Cultural Assumptions

S.Y. Bowland

Director of The Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute (PRASI) and mediator, based in Atlanta, Georgia

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Talk a little more about some of the obstacles that people from communities of color have in disseminating this kind of knowledge and coming together and collaborating for these kinds of pieces that you are talking about.

A: I'll speak both from personal experiences and from stories that people have told me. One special story that someone shared was that one practitioner of color worked as a volunteer in many ways and they often got many calls.... we were chatting later on the phone, and they said they had gotten a call to do a mediation, which seemed to be income-generating. They were quite excited about it. But the way the caller began the dialogue was to inquire about the mediator's ethnicity. And if in fact he could speak this particular language. So then the mediator inquired as to whether the co-mediator was also of that ethnicity and also spoke that particular language. In the inquiry they learned that that was not true. And so the mediator asked, "Why does it make a difference for me?" The caller said that they were hoping that the mediator might be able to interpret. So the mediator clearly made it known that he thought they had called him to be a mediator. He told them that he didn't think it was appropriate to also ask him to translate. That places one in a very difficult position because here's someone who finally got someone to give him a call, but as he learned that call seemed to be as much or more for the need of the translation piece, which made him confused because he had presented himself as a mediator.


To make a long story short, the party did not do the mediation. As a result lost out on the income. Who knows if he will get called again because he didn't accept the first job. Or in agreeing or talking about the possibility of accepting it, he had to do some educating. So you are a practitioner, but you are also in educator in certain situations particularly when you are trying to say something or make someone aware of something that you think is common knowledge. So it is interesting what we see as common knowledge about cultural issues and experiences and the way that we translate or interact on those beliefs.

Q: So in that case, right from the beginning, there was extra leg work to be done by this mediator who was a person of color and who had to go and do some extra foot work just to get to the point where they could agree on what the common understanding was. So there was more work for that person to do from the outset just because that person was of color?

A: Correct. In addition to the fact of having to go around and doing the volunteer work and trying to be accepted by the community, and yes being accepted into the community while serving for free as a volunteer. But making it known that they wanted to make the transition into non-volunteer work; to get paid for their services, then being called less frequently.