The benefits of cultural awareness training for workplaces are often spoken about. We talk about the role that cultural awareness training has in improving workplace culture; in improving both internal and external workplace communications; and in better servicing Aboriginal clients.
But we don’t often talk about the effects that extend beyond the workplace.
Reading social media these days is hard. Everyone has an opinion about everything, and people seem much more comfortable expressing racism from the safety of the impersonal internet. Just in the last few days, I've read comments online saying a young man in a remote Northern Territory community deserved to be shot to death by police, and how it was ‘totally wrong’ to close the Uluru climb because ‘it never hurt the rock’ and ‘the Aboriginals are lying about cultural significance’. Today, I read a post that could have been from 100 years ago: a man advertised that he and his wife ‘would like to help fire victims and have a spare room if you need it … no blacks or immigrants’. This is all on top of the everyday deluge of comments rife with racial hate and myths about Aboriginal people that are perpetuated by print and social media.
Fear of the unknown and a lack of education are the primary reason these types of posts are so prevalent. Often, keyboard warriors make these alarming statements because they've never had an opportunity to learn about Aboriginal culture—they know no alternative to the myths and ignorance they enthusiastically spout. I've been delivering Aboriginal cultural awareness training for many, many years and I've found that most people become much more accepting of Aboriginal people and culture and open to Reconciliation, when they learn the story of the Aboriginal peoples, and how we got to where we are today.
Many participants have never heard about Australia’s history with Aboriginal people from an Aboriginal perspective. Cultural awareness training is the first time they've heard the stories of people from the Stolen Generation, or of families forced to live on missions, with no control over any aspect of their lives. ‘Why weren’t we taught this in school?’ is a common response when we talk about past government policies, about the denial of Aboriginal people’s rights to practice culture and the way they were treated by non-Aboriginal people—about how in the past racism was so systematic, and how in many ways it continues to be.
Cultural awareness training in the workplace can support people to take a stand against the culturally insensitive—or downright racist—posts that are put out into the world every day. It arms people with the knowledge to see through misinformation, so that they don't help spread the myths that fuel hate against our First Nations. By giving people knowledge, training gives people the confidence to challenge the racist rhetoric we all seem to have become so complacent about.
Often employers don’t think they'll benefit from cultural awareness training for their staff because they don’t service Aboriginal people or have any Aboriginal staff. But consider the wider impact: training your staff not only increases their capacity, which strengthens your business, but also, in the case of cultural awareness training, can help protect your reputation. Often, misguided racist comments are made by employees on their workplace social media profile, and I watch as offended readers tag the employers asking them to take action, or demand others boycott them. It's something to consider: if making a positive social contribution is not reason enough to consider cultural awareness training for your workplace, then the potential PR implications if you don't might be.
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