White people often associate antiracism training with learning about and respecting the differences between white and non-white cultures, between Western culture and non-Western cultures. The goal behind this “cultural sensitivity” training is to ensure that white people do not unintentionally offend people of colour. I will refer to this type of training as human relations programming.
Essentially, for whites, the purpose of human relations programming is to minimize the possibility that people of colour would file a racial discrimination complaint against the company, or on the societal level, its purpose is to prevent a racial revolt or “race war”. Sometimes, a white person who feels guilty about racism attempts to be antiracist by being extra-nice to people of colour. In other cases, a white person who realizes that she did something racist to a person of colour will try to ameliorate the transgression by, again, being extra-nice. If the white person and the person of colour become on friendly terms, the white person may perceive that her racial transgression has been forgiven. If the white person believes that her racial transgression has been forgiven, it usually relieves her of her guilt and restores her self-identity as a “good person”.
However, the problem with this model is that racism is more than cultural misunderstandings between whites and non-whites; racism is more than just acts that offend people of colour. Racism is inequality, inequity, and injustice that are built into our society which values whites over non-whites. Racism is not “subjective”; it is “objective”. That is, racism is not perception; it is reality. There are real inconsistencies between how society treats whites and non-whites, and these inconsistencies are due to conscious and unconscious in-group/out-group categorization.
Racism is not just about personal relationship problems between white and non-white individuals due to racial differences. Racism is systemic. The problem is not difference; it is inequality. The solution to the problem is not to accept differences; the solution to the problem is to eliminate inequality.
White people use human relations programming to protect themselves from racial anger.
Some white people’s focus on and preoccupation with human relations programming appears to indicate a deep-seated, subconscious fear of an oncoming “race war”, in which people of colour will eventually revolt violently in response to centuries of white oppression. For white people who conflate antiracism with human relations programming, the worst outcome of systemic racial oppression is racial violence. In other words, white people who focus on human relations programming are concerned (subconsciously) with their own safety as a racial group, and their goal is to maintain social order. The current social order, of course, is the status quo that upholds white supremacy. Thus, to focus on human relations programming is to protect the white supremacist system from being overthrown, to placate people of colour with kind words and prevent them from rebelling.