Where minds meet; Process of perception
The area that I live in is a good town they're white but they live on like me and whites live in the Negro. I mean their schools only seventy two phonecalls they are the same as the white family. That girl was describing in statistical terms ANI A familiar scene on the American landscape an image of a dividing line. This line is neither a Wal-Mart curtain but like a curtain it obscures the view from both sides where our minds meet a series of explorations and human communication conducted by Professor of the Department of English Western Michigan University where our minds meet is produced and recorded by W. M. U.K. under a grant from the National Association of
educational broadcasters. In a shrinking world where minds meet in words or not at all man speech is his most decisive act. These discussions explore this world of speech topic for today is the active eye very process of perception. Here are professors frind and Nelson. This is John freind and this is Arnold Nelson. What is the significance of that girl's statement John for our program today on the subject of perception. Well perception has to do with the way we see things. This of course is fundamental in the study of communication. Now one of the most important factors in the way this girl perceives the world we all live in is that dividing line that runs through our home town the fact that she lives on one side of that line determines to a considerable extent what she sees and how she sees it. In other words we always perceive from some point of view all of us have vantage points in relation to a great many dividing lines.
Yes. For example we all perceive as human beings not from a bird's eye view or a worm's eye view but the racial dividing line the racial point of view is of special interest in human communication because of the way it divides human beings and prevents communication. We'll be examining racial perception today is an especially interesting example of the general topic. I can't think of any better way to get into the subject than the man our audience here a comment by James Bowman. He's one of the most perceptive authorities we have in this field. Baldwin is a novelist and essayist and on a radio interview broadcast from Chicago he was asked to describe the effect on the negro of the way the White race sees him. Here's what he said. And I face one of the great dilemma as well a great psychological hazards of being an American Negro and that in fact is much more than that I see a great many people go under. And everyone I mean you can imagine is you know some one of the men it's bad when done in the white country and white Protestant Puritan country where one was once a slave.
Well the standards and all the images that you open your when you open your eyes in the world everything you see you see none of that applies to you you little white lilies and you know and like everybody else when I was Joan Crawford on you and you root for the good guys who were killing off the Indians. It comes as a great psychological collision when you begin to realize all these things. I mean metaphors for your oppression and lead into a kind of psychological warfare in which you may perish. A Baldwin is making two points there. First he's saying that the white American does not see the negro accurately and that this distortion in perception can destroy the negro. Secondly he's saying that in the white man's country everything is made to be seen with white man's eyes from a black man's viewpoint. This world is a fantasy land laid with cruel traps. Well before we turn to examples of racial perception let's start with what you mentioned first John. Our perceptions can be inaccurate. What I see is a golf ball lying
on the fairway Up ahead is really just a piece of white paper. My perception changes it becomes accurate as I see the thing from a closer point of view. What else causes mistakes in perception besides minor sightedness. Well the best demonstration I've ever seen that demonstrates why we perceive erroneously is that of the revolving trap a zoid. Now in this demonstration a piece of sheet metal in the form of a trap a zoid. Four sided figure with two sides parallel is painted to make it resemble a window frame seen in perspective that is with one inch shorter than the other. The base of this piece of sheet metal then is fastened to a revolving vertical shaft so that it turns round and round on its central axis. Now when we look at this trap aside from a right angle the way we would ordinarily see a window. It doesn't seem to be going round and round. Instead it seems to be swinging back and forth. Almost everyone who sees this demonstration is fooled by it.
Again the point of view is important but why. Well because we are used to seeing rectangular windows in perspective. The father end seems shorter than the nearer end. Now when that trap revolves we assume that it's a rectangular window and that the end that seems shorter is farther away than the longer end. We assume that it is a window in other words we carry with us in our minds from past experience. Some assumptions about what things ought to look like right or when no ought to look like a window. I am and ought to behave like a criminal. Yes since our assumptions convince us that this is an ordinary window our eyes cooperate in these assumptions and force us to see a Windows swinging back and forth. Instead of a piece of sheet metal going round and round. Well perception then tends to preserve what's familiar and reject what is strange. This tendency would make it hard for us to see anything new. Yes the human organism tries to maintain a stable environment at almost any cost.
It prefers not to see pieces of white paper on the golf course or odd shaped windows or flying saucers unless the world that the individual assumes to be most well ordered and reasonable includes flying saucers. Then the individual may prefer not to see shooting stars or of the mote in his own eye. Well this is true of course with the other senses too. They're all actively engaged in confirming our assumptions. Well John to test your perception of musical signals let me play something I recorded the other evening when my wife was playing the piece. What do you make of this. That sounds like a him. I don't know which one though. What assumptions led you to hearing him.
Well I suppose I know that your wife plays that old reed organ you have and that she usually plays hymns on it. Well your assumptions are sound but your hearing was too eager to substantiate them John that wasn't a hymn and it wasn't an organ. Believe it or not it was my wife but she was playing Swanee River on the piano. The recording you heard was played backwards. Well here's the same recording played normally. All right. Now you play the straight man and let me test your perception. This time your perception of the meaning of words. What's the meaning of this famous line of Shakespeare's Romeo Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo.
Everyone knows that Juliet is looking for Romeo. She's calling She's asking him to show himself. Well that is the standard answer. It's wrong but it's assumed to be true because of our stereotype of a girl on a balcony. A She isn't really waiting for Romeo she's complaining because he's named Romeo. But the average person ignores the fact that where for me means why am prefers to see Juliet conform to the stereotype of a girl looking for her lover. OK well this illustrates one more factor that determines how we perceive things namely context right. Many people impose their own context on Shakespeare's scene. Well to define perception then we would say something like this. Perception is a combination of what the senses are able to receive from the world outside us and of what the mind expects them to receive. On the one hand the eyes tell the mind what is out there and on the other hand the mind tells the eyes what they ought to see.
Yes perception is a two way process a transaction between the past experience stored in our minds and the incoming signals that our senses are picking up. Sometimes the mind directs the senses not to see certain things or to see them only in certain ways. And these transactions whether they give us true or false pictures of the real world make up our image of the environment. They become the real world that we live in and act upon the world for which we pass laws raise crops and write poetry. Well Bowman then is saying that America has been created really by the perception of the white race the white race by imposing its perceptions upon the landscape creates the world that it wants within the limits of cars imposed by nature. Yes the white race tends to perceive a world that is stable and secure for the whites. But Baldwin says that this world is not stable for the Negro. And if he looks at the world through the white man's glasses
he may perish. Well stated that bluntly and with those metaphors that assertion sounds extreme if not completely mystifying. The essential statement there however is in accord with what we have said about perception generally perception is active. It's an act that has real consequences in the real world right. This is what we want to illustrate today with examples from racial perception on the campus of a large northern public university. This university is a kind of miniature of American society. It doesn't have a street running through it that divides the Negro students from the White. The dividing line here has to be observed rather in the well in the reactions of the human beings involved. The basic fact on which every reaction depends is that the Negro has dark skin. This easily perceivable difference unlike the difference say between freshmen and seniors can give rise to reactions whenever members of the two races are within sight of each other.
I asked a white student to describe his reaction. He told a man standing in the hitching line were students wait for rides across the campus. What if I happen to be in line behind behind an eagle and it is usually you guys watch the guys walk anyway. But again if I slide in next to a card I feel just you know just very small incident that slightly uncomfortable feeling and that I don't want to say. That establishes the existence of two basic facts I need first that the Negro is immediately recognizable and second the white student's recognition of the Negro is accompanied by an emotion of vague emotion. Well at least in this case but any emotion associated with a certain amount of version this student was slightly uncomfortable as he said. Well when we asked a negro girl about her experience in the hitching line we discovered that apparently this emotional perception results
in definite behavior among both white and Negro students. Here is what she said. But I do know that the law is that if they're going to be feel uncomfortable. Situation like on Tuesday night if we're going to I don't you. I used to work in the girl but now I don't drink too much but usually I go with some white friends I used to stand in the bank and I know my roommate she's from white she would just tell them to let her get in the bank so they can get around. I think it's a thing that you know and if you have a brain and you will you. Well the behavior of the negro student is definitely affected. He predicts the behavior of the
white drivers and take steps to counteract it. The girl told us something else about the special status on the campus in the classroom in the dormitory. And the teachers we know and I know our name. Everything is a hassle. If they don't know anyone I mean they would know they need anything and they don't want everybody you know. Alex and I have a room mate where they might not know. Well the point is quite clear any negro is always engaged in some silent communication with the rest of society simply on the basis of his visibility when the perception of the negro's presence is also accompanied by attitudes on the part of both Negroes and whites then that silent communication is reflected in behavior. One other point about the visibility of dark skin jawn the dark skin is perceived differently by the two races. I asked our white informant how many kinds of dark skin he perceived it and I don't notice it that much except maybe one
way except if I thought you knew. Standing together and one was excessively dark and the other extremely light. Then I say well there's a difference. But just saying NATO I've bashed anyone into you know when you're in character. Yeah yeah I suppose a significant phrase there is I wouldn't pay any attention. Yes and I think that phrase can be taken quite literally my eyes are not attending to the signals that are there at any rate the negro's eyes perceive skin color in much greater detail. One student explained the differences in color for me this way. Well in describing a person is going to take color is the main thing it just is one from the other. Do you have a number of terms that you use to describe the differences. No you either brown complection your dark or even might say the word black or your own light complection
are yellow. Well perception is dependent partly upon one's purposes. The white student has no need for a more detailed perception than he had. Or perhaps he had a need for his less detailed perceptions. The negro student on the other hand considers differences in color one of the main things in describing an eagle. Why and I ask him why but other niggers have told me that these differences can be crucial status symbols in some situations. Our motives can direct our perceptions of differences. I don't suppose women's eyes are sharper than men's but they seem to make finer discriminations among decorative collars than men do. Their motivation is obviously greater and as they learn to make finer discriminations they gain experience by continued practice motivation plus experience can result in more accurate more detailed perception experience alone however may simply crystallize the inaccurate perception. Yes stereotype perceptions images that always seem to register on the mind in the same way regardless of possible differences in the object.
These are not likely to be transformed simply through X experience. Well stereotypes of the negro die hard. One of the most deeply embedded concerns the scum of the Negro in music and dancing. The implication is that this ability is inherent in the Negro. I asked the white student if he thought the negro was especially rhythmical. Yes they are extremely good. I don't know how much accuracy there is in this stereotype stereotypes are not necessarily false. The interesting thing about the stereotype is not that it isn't true but that it keeps stable and persists without the evidence that would either support or contradict it. Well what the negro girl told us suggests that the white students generally hold the stereotype and are not ready to examine any evidence objectively. We asked her if she had noticed this and this is what she said. To
me. Well this kind of response illustrates the theme of the negro as an invisible man Ellison has written a novel on that theme called The Invisible Man the hero of that novel says I am invisible simply because people refuse to see me when they approach me they see only my surroundings in themselves or figments of their imagination and everything and anything except me. He calls it matter of the construction of their inner eyes those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality. The inner eyes that perceive oscillating windows and him played on Reed organs. What about the behavior of the invisible man himself.
The individual who is acted upon by the stereotype while some Negroes if they are acutely aware of the stereotype may try to change their behavior to act in such a way as to upset the expectations of those who hold a stereotype or at least not to fulfil them. The girl we talked to said that she herself didn't try to avoid the stereotype but that she no other negroes were dead yet thank God because sometimes even I cheer you when you go on. They might say right now I am right. Her better for you but that you will regret negroes will be very tricky.
Well because of the existence of the stereotype then the negro might avoid doing something which as an individual he finds pleasure and satisfaction in doing. The stereotype of the negro includes a great many of these things. Another one mentioned by this girl is concerned with clothing and to no negroes. Maybe tramping there they lie. Any concept of color and knowing there are no negroes and I'll show you why I felt like they were. Well these examples illustrate the avoidance of certain kinds of behavior. We have another example showing a negro deliberately doing something that stereotype says he cannot do according to the stereotype of the negro athlete. He's fast. He lacks something else. Well here's how the student put it. White boys say they won't train hard they could but they're too lazy to train hard enough.
I have run several miles I have run it well because I haven't run it enough. But yes you know to prove that I could do it. While the suggestion here is that his physical capacities are equal to perhaps even superior to those of the white athlete but that he has an inherent laziness that prevents him from using them. The stereotype of Negro laziness is curiously contradicted by the stereotype of the negro as one who was engaged in hard back breaking labor. Yes everyone knows the common expression for the negro than to try to contradict the stereotype which contradicts itself would seem futile. Right and in fact many negroes adopt the attitude that you can't win. Well James Baldwin apparently at one point in his career adopted the attitude that you can't win here. He tried to escape. He thought he could work more creatively on his first novel if he went to a place where the stereotype he'd been brought up on didn't exist. He went to a small village in Switzerland where no one had ever seen a negro.
There he discovered something about himself and I finally realized in Europe that one of the reasons I couldn't finish his novel was because I was ashamed. Where I come from and where I'd been ashamed of life in the church ashamed of my shame the shame of jazz and of course shame the watermelon because it was you know all the stereotypes that the country inflicts on Negroes. You know the only one. I'll yield nothing to sing the blues and all that but I was afraid of all that and I ran from it. The fact that he says he ran from it suggests that it wasn't really a solution. No it may have enabled him to finish the particular job at hand but you can't really run away from reality even if the reality is an inaccurate stereotype. We've been talking about the white stereotype of the negro. There's also of course the negro stereotype of the white. First of all there are the terms used by Negroes among themselves to refer to whites for every derogatory term the white world has created to fit its perception of the negro the Negro has invented a parallel term for the white
man. We discovered that a great many of these terms are in use words that help fix the negro stereotype of the white man. Here a student discusses two of them paddys and grades that year he associated with hearing that associated with every room of the white race. Great great. We don't graze because. They're in the lighter complection. I hadn't heard some of these terms like greys and many probably most of the white students here are not aware of these terms. This is quite significant I think as it suggests that the negro's perception of the white is largely ignored by the white. He doesn't know that he's being observed across that dividing line. He does know the stereotype that he's been clothed with. I think the white student would be a little shocked to hear his negro classmate described him. I asked one negro student if such a stereotype existed. He said I
hesitatingly Yass and then gave me the details. I guess most people say well the younger generation seems immature so our sample time and their awkward athletically Mein Kampf form as well as some of the girls know I say on the whole they're often athletically. They're always hustling. I mean they're trying to are the majority of them. Seems like seem like they're trying to get ahead and always pushing. But you always think of white kids as having a jump ahead of you because of parents and things like that. The girl we talked to expanded on the implications of that last point the negro sees the
white as being one jump ahead of them at birth in the Negro struggle to catch up then he finds a ready scapegoat for any failure he might suffer. Here's the way the girl put it right. Why are our names being brought up to believe and they fear that everything a white jury to hear me cry for. Well her tone seems to suggest that the Negro may be blaming the wrong thing and that the way he was brought up as the girl said prevents him from seeing himself clearly that is his stereotype of the white blur his vision not only of the white man but even of himself the person who has a scapegoat like Hitler who blames everything on Jews is unable to assess realistically his own strengths and weaknesses.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Perception is a two way process. Our image of the world about us comes back to us. Our perception of other people whether individuals or groups turns on us and transforms us while it transforms others. Now this holds true generally in our communication with other people. What we've been saying about the negro today applies in all human relations. We haven't tried to present a documented study of race relations by any means. We've simply sampled the problem and suggested its relevance to the phenomenon of perception and to communication. James Baldwin because of his personal involvement in racial perception has been talking about things in his novels and essays that only a negro can because only a negro can see them. One thing he said in that interview struck me as being a sound Tenet for anyone's philosophy of life. I was he wasn't right it was in the question too much of wanting to be by that I might know him or what being black meant I couldn't except what I've been told you know you have told this kind of a thing that is a terrible terrible thing to be. Now in order to
survive this you have to really dig down into yourself and recreate yourself really according to the image which yet exists in America. You know it imposed in fact this may sound very strange. If you had to cite it you have to decide who you are and and force the will to deal with you would have this idea of you. You have to force the world to deal with you and not its idea. You you have to decide who you are and then impose your decision on the world. Well this is a profound responsibility for any individual black or white and few of us can carry it through. A minority is not in an advantageous position to force its decisions on society. But if it is in a better position as Baldwin implies to know itself that at least is the beginning of wisdom. Well knowledge that those on the other side of the dividing line should be envious of. Well John we played some music earlier in the program a familiar tune from the slavery era. Part of a body of popular art that is helped freeze the image of the
negro for a hundred years. Let's close by playing it once more from a different point of view as a reminder that things look different from the other side of any dividing line. You have been listening to where minds meet and the discussion of human communication conducted by professors John frind and Onil Nelson. When our minds meet is produced and recorded by W-M UK under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters This is the n AB Radio Network.
- Where minds meet
- Process of perception
- Producing Organization
- Western Michigan University
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- The Active Eye: The Process of Perception
- Series Description
- Discussions explore world of speech, conducted by Professors John Freund and Arnold Nelson of Western Michigan University
- Social Issues
- Media type
Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Where minds meet; Process of perception.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-pv6b709s>.
- APA: Where minds meet; Process of perception. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-pv6b709s