Shakil Choudhury, a Toronto-based consultant, has provided diversity and unconscious bias training to police and teachers. (Yvonne Bambrick/Submitted) Against the backdrop of smoldering tensions over race and policing in Toronto and Thunder Bay, Ont., trainers and educators who specialize in anti-racism efforts caution that cultural sensitivity training for police officers is no quick fix.
"Our use of stereotypes is an unconscious habit. Like any habit, it’s hard to break," said Shakil Choudhury, a Toronto-based consultant who has lead diversity training for about 25 years.
"You’re not going to break the habit after one training [session],"
Police in Thunder Bay are under intense scrutiny over their interactions with Indigenous people, after two separate reports released this week suggested the police service in the northern Ontario city is rife with institutional racism.
The reports advised that both police officers and the civilian board, which oversees the police service, undertake cultural sensitivity training about Indigenous peoples.
Toronto police already conduct mandatory training on diversity and bias avoidance, but they are also under fire after the Ontario Human Rights Commission released statistics on Monday showing black people are "grossly overrepresented" in violent interactions with police.
The reports didn’t surprise Choudhury, who has conducted diversity training for several police forces in Ontario and Alberta. He says systemic racism is "pervasive" in policing and the criminal justice system in Canada, and it takes time and commitment from leadership to root it out.
"Like any other lesson we learned in school — whether it was math, learning to read, or write — it took repetition … It took a teacher to help us work through our mistakes," he said.
"Equally, that’s how you’re going to undo unconscious bias."
However, some anti-racism educators question the effectiveness of unconscious bias training.
According to Carl James, a York University professor who has published several reports about anti-black racism in education, research suggests that unconscious bias training hasn’t produced desired results.
"We have heard over and over again that the police have had training. So the question is, why hasn’t it produced anything different?" ‘A hidden form of prejudice’
The problem, according to James, is a resistance to mandatory training.
"When people reluctantly sit in the place and are … given training, one would wonder how willing are they to really engage, in a deep way of thinking, through what ought to be dealt with," said James.
Choudhury, who has also trained teachers and health professionals, acknowledges participants in anti-racism workshops often feel defensive, "because they’re basically waiting to be told that they’re bad, they’re wrong and they’re racist," he said.
Choudhury tries to avoid the blame-game by explaining unconscious bias, which he describes as "a hidden form of prejudice.""You don’t have bias because you’re a bad person," he said. "We’ve all been socialized in a system in which criminality and danger has been associated with the darkness of one’s skin. That is an incorrect assumption, yet it is pervasive," said Choudhury.Unconscious bias training programs, which are designed to expose people to deeply ingrained stereotypes they hold about everything from race to gender, have been rolled out to police forces across Canada and the United States. Toronto Police came under scrutiny this week when a report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that a black person in Toronto is 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot by police. (Christopher Langenzarde/CBC) Choudhury believes it’s also important to teach emotional intelligence skills to police."Police officers very much feel highly criticized, and rightfully so … But this [unconscious bias] is part of the human condition, and you can be trained to uncover it," says Choudhury.But training for individual officers won’t work, James […]
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