who made news in 2012 by focusing on the cultural insensitivity of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and by examining news articles for the “white privilege” they convey.

Seeking righteousness

Look, I’m all in favor of eliminating racism, sexism, and homophobia in societal institutions, which apparently is the purpose of Portland’s diversity training. I’m well aware that such cultural biases do infect our country and that sensitivity is not one of our strong suits as a society.

But at some point those who write about “swallowing unchallenged cultural assumptions” and about insensitive perpetrators getting in touch with their own “incompetence and humility” are harming their cause, inviting scorn and ridicule rather than understanding. As writer Anthony J. D’Angelo recommended, “Transcend political correctness and strive for human righteousness.”

That’s a fine line, and reasonable people can reasonably disagree upon where it should be drawn. But most rational people will find it ridiculous that a city is sending only whites and only men to a three-day diversity session, implying that they somehow should feel guilty for having the “wrong” genes.

Righteousness is, indeed, a goal that should transcend political correctness, and it can be found by emphasizing our inherent dignity as humans rather than our artificial differences. Anything beyond that is simply comical.