Why Nicholas Kristof Isn’t Changing Hearts and Minds About Racial Disparities in the US

In a recent series of articles, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof offered statistic upon statistic about the racial disparities that continue to this day in the United States.

Depressingly, when asked if he felt he was changing any minds, he responded: “I wish I could say that yes, it’s having an effect. I honestly don’t know. In general, I think that we in journalism tend to change people’s minds quite rarely on issues they have thought of.”

If you examine how corporate learning and professional development are measured, you could replace the word “journalism” in Kristof’s response with the word “training” and have an equally true (and depressing) statement. It’s why delivery methods such as lecture may raise awareness, but very rarely lead to a change in mindset or lead to new skills being transferred to the job.

I’ve sat through a variety of classes and workshops on “diversity training” and I’ve heard all the statistics. Still, it was easy for me to think of rational excuses for the disparity among outcomes between white people and people of color in America in this day and age… until I attended a workshop created by Casey Family Programs. I was asked to complete a 20-question “white privilege checklist”… and then I was asked to compare my results with others in the room – white people and people of color. The ensuing discussion was life changing for me. I’ve facilitated that workshop many times since, and it’s been life changing for many of the participants. It wouldn’t have been possible if someone had simply shared a bunch of statistics with us, regardless of how striking the disparities were on paper (or on PowerPoint).

I’ve led presentation skills and instructional design workshops with SMEs and experienced trainers alike. The attitude coming into the session is often very similar: I’ve been doing this for years… what can you possibly teach me?

That attitude would prevail if I were to simply talk about the importance of a lesson plan and learning objectives and engaging your audience. When the participants, however, are challenged to work in groups and develop a 10-minute presentation, and deliver that presentation in front of a group using the ideas and skills they’ve learned in the workshop, they can feel the difference between their old way of doing things and the new way they’ve just been taught. “What can you possibly teach me?” turns into “Why haven’t I been doing it this way all along?”

Lecture and didactic delivery might be a useful style to raise awareness. Finding opportunities to involve your audience, giving them opportunities to explore your content and discuss your ideas, can be life changing.

4 thoughts on “Why Nicholas Kristof Isn’t Changing Hearts and Minds About Racial Disparities in the US

  1. Great post Brian. As part of my diversity training I did a “Privilege Walk” that had a very profound impact on me. I think that had we been lectured at, I would not have gotten the point of our own intrinsic privilege. As I watch what is going on in Ferguson, this is the kind of discussion that needs to happen as we unpack our knapsacks. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCcQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.collegesuccess1.com%2Finstructormanual4thed%2Fdiversity%2Ftheprivilegewalkexercise.doc&ei=DT91VOWdG8LnsASMzoHADw&usg=AFQjCNGG_6El69TvaTioTOxBlXtl4_VegA&sig2=bHMv0wOQ-DiSy0Hc9m3dgQ&bvm=bv.80642063,d.cWc

    • Thanks Scott – for the comment and the article. I absolutely agree – in order to truly change minds, facilitators need to find a way to also change hearts. And that rarely happens just by “telling” alone. Especially when people feel they already know what they need to know about a topic.

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