Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution. (Book Reviews)

Article excerpt

By Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn

On the surface, Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn's assertion makes sense: a therapeutic approach to race relations has trivialized the issue while we lose the goal of achieving institutional equality. She cites 50 years of examples of encounter groups, black psychotherapy, sensitivity trainings, and cultural etiquette books that arose to manage tensions in the postwar integration era. She writes that 12-step programs, the recovery movement, and inner child workshops became indiscriminately mixed up with "the racial struggle," much to that struggle's misfortune. She tracks the meteoric rise of corporate diversity trainings, considered a matter of economic survival but proven ineffective in improving race relations on the job, and examines "re-evaluation counseling," a therapeutic model that she names a "stealth" strategy--on the surface egalitarian but truly controlled by one man. Oh, and she doesn't like identity-based education either. Her chief objection to therapeutic anti-racist culture is that "the desired goal was no longer civic equality and participation, but individual psychic wellbeing--more nebulous, open to interpretation, difficult to achieve, and controversial than the universal guarantees of political equality sought by the early civil rights movement." All this therapy led to new racial rituals and taboos, especially the white guilt, harangue/flagellation ritual, and the focus on identity, "distracting [the movement] from the serious task of institutional innovation, economic reorganization, community-building and moral rehabilitation. …