The Right Perspective: You can't judge a man until you have walked in his shoes
My talk today is on having the right perspective. Sometimes we need people to help us see better and people to give us perspective.
Around 1968, at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco, a group of Black psychologists—among them Drs. Robert L. Williams, Joseph White, Joseph Awkard, Anna Jackson, Wade Nobles, Robert Guthrie, Robert Green and Charles Thomas—gained a new perspective. They cleaned and refocused the lens of psychology so that we could see more clearly the working of the minds, and better understand the behaviors, of Black people. The lens of psychology has been dirtied and distorted by ethnocentric views that failed to recognize the historical contributions of Black people to Western civilization. Civilizations in Ghana, Egypt and other parts of Africa provided the basis on which astronomy, astrology, the fine arts, architecture, mathematics, metallurgy, engineering, science, religion, and moral as well as philosophical thought are used in our culture today. Severe psychological damage has been perpetrated on Black people by failing to accept and recognize the contributions of Black people.
A few years ago, when I was heavily involved in diversity training, we conducted a diversity-training program for selected faculty members at Ohio State University. At the time, Black English and other Black subject matter were in vogue. One noted Ohio State University physics professor exclaimed, “You guys can come up with all the Black prefix stuff you want, but don’t try to bring me Black physics. There is no such thing as Black physics.”
I didn’t think he was being racist in his remarks; he was simply displaying an Adorno-type personality [identified by Theodor Adorno, a psychologist]. Briefly stated, the Adorno-type personality is the authoritarian personality that believes he or she is right without regard for opposing views.
Frequently, these people are mislabeled as racist, sexist, etc. This poses a problem in addressing the issues of diversity. The lens gets clouded when you lose perspective.
So our group got together quickly and decided to give that White boy the works. Although he may not have been a racist, he had a poor perspective of what racist acts and views had done to the psyche of Black people. Consequently, his lens needed cleaning. The exercise had the following goals: develop an awareness of the impact of discrimination on different ethnic groups, especially Blacks, Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics; develop sensitivity to the concerns of minorities in the mental-health delivery process; explore the impact of education on the outcome of the various treatment modalities in the mental-health process; explore the impact of personal experiences on decisions in service delivery.
The faculty was divided into groups of approximately 13 people. They were instructed to select a task force from a group of people and ensure racial, gender and cultural diversity. Each group selected two observers and two consultants. Observers and consultants were excused from the group in order to obtain their instructions. The remaining group members were instructed to give one consultant, in this case, the physics professor, the works (i.e., anything that he said was to be ignored). If he gave a good response, they should wait two to three minutes and attribute the response to the other consultant, interrupt his presentation and ask the other consultant to speak. Occasionally, his comments were to be “put down” and minimized.
After 10-15 minutes had expired, he commented less and less. He then backed his chair out of the circle. He eventually turned his chair around and would occasionally yell something at the group. During the processing period, the one participant who was supported by the group said he felt very good and confident that he had helped. The one who received the works said he felt angry, put down, ignored, unimportant and, finally realizing what was happening, he felt helpless to defend himself. He said he could understand the meaning of Black physics. His lens was cleaned through a dynamic interaction that demonstrated a significant aspect of some goals of Black psychology as listed above.
I will close with this Native American people’s proverb that says, “You can’t judge a man until you walk in his moccasins.” You can’t really judge a man or his capabilities until you have had his experiences.
By Willie S. Williams, Ph.D.