Director of The Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute
Topics: conflict resolution, culture, relationships, framing, communication
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
Listen/Read Selected Interview Segments on the Following Topics
- Conflict Resolution in Communities of Color
- Cultural Assumptions
- Comfort with Cross-Cultural Conflict
- Cultural Frames
- Cross-Cultural Communication
- Bias and Ambiguity
- Stereotypes and Cultural Associations
Q: Can you tell me what the PRASI institute is?
A: PRASI stands for the Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute. It is an entity that had its origination out of a group of conflict resolution organizations that the Hewlett Foundation brought together to discuss ways that the conflict resolution corporations would collaborate. In that meeting it was identified that diversity was a very important topic for the eight organizations to be aware of and conscious of and consider ways of collaborating around. As a result of that, I, along with Beth Roy, was part of a committee doing research and education to explore the question of how research and education would look differently if diversity was at the center of them instead of on the outkirts of them.
As a result of the committee work in research and education, we held a series of conference calls with practitioners from around the country and we held meetings at conflict resolution organization conferences, to get a feel for whether there was support for the development of this idea. In doing that we found that there was support. So we put together a proposal regarding ideas involving research and education from voices that are usually outside the center and otherwise considered possibly marginal. We began to imagine what it would be like for people of color working as practitioners or people working in a community of color and we wondered what they would have to say to add to the knowledge of what a practitioner does.
Another very important element that contributed to this concept was I also did some research around what in the literature exists that is often used in education training as it relates to the conflict resolution field if you were to go get mediation training or take a class. Often times when I was in the presence of that environment, people of color or others who were marginalized would ask me, "Well, who are some people in my community who have a point of view on this? What do they have to say?" There was definitely interest around this work. PRASI is interested in inspiring and developing and creating literature and resources that contain the voices of those that you might not normally otherwise hear. One very important method or process that we use to inspire this is through relationship building. Relationship building is a very important element in the sense that people have to know that you are interested in what they have to say and that you will read what they have to say.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of obstacles that stand in the way of many practitioners being able to come and write about their work or seek to do research around it because of issues of power, dominance, oppression, and privilege. That is how PRASI came about, through community gathering and putting together a proposal to pursue and seeing how it can enhance and enlighten. And also if there are ways of bridging gaps and putting voices together that might not otherwise be at the presence of conflict identification, conflict assessment, conflict resolution processes, and other alternative ways of knowing and being.
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. But once they wanted a transition from being a volunteer into trying to earn a living out of this, it then became very difficult to get calls. There was some confusion about how that had taken place or why that had taken place and what were the economic barriers to having that experience. When they would travel to different conferences they would hear how successful other people were. It was hard to gather what some of the differences were.
One example of how that might have its presence is I remember getting a call from someone and 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.
This caused a great deal of concern. So if there were more information available for people to explore before making those kinds of inquiries it might be beneficial to the larger collective groups.
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. So yes, there was more legwork.
Q: You have mediated some very interesting cases in small claims court and other realms between people and communities of color. Can you tell about some of those experiences? What I am hoping we can get out of that is lessons that we can take away from and things to consider when people mediate either between communities of color or within communities of color.
A: Well, what is important to me is that it is clear when there is an overt or covert matter of culture or race at the table, to let the parties know that I do have the skill of being able to facilitate dialogues or conflict discussions around that so people feel comfortable raising those issues and bringing those issues to the table. So I would say that being able to do that and being open to identify that issue makes the parties feel at ease.
I think that the other thing that is real important is that because some communities of color, in addition to looking at credentials, may also want to view the person, the way that you have your presence is important. The way that I came to the table and the way that I presented myself was important. I was there with the people. Even though this is an informal setting, I was called in to sort of represent or be a part of the court or facilitate some issues, ideas, images, or positions of the legal system that may have brought me there so to speak. What I try to do is make the parties feel at ease, even though there is a clear understanding that there is a serious matter that brought us here.
There is a serious matter that we want to explore the possibility of resolving. I am very much interested in being sure that all of the issues and the matters get serious attention from both sides.
All people have a tendency to look at me. But my experience is that sometimes when it is a person of color there and then I walk in as a mediator, you can sometimes sense a feeling of anxiety that has been lifted. This may because there is some understanding that I have about the toughness or the anxiety that is present in their being a part of that.
An example of that is when I mediate matters in juvenile court. I think that there is not always a clear communication or there may be clear communication, but not clear interpretation around when a child has to come to juvenile court, what the outcome of that child coming to court will be. There is still the possibility that when you get some information that a juvenile is coming from the court or from a mediation program, people still feel a sense of tension around what it really means to be embraced in the process in a system where there is clearly an overwhelming presence of young people of color and men and women of color in these systems. There is always like this trust factor about what this means. I've always thought that just like we had the apologies regarding the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments, that we will get apologies for this criminal justice system because so many people that we see from our various communities are going there.
To answer your question, I find that some of it has to do with my own experiences as a person of color and my own experiences in judicial systems. When I am involved I know that there is some uncertainty even though what people say, something completely different can happen from what they had said. So when families come with their children to the juvenile court system, not knowing what the outcome is, it does have a sense of anxiety even though you might try to put them at rest by saying this is an informal setting.
Q: It is pretty well documented that in a lot of intercultural or interracial conflict -- particularly I'm thinking black and white in this country, which has a very specific historical context to it -- often times the white party will not see the conflict as an issue of race, while a person of the black community will. What advice or what insights can you offer for conflict interveners who might be put in this position where there is a completely different frame and it is based around race?
A: Well I think that there are a number of things that I could say. PRASI and the people who are connected to PRASI are writing about these particular topics so that there will be an opportunity for people to read the information. There is also an article by Beth Roy, for white people on how to listen when race is a topic. I think that there are a couple elements, some that we know and some we don't know.
The tricky part there is when you might get a group of people of color together and you may get a lot of dialogue or discussion around their experience or what they are feeling relating to their race. Much like the book "Race Matters" written by Cornel West, which spoke to the idea that race is always present whether we acknowledge it or not. When you get a white community together they may not have a focus around issues of race because they can have an existence where race isn't always present or even culture may not always be present.
Q: Why is that? Is it because they are in the majority or because there is nothing to compare it to?
A: Well I think it's a lot of ways. One particular way is how does it come to the center of the discussion unless it's something that offers intervention like the OJ Simpson case. Or if it is something that directly affects them.
As you might know about the work of Peggy Macintosh in "White Privilege", you can go on about your day and your whole week and not have to encounter issues or matters relating to race. This is because there is an overarching level of protection with knowing that things are okay for you, structures are in support of you and things are going your way as long as you follow some of the basic rules of good citizenship.
However, when you compare that to a group that may have had a significant amount of oppression where struggle and overcoming may often be a part, or educational or economic limitations have been present, the question becomes how to have an existence of liberation or freedom. One group may have had a great experience and longevity of experienced freedom and the other group may not, but when the two groups come together there is a question of who will bring up the issue of race or culture.
You have to take a risk on that. When you bring it up, there is always a party who wants to avoid it -- they want to say that maybe it was something else, maybe it was something different. That is why I resonate with your comment on personality. It's a lot easier to see differences based on personality, personality styles, power relationships, high contact, low contact... versus the fact that there are different privileges upon which our interaction is based.
When you look at these privileges that the interactions are based upon, they do show there has been a greater support for one group than the other group. Sometimes we want to overlook that, saying that everybody is privileged at some point and everybody has experiences of oppression at some point. What I am looking at is that there are some basic systematic structures in place that make it harder for some groups to have experiences than others.
I'll give you an example. I recently did a training in which the conversation was raised, and even to this day, one of the participants clearly had to be in their 50s or 60s, they can remember a situation that had occurred at school. A young fellow had been walking around and he could remember them saying, and this was integration, so there was a small number of students of color, he remembered them saying, "I smell a car." And another person said, "What kind of car? A cigar or a 'blank' car?" You know what I am putting in as "blank?"
Q: Tell me.
A: The "N" word. It had a great impact on his mental psyche. Having this experience led him to ask, "What is wrong with me? Why did I do to have this particular experience?" So when people who are forty years down the road still have memories of those kinds of experiences we sometimes see people wanting to take on different identities because people treat them differently. It's very tough.
Q: You are in a mediation. One of the parties is white, and they say that the problem is the personality of one of the guys from the other party. The other party, who happens to be African American, is having trouble articulating exactly what the problem is. At some point it comes out that he believes that there is some racism involved, but it is hard for him to put his finger on exactly what is going on. How do you deal with that as a third party?
A: There are a couple of variables there. First of all, what is the situation in which the mediation occurs? Workplace, small claims court, juvenile court, family, community? It sort of depends on where it takes place. I have had a situation like that actually, in which the white disputant did not frame the conflict at all as having any kind of racial impact at all. The other disputant, who clearly saw that race was the nature of behavior and attitude, although it may have been covert, went back several years and pinpointed things the white disputant had done. He could not distinguish any other reason why the white disputant had done these things other than the fact of race. He basically was seeking some acknowledgement that it could be true, so then we could have some consciousness or awareness to move on into the future. That is tough in some cases depending on the situation and the relationship among people. In the workplace setting, my experience that it is kind of tough if the people must continue to work together. If there is not an ongoing relationship that has to be sustained, a lot of stuff comes out.
As a matter of fact, I've had it on a number of occasions when both parties tell their sides of the story for the white person to indicate that they had no clue that race was variable or that it was relevant to the other person or how it even played into the part and then wanted to have the experience of offering information to prove that it was not the case or could not be the case. This is one interesting piece that I learned from a good friend of mine in a training, is that I invite people to play the art of believing.
See, you've got to play the art of believing in mediation, and that's what makes it easier for people, which is you can't question; you just have to believe. This is what the person experiences, this is what the person stated. And if you can engage the art of believing, I think it gives an opportunity to move forward because the art of believing doesn't necessarily have to associate blame with it. I think that that's what happens when you speak about these topics, who's the responsible person, and it does get played out on an interpersonal level with regard to the mediation, but sometimes it's a much larger system issue, in terms of how a structure may have been set up that puts a person in a situation to be the party where this conflict takes place.
Q: That's an interesting technique, the art of believing. Basically, if I understand it correctly, you're asking party A to listen to party B and suspend their judgment for a moment and actually believe everything they say, separating all that from blame for just a moment.
Q: And what effect have you seen that have?
A: Oh, wonderful. I learned that from a good friend of mine, Ray ??? I don't know where she picked it up, but she's the one who trained me. What was your question again?
Q: What effect have you seen the art of believing have?
A: I think it gives movement. I think we can move because if the party just believes and doesn't get blocked, they can help with the brainstorming of solutions. Many times in my experience, if the party holds on to the fact of, "I couldn't have done that," "there's no way to do that," "you just misinterpreted what I said," "what we really have here is a miscommunication," "there's someone else...." The art of believing with suspension of judgment allows both parties to become problem solvers in moving outside of the situation and planning a resolution and a better future in working together.
Q: So, that's another technique. You mentioned the technique of mentioning that you are comfortable discussing topics of race whether it has been brought up by the parties or not.
A: And I think that's really important because in every training that's been conducted that I have either been a part of or have gone to, that never comes up because the opening statement of the mediator does not discuss that issue. It's not taught as a tool. But I think it's a very useful tool. In the opening statement, when you indicate who you are and what your skills are and that you're here to do the particular work. This is one of those classic things, that I'll talk to you about security or safety, like if someone reads this or hears this, does this mean that I won't get a call to do a mediation because they think that it's inappropriate to do that? And I've introduced the idea in workshops where I've said, if you can let the parties know that you are able to facilitate discussions around race or class or homosexuality or whatever the issue that's present and that you are there to facilitate, then I think the parties do get a sense that they can take a deep breath and be themselves and be here as they need to be here.
After one workshop when I did it, a white woman came up to me and she said, "Well that might sound okay coming from you, but what about me? Can I say that?" I said, "Sure, if it's true it'd be a wonderful thing." So I think that there's the element of what is required, or what are the competencies and skills to be able to embrace that kind of statement and hold to it.
I think the field has to explore the whole question of cultural competency and who can do what. If you just come to the table as a mediator without letting people know what you are skilled to do, I mean, oftentimes we don't even say that we're skilled to handle difficult or tough dialogues. We also don't say, "I'm present to provide the space for both of you to speak, and for us to brainstorm together, or for you to articulate your issues."
Now, when I use the language, "brainstorm together," I mean for all the parties to state what their brainstorm solutions are and for me as the mediator to go down the list that they give me and ask to reality check on those. So that we can come to, and I'm using again the language "we" because I do see myself in the mediation and not a part of the mediation, even though it is my responsibility to facilitate the mediation, depending upon what style I'm using, that if I'm present with the people, I'm in it too. But my role is different, so I say yes, we're in the mediation, but I know it's the parties' mediation, and I think that sometimes when we use language people think we've lost track of our role or what we do or how we do it, and I don't really see that as true.
Q: Are there other techniques that you can think of, useful things that you do either to open a mediation or during a mediation, to make the conversation go better when there are issues of race?
A: Yeah, I think that there are a lot of things that can be done. I think that maybe I'd like to think of one or two more to share. One is, I do like to use caucuses and in the caucus I give assignments to both parties. But I give the assignment at the same time. So I might say we're about to go in a caucus and I would summarize how I have observed or how I have seen race or culture play a part in the mediation to that particular point. And then I'll ask them, "When you're not in the room with me during the caucus, would you just brainstorm what's true about what I said, and what's not true, or if there are any questions you have for the party on this particular topic?"
Q: Alone, separately.
A: Right, and what would you need to move forward? Then while I'm with the other party it's really amazing, because again, in the caucus it's so amazing that people will say they want to reaffirm to me, I guess as part of the system structure, that they're not racist. That they just can't imagine how the person could have gotten that perception, that it just in no way took form.
I'll give you an example of one of the matters that was just so amazing. It was a mediation that involved a person of color and a white person. The person of color was actually the person in the leadership position here. So there was a complaint that the white person had requested something and they felt that the person of color was not providing what they had asked for. When we were doing the mediation the white woman said, "Well I asked for it once," because the person of color had said, "Well I wish you had asked me again. All you had to do was ask me again. I don't know why you had to go this far, just come back and ask again." And again, the white woman had said, "Well I asked you once."
If you could have seen the face of the woman of color; it was so amazing because she said, "Do you know how many times I've had to ask for what I've wanted to move up around here?" So it was so amazing where this one woman of color who at this point in time had a leadership role and in her struggle for advancement, had to repeatedly ask for something and she was just blown back to learn that part of the reason that this person was here was because they felt that they had asked once and asking once was enough.
Q: And her understanding of the way the world worked is that you had to ask several times to get something, and so she expected the white woman to ask several times if she wanted to get what she wanted?
A: Or to continue to persevere, to continue to come back. And that there would be movement, but it might not happen right at that moment, that she had to have confidence that there would be some movement in time and that they would work as a team for this. So I thought that that was really a very amazing story, even for me to observe the difference in how one person from one group was representing it this way and another person from another group was totally representing it another way.
I think they both had their awakening around knowing that when this particular person makes a request for something and they make the request one time, they expect a response after that one time, and then it became an appreciation for the work that had been done in the past. But the person of color had had to go through a series of challenges or repeated inquiries to advance. I think that one thing that happened as I reflect on this, is that whether there was a reflection on the differences. I know that they both had an awakening, an ah-ha about, "Oh, you just needed me to ask more than once," or, "Oh, you thought that asking once was enough." There was that kind of new discovery about operation.
What's interesting in that, is I think that very deeply hidden in that was the cultural perspective of how this one person's life had the challenge of having to persevere and keep coming back, the door being closed; whereas the other person was saying, "I've asked once. There should be movement."
Q: So, caucusing. What else?
A: The brainstorming of the list of what people want to see. It really depends, and this is the tricky part. When a person of color raises the culture/race question and that's the first time that it comes to the awareness of the white disputant, you really have to have appropriate time for that to really have its presence, because it takes time. Really when you hear it, you do feel sometimes like you're being attacked, like you did something, and you're like, "Well, I'm just carrying out my job, I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. I had no idea that this was having this impact." But how was the person of color supposed to bring this to your attention prior to this event?
Depending on different workplaces or different communities, there may be prior ways of bringing it to attention, but often there are not. That's why, I think, the caucusing is a time to give the parties a place to take their deep breath or to let their anger out. I really don't personally prefer the anger to be brought out together, although I have had it come out together, don't get me wrong, but I just have a preference about that because there's a lot of teaching that has to go on. So in the caucus, this is where I do the test. I say, "There's a lot of emotion around this and I don't mind if the two of you have it, but I want you to have a reality test. If you raise these questions it can bring out some emotion. Are you ready for that? And will you understand that it's about having the presence and the first time to share this, and it may or may not be about you personally, but I just want to prepare you for us coming back together, and I need to know whether you can do this."
Then I learn what they want. And then of course you check, "Well, can I ask the other party this or that? Do you want to ask the other party this?" Then when the other party comes back together, if it's a party of color, I say they really want to ask some other questions, but they're concerned about the level of tone, etc. I try to raise what the concerns are to see whether the people can agree to go forward and have that particular dialogue. Then I give them the information and they decide what they want to do, whether they want to go forward with it or not.
Q: I really like the idea of asking permission and sort of prepping before-hand and taking the sting out of the question that could spark defensiveness and a good discussion. Yesterday you and I talked a little bit and you mentioned that sometimes somebody says, "There's racism at work here," and somebody else says, "Show me an example where. Can you show me a concrete example of where this is racist?" And you mentioned that sometimes it's hard to pinpoint exactly that, and that it's more of a feeling, rather than an absolutely rational act that you can point to. Can you describe that a little better than I just did?
A: I can try. Let's see, what's an example that comes in my mind? I'll give you this example. 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 was an indication in my best perception, from what I know about the first case, about "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, she thought that 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 another example that I can bring to your attention around how someone feels about 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, get to the root of where this discomfort and this perception are coming from, right?
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 was enough association for that person of color to draw a conclusion and strong enough for that person to feel like they could articulate it and give it back to that individual.
Q: You're next example?
A: Another example is when you're in a group -- and I think this also crosses gender in some ways. A person of color might say something, and it doesn't get any attention, but somewhere around the room somebody heard it and somebody repeats the same thing, and that person who repeats the same thing may be a white person. So that person of color is like, "I just said that, how come y'all couldn't hear what I said? What's going on here?" And so clearly there are a lot of other variables upon which we could draw that behavior, like the tone, the delivery, the clarity of why they didn't pick it up when that person of color said it, or when that person of color said it, it set enough information for it to go around and be restated.
However, that person of color may very well wonder, why wasn't their voice heard and feel that what they had to say was as clear as what the other person said, but when the white person said it, it got attention, but when they said it, it didn't get attention. That may cause for 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 around their presence in this group or this particular discussion after having that particular experience. Then where do you go to test that? That's the tricky part about the success in working with a lot of race relation or cultural methods. Again, I think Beth Roy offers a lot of information around 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 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.
A: Exactly. Then the other piece is once someone hits you that clear, that hard on it, the immediate reaction is denial. This is versus, again, the art of believing. If that's true, why is it true, or even if it isn't true, what truth is in it? You see what I'm saying? So if we had ways of testing and time for testing -- that's the other thing, it takes time to test different things -- if we can do this then we can get a better understanding of separating out what is an obstacle or what's a barrier to collaboration or what's an opportunity to explore. The funny thing about it, and I don't know just how deep you want to go, but I want to just jump back to some of the work of PRASI. What PRASI has provided is a space -- I mean it may have happened without PRASI, but it may not have happened as quickly -- for people to begin to be inspired to put their thoughts in writing, so that people aren't alone in their thoughts or their beliefs.
One thing that's very powerful is PRASI is also working on an anthology, a collection of writings on the topic of culture, race, identity, and other sorts of issues. What happens is that one method that we have used to figure out what should be in the anthology is through conference calls of practitioners talking on a regular basis around what happens in their practice and why it happens in their practice and their thoughts on it. It never fails that the people who participate in the call are pretty much all over the country. We might have someone in Portland, someone in North Carolina, someone in New Jersey, someone in Pennsylvania, someone in Georgia who'll join. And as they each talk, they begin to affirm for one another that they're not alone in their work or their experience.
Sometimes when you're working alone and you're having these experiences, you yourself begin to doubt your work or what you're doing because you can't believe that you're having this experience. We've been able to bring a sense of clarity because there is a certain amount of insanity, I believe, and paranoia that is associated with culture and race relations, in that we want to doubt it or distance it or can't believe that it happened or is something that happened long ago. Or if I'm nice and I'm considerate and I'm helpful, how can I also be this person who carries along this thing that's been known as a difficult or a tough way of being? So I just wanted to bring that out.
Q: Great, thank you. Is there anything else we need to talk about? There's so much information, and I think it will make links to lots of things, especially PRASI, if there's a website, and I know that there is, and hopefully the anthology when it comes out. Are there other things that you think people need to hear about right now?
A: Definitely, there's one thing I think is very, very, very important. I just really want to appreciate or have to figure out a way of appreciating everyone who's been associated with the work of PRASI because I've found that people have donated lots of labor of love to the work and to the initiative. I think that people have really been supportive, they've enjoyed hearing about the idea, they think the idea is a good idea, and I think that they have also paved the way for entre, to support the idea of practitioners and for people of color or people who are marginalized to have a presence. I think that this is a really critical point in our development, as I see it, because now the question becomes, will the things that have been written be used, how will they be used, and if people will now have the courage if they read something to tell us what it is they understand or they don't understand? It's very clear that when you have relationships and when these relationships may have a historical trauma associated with them, you do engage in the experience of having to educate.
There's a piece that I'm working on called "Teaching, Telling, and Getting Told," and what that's about is when you have the initial interaction, you kind of call it teaching, but then when someone feels that they have told you something and you didn't pick it up and there's no reason that shows why you didn't get it, but you still don't apply the information that they gave you, then it sort of moves to telling.
Then there's the next point of teaching, which is when people of color get viewed as being angry or upset, well they're at that point because they taught you, they told you, so now there's a point of what's called getting told. It's sort of like a cultural piece, from my perspective, that once I've been with you long enough you should pick it up. You should be able to know what is around you. You should be around me long enough to not only get the oral knowledge, but to get the visual knowledge so you can put it all together. You can't just come to me and say, "Just tell me what to do." You have to experience what it is.
That's what I know I like to do in my particular workshops is give people a chance to experience what it is I'm going to say. Not just tell you that you should do this or you should do that or you should do the other, because as you know, sometimes all the things that you were told about a culture, all the things that you were told about a group can completely go out the window. And that was that story that I was telling that I was working with a black family and a mixed family, and the mixed family -- one of the parties was an Asian person, and the Asian woman was the woman that was raising her voice and saying, "Look me in the eye," "Talk to me face-to-face," "Talk to me woman-to-woman." And there was a black woman who was giving me the silent treatment and saying, "Talk to the hand." So clearly when we look at what we're told, it doesn't always offer the insight that we need.
Q: That Asians are quiet, they won't look you in the eye, there's a lot of context to what they say and there's a lot of symbolism... That, in that case, was completely false?
A: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that that's why it's important, because a lot of people from different groups have been together long enough that new cultures and new ways of working are emerging and people will do a lot of different things that you don't expect. You have to figure out how to engage the people at the table the best way you can, and that's not only going to come through in what you say. It's also going to come through in what you do and how you behave. People from many cultures will look at you not for what you say you are but for what you do.
Q: Thank you.