Charlotte Perspectives and Figure Ground Experiments

figure-ground-sm

Sometimes it is brought home to me so clearly that we really do live in more than one America right now. It is as if we are all looking at one of those old Psych 101 lessons where we are shown a diagram and asked what we see. Maybe it’s the one where you see either the Grecian urns or the profiles of two people. Some people see the “figure” first, some the “ground”. My psychology class never talked about which view was preferable as an indication of mental health, or intelligence, or personality. The demonstration simply shows that we don’t all see the same thing when we look at something as static as a still picture. Obviously this changes even more when we are looking at complex human interactions in the real world.

But if I take my Facebook page as a little microcosm of America, which it is not, because it is only family and old friends, I can see how most of my peers see and interpret the news of the day. Today the situation we see differently is the shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina. These folks that I love with all my heart do not see any other side but the side of the police. They see these black folks as criminals and they honestly believe that the lives of these policemen were in jeopardy. They have no empathy for the dead. They don’t question the actions of the police. Their reverence for our police officers is laudable. Law and order gives us a society that allows people to worry about creating positive outcomes in their personal lives rather than fighting to survive. Here is what I saw on my Facebook page today:

police-officers

 

I look at what happened to Keith Scott in Charlotte and I am filled with grief and I despair that we will ever recover from what I see as our bias and our fear. I know that we have a Second Amendment right to bear guns but I also see how the belief that everyone has a gun changes policing. I worry that there are people who hate black folks and who are also police officers, that they are killing black folks on purpose under cover of their badge. I cannot help but suspect that as soon as one of these bad arrests begins that I will soon hear someone say, loudly and clearly, that the “person of interest” has a gun. The problem is that I do not always believe that the person does have a gun. I think guns are being planted. The only way I will ever know whether this is true or not is if we see unedited video of the entire arrest. How will that ever happen? Maybe a camera in a drone could follow each police car or hover over officers on a beat. I don’t know the answer but we sure need one, because what is happening is awful. It is not one isolated incident. It is happening over and over.

I do not understand how the people I grew up with could watch and hear the video that Mrs. Scott made as her husband, who had done nothing, was being apprehended and then killed and only see this from the point of view of the police officers. I cannot imagine having to stand with a cell phone taping the death of my husband, but that is the thing that Americans of African Descent are being told by their peers to do, to make a video record that can fact check the video accounts that are eventually released by the police. (In the case of North Carolina a law will go into effect on Oct. 1 that will no longer allow the public to see these videos. Why are we spending tax dollars on body cams if the public will never be allowed to see what the camera saw?)

This was just one of the saddest things I have ever seen. This woman had to stay very calm and she had to stay off to the side because if she didn’t she could very well end up dead also. Why don’t my near and dear peeps see this side of things also? Must we blindly admire everything our police officers do in order to deserve their protection? It is a difficult job, but we are not supposed to turn a blind eye to any injustice in a free society. How would we ever be able to recognize and rebuff a police state if all we are allowed to feel is total admiration, to never be critical? We know very well that all policemen and policewomen are not perfect. We know there is always the possibility of corruption and cynicism in people who associate so closely with desperate or bad people. A free society requires that we speak up when things do not seem right.

People who are shown figure-ground experiments and who subsequently are able to see both images are never again fooled by that particular stimulus. If people don’t see both sides of this issue it is, apparently, a sign that we live too much in our own bubbles; that we have come to see black folks as others (and perhaps they see us as others also). These terrible injustices could not happen over and over again if there was not still racism at work in 21st century America. Separation may be responsible. So are our perspectives.

Sad That We Can’t Discuss Politics

Today I went to the post office and I ended up being
there for quite a while because I used the wrong envelope and I had to start
over. I let people go ahead of me but by the time I finished my new envelope
the line had not moved at all. Someone was getting a passport, apparently a
very exacting and time-consuming task. If you ever get behind someone filling
in passport paperwork and having it checked over you might as well leave, do
another errand and then come back. There was one other clerk but she had an
Aussie gentleman with very complicated insurance and packaging issues. So we
stood in line. (At least we had a counter to lean on.) We began to discuss our
pets who are, apparently, all spoiled rotten.
As our wait continued we began to discuss the
conditions that were keeping us waiting. We were nice and did not try to make
anyone feel too badly. The man next to me in line knew that the desk was one
clerk short because the missing clerk was his wife. She had a vacation day. We
were pleasant and civil and just chatting. But it was primary day so I
mentioned my anxiety as I waited to find out the results of the voting. I
mentioned that I was looking forward to seeing Hillary Clinton win the New York
primary. I was hoping people would pipe up and say who they would like to see
win.
I know that politics is not a topic that is supposed
to be discussed in polite company. But I, of course, can’t help myself. I
wanted to know what people were thinking on this primary day. Sadly I believe
it has become more difficult for us to discuss politics than ever. We should at
least be able to talk about what we think we know about the candidates and
where we got our information.
However, as soon as I said Hillary’s name a woman
down the line made a sour face and said Hillary is a liar. Now I don’t think
this woman knows Hillary personally. I could not really ask where the woman was
from, although she had an accent, because as soon as I said Hillary’s name she
made that disapproving prune face. If she came from another country maybe
Hillary did something there that had upset her. After all, Hillary was the Secretary
of State. I tried to probe gently, because I couldn’t accept an insult without
some kind of backup, but the woman just repeated that Hillary is a liar.
Perhaps Hillary Clinton is a liar, after all everyone
says she is, but I just tried to argue that the only way we know about Hillary
is through the media and that it is always important to consider the slant of
the particular media that is supposedly offering evidence against Hillary. When
I have traced many of the “proofs” back to their source I have found the media
to be right wing media. I would bet that the main source of news for this woman
was FOX news. I will never know if that is true though.
The woman made an instant decision to dislike me
because I had an opinion about Hillary Clinton that did not agree with hers. I
would have loved to listen to the reasons why she had concluded that Hillary is
a liar. I would have loved to share my reasons why I do not believe Hillary to
be quite the monster that the media paints her. But the conversation was over
and it was over with rancor on the part of one of us and dismay on the part of the
other. Everyone else in that long post office line (we were there for about
half an hour) said not one peep either during or after the exchange.
I can’t help thinking that it is sad that we can’t
talk about politics at all in our free society, at least with anyone whose
opinions differ from ours. People have chosen their favored media outlet and
are not the least bit curious about what other media outlets have to say. We no
longer take in all sides and try to make sense of all of the evidence. We make
up our mind and any attempt to offer another point of view meets with a stone wall
of anger and defensiveness. I know this has probably been true of every society
from time to time when passions run high and answers are tough to come by, but
it’s a shame and I hope such inflexibility disappears and that we will be able
to try to analyze and decide important cultural matters with some
sophistication and a spirit of mediation at some point in the near future.
By Nancy Brisson