Perception Is Everything

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...

Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watching the diversity training video “Perception is Everything” by Jane Elliot was  an eye opening experience for me. In the thought provoking video, Ms Elliot engages her participants by asking a series of questions which help them examine how they perceive others. She discusses height, gender, skin colour and age and exposes the rarely acknowledged advantages and disadvantages of being perceived as a part of a particular group.

Ms Elliot goes on to explain that we can not and can never “all be the same” and instead encourages us to accept, value and cherish our differences whilst encouraging equitable treatment under the law.

This video has been the subject of ridicule in some quarters. Critics have, accused Elliot – a pioneer in diversity training and social justice – of intimidating her participants and refusing to acknowledge that mainstream society has changed within her own life time. They go on to argue that awareness campaigns make people increasingly more anxious and reinforce the sense of difference in people rather than bring them closer.

What the critics fail to realise is that we all have strong stereotypical views about other people we may perceive as not belonging to our group. It is for this reason diversity training can help people in society develop some sort of “racial etiquette”  to enable cohesion in society. There is no doubt that diversity awareness initiatives have helped improve race relations in Britain over the years but more needs to be done to dismantle the stereotypes that perpetuate institutional racism.

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