Wednesday, April 9, 2008
'White Racist' Invite Offends Lab Workers
By John Fleck
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
An invitation to a "diversity workshop" sent to Sandia Labs employees last week by labs management has drawn complaints because of its suggestion that white people are inherently racist.
"Recent studies suggest whites' lack of awareness about other cultures has to do with whites' commitment to maintaining higher social status, or 'white privilege,' '' the invitation said.
It also said whites "are likely to persist in racist behaviors unless persuaded to abolish the privileges they receive as members of the white race."
Sandia staff received a dozen calls from employees upset about the wording, labs spokesman Michael Padilla said.
He said Sandia apologized to employees offended by the e-mail. But Sandia's position is that it was not responsible for the wording and did not intend by sending out the message to imply that all whites are racist, Padilla said.
The e-mail, sent to employees as part of Sandia's electronic daily news, encouraged labs workers to sign up for the 19th Annual Diversity Leadership Council Forum on Diversity. It summarized a talk on "white privilege" by University of New Mexico faculty member Ricky Lee Allen at the April 24 forum.
The text of the e-mail about Allen's talk on "White Privilege and Diversity" was excerpted nearly verbatim from the flier and Web site on the diversity forum. It was not written by Sandia staff, Padilla said.
Over a weeklong period, Sandia management also sent out summaries of five other talks at the forum as part of an effort to encourage Sandia staff to attend, according to Padilla.
Sandia is one of the co-sponsors of the event at the Convention Center.
Sandia's work force is 2 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 70 percent white, according to data provided by Padilla.
Allen's talk is part of an all-day forum sponsored by the nonprofit Diversity Leadership Council. According to Padilla, the organization's board includes representatives of Sandia, Public Service Company of New Mexico, the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque Public Schools, Mayor Martin Chávez's office, the African American Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ACCION New Mexico.
Allen and Leadership Council Chairman Charles Becknell did not respond to requests Tuesday for comment.
Allen, a professor in UNM's College of Education, specializes in the study of race in education.
In a 2000 book on the subject, Allen and two colleagues argued that white culture in the United States perpetrates widespread and unacknowledged racism "whiteness as backdrop," they call it.
"To be a person of color in white territory is to be monitored, marked and excluded," Allen and his colleagues wrote. "To be white in white territory is to be able to pass the gaze of its bourgeois sentries."
Whites, Allen and his colleagues argue, are protective of this racial identity. They cite an incident in rural Indiana in which a group of white girls wore hip-hop clothing and hairstyles to school. "They were physically harassed and threatened at school by other whites for 'acting black,' '' Allen and his colleagues wrote.
Central to this tacit racism, according to Allen and his colleagues, is a desire by white people to retain the privileged place race provides for them in contemporary society.
Also on the agenda for the April 24 daylong forum are sessions on "Developmental Leadership: A Native American Perspective" and "How to Identify, Address and Prevent Workplace Bullying."
Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is the keynote speaker at a reception April 23, the evening before the forum.