In a recent tragic turn of events, a highly respected Toronto educator, and member of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, 60-year-old Richard Bilkszto, took his own life. As Jesse Singal points out in a recent Substack article, it would, of course, be unwise to attribute Richard’s decision to end his life to a single event. It is clear, though, that a diversity training course he attended in 2021 badly affected his mental health. During this course he dared to question the assertion that Canada was more racist than the United States and was accused by the trainer of ‘White Supremacy’. One of his colleagues, rather than support him, thanked the trainer for “modelling the discomfort”.
The idea that people with white skin should experience discomfort and be blamed and shamed for their inherent racism, is widespread in the UK and US, thanks to proponents of Critical Race Theory and books like DiAngelo’s White Fragility. In the UK some clinical psychology courses express the wish that their students experience ‘discomfort’ during training (see this essay providing an example of the pedagogy of discomfort being used in a therapy training programme.) Third-party providers are taking these ideas into schools where children who are white are told that they have ‘white privilege’.
In a prescient article, published in 2020, Steve Dreesman highlighted the risks to mental health inherent in these ways of thinking and raised concerns about diversity trainings in which “Guilt and shame are thrust upon participants”.
As well as the emotional impact of such trainings, Singal points out that DEI interventions are designed to change the way people think and how they act. As such, they are “very obviously psychological interventions”. Singal argues that for this reason, they should be subject to appropriate standards. He also cites Lilienfeld’s important paper about psychological treatments that can cause harm.
Perhaps it is time for DEI to finally DIE. At the very least, the diversity industry needs to be subjected to far closer scrutiny (the authors of a recent authoritative review of the research literature point out that there seems, astonishingly, to be no standard DEI curriculum or teaching strategies). Research should also be conducted to ensure that diversity courses do not cause harm to those subjected to its shaming and discriminatory tactics.
With condolences to Richard Bilkszto’s family.