Bias and Ambiguity

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 ???).

When you're in a group — and I think this also is relevant to gender in some ways — a person of color might say something, and it won't get any attention, but somewhere around the room somebody hears it and repeats it, and that person who repeats it may be a white person. So that person of color is like, "I just said that, how come you all couldn't hear what I said? What's going on here?" Clearly, there are a lot of factors that could lead to that behavior, like the tone, the delivery, the clarity, etc., to explain why the group didn't pick up on the comment when the person of color said it.

However, that person of color may very well wonder why their voice wasn't heard, and they may feel that what they had to say was as clear as what the white person said, but only when the white person said it did it get attention. That may cause some "shutting down." I don't know how you might describe that behavior, because you were asking about particular behaviors that people couldn't clearly articulate. That person of color may walk away not knowing, but being sensitive or kind of concerned about their presence in the group or in that particular discussion after having that experience. Then, where do you go to test that? That's the tricky part about being successful in working with a lot of race relation or cultural methods. Again, I think Beth Roy offers a lot of information about that: if you have an experience that you think may have some underlying racial or cultural undertones, one way to clear it up is to go test it. But how do you teach the art of testing cultural or racial concerns? Because one thing, for sure, is that if you test it, you get a chance to address it right away, and it doesn't sit and fester and give rise to further injuries.

Q: Speculation...?

A: Exactly.