Exploring the Past

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 ???).

One time a white person approached me because they'd been very hurt. They'd gotten a letter from someone and in the letter, I don't know if it was a letter or if it was some kind of other communication, but they'd gotten the word back from someone that somebody thought they were racist. They couldn't believe this was the case and the reason the person of color indicated that they thought the white person was racist was because during the conversation with the white person the white person kept touching their nose. 

The white person kept touching their nose. I can't tell you how many times they touched their nose, if they touched their nose or not, but this was the rationale that was given to me. So when she consulted with me on this matter I offered some strategies for her to pursue if she was strong enough. You know, evidently you're hurt and you're injured. Do you want to get some learning out of this or do you want to just set it aside and dismiss it? You have got to decide how you want to approach it. Here is an example. 

Here's a person of color who felt that in this conversation with this white person, the fact that they kept touching their nose is an indication in my best perception, from what I know about the first case, about I smell a car, the person walking down the school hallway and someone calling, I smell a car, what kind of car is it? Is it a cigar or a blank car? And this is a case where this white person kept touching their nose and the person of color couldn't imagine why the person kept touching their nose unless they were indicating that they smelled something. So that could have been how that connection might have been made. So from her past white people say black people or people of color smell a certain way, and that's one of the things that they do in their behavior around it.I think that's another example that I can bring to your attention around how someone feels that race or culture...

Q: Hold on to that example, just for a second. Let me make sure I understand, you pulled a lesson out of this one which is that sometimes it can be useful to draw out the associations that whatever one person's behavior are sparking in the other person's mind. And in that sense we'll get to the root of where this discomfort and this perception are coming from?

A: That's correct. The people might not even know what the history is or where it comes from, but it's an association and it's enough association for that person of color to draw a conclusion strong enough for that person to feel like they could articulate it and give it back to that individual.