Vol. 12   No. 14
JUL
Y 10, 2017
UNIQUE HITS
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                               Shades of Perception
..
194,836

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I was having coffee with a Latina friend of mine the other day. And after we got done with the “business”
side of things, we sat around and shot the breeze for a while. And I can’t remember all of that which we
talked about, but it ended up getting around to cultural and racial perceptions of people with whom we
interact.

I have been blessed by life to have focused on race and culture for almost my entire adult life in some
capacity of another, from giving multicultural trainings when I worked at the Urban League in the late
1980s to even working as a non-profit accountant at several neighborhood centers and the plethora of
diverse people who hang out at them or receive services from them. I was even Centro Hispano’s
accountant for about 10 years. But it is the interactions that I have had over the past 35 years, both direct
and indirect, that have given me a certain comfort level being around and interacting with people who one
would perceive to be different than me. And while we have our differences, we also end up having many
things in common, things that bind us together.

Back in the 1970s, I hitchhiked a lot and learned to always keep my host engaged by asking questions
until I found the “common ground” that we shared. I did this out of a sense of self-preservation because I
believed that if we learned of our commonality, my host would not look at me as an “other,” an object, that
could be readily discarded if the necessity or desire arose.

And I also like people and am fascinated by their complexity. I enjoyed the conversations. And I guess I
learned to understand and be in their places and be completely comfortable in doing so. We are humans
more than the objects to be hated that our current mainstream culture tries to force us to perceive each
other as.

I learned in Psychology Today or perhaps in a class that we can be top down processors of information or
bottom up processors of information. The top down folks use broad concepts to interact with people,
somewhat placing people into categories depending on characteristics that they perceive. Those
characteristics are often racial or cultural. It is those broad categories that dominate the interaction and
the relationship. They allow us to keep our distance and give us some sort of security thinking that we
know the person without having interacted with them.

Now the top down processing can be very helpful when observing overall trends in society or trying to
direct public policy, to understand culture and to understand the overall situations of individuals who live
in those generally defined communities. They may even be instructive in our first meeting of someone who
lives within that community for we have nothing else to guide us, to understand what is going on.

But the problem is when we stay in the top down mode of assessing people when interacting with people.
The top down mode keeps us at a distance, leaves a barrier between the person or people we are
interacting with, always leaving a certain sense of “other” in the equation of our relationship.

And so, we must make sure that we switch to the bottom up mode when we interact with people for I have
learned that each of us is unique even within the context of our racial and cultural backgrounds. Or to
place it in a positive way, we all have diamonds within us that define our self-worth and make us unique
in this world. Or to put it as a journalist, we all have our unique story to tell. And we learn that by
suspending that top down analysis and learn more through the personal interaction where we find out how
we are similar as well as understand more fully how we are different without that becoming some kind of
barrier to our relationship, permanently creating a distance between us for no reason.

I feel very blessed to, most of the time, be able to engage in different communities while feeling on some
level a part of that community if for no better reason, I have covered the community so many times that
people expect me to be there and I am a fly on the wall, ignored for the most part except by the good
friends that I have made in that community.

Now I am the first to say that my interpersonal relationships can always stand vast improvement. I feel
that we are born with a thousand veils of perception before our eyes. Some of us in our lifetimes choose
to remove none of them, thinking that their clouded view is reality itself. And if they are a member of the
dominant racial or cultural group that has similar feelings, they are not challenged at all to remove the
veils.

But I thank God that I have been challenged by life to remove those veils as I get to know myself and the
world around me better. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is where my world ends
and the rest of the worlds begins. With that understanding of the world, it allows me to go much further
than if I thought that my world and THE world were the same.

In terms of the thousand veils, I think I removed number 500 the other day. I have a lot of veils to go. And
that is what makes life exciting. I will turn 65-years-old next month and yet so much of life and the world is
a mystery to me.

And so, I appreciate the fact that my Latina friend and I can have an engaged discussion where race and
culture filter in and out of the conversation and yet it is only a conversation that she and I are engaged in.
There isn’t a whole community or race invisibly resting on her shoulders and I don’t think I have one
resting on mine.

However, it must be said that one of the underpinnings of the relationship is my respect for who she is and
that includes the cultural and racial strands that are an inseparable part of who she is.

Aren’t people grand!