Prepare for perceptions

I read the front-page article “Picture imperfect” in the Aug. 17 Augusta Chronicle with great interest. I stayed tuned for any follow-up letters to the editor, and saw just one by Ronnie Mullis on Aug. 21 (“Face coverings suspicious”).


Ron Brown and Terrell Douglas-Williams – interviewed for the article about how blacks are portrayed – posted two very different pictures of themselves, and Mr. Brown lamented “We are judged with a fleeting image rather than the substance of who we are.” Welcome to humanity! In essence, Mr. Brown was paraphrasing another version of the old saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

However, two very important points were left out of the discussion:

• Human beings judge instantaneously and all the time. Each time a person encounters another person, he or she makes an instant, unconscious judgment about the other based on appearance, behavior, past experience and preconceived likes, dislikes, biases and prejudices.

• It is every person’s responsibility to decide how he or she wishes to be perceived. Look like a thug, and expect to be perceived as a thug. Look like a hooker, and expect to be perceived as a hooker. Look like a decent person, and expect to be perceived as a decent person. An observer bears no responsibility for how a person chooses to dress or behave. The observer is left to react and judge. After decades of being drilled that “perception is reality,” that is how it is. Perception is reality, real or not.

Knowing the above, I drilled my children, especially my sons, on two things: You will leave our house clean-shaven, well groomed, nicely dressed and not looking like a thug or hooker. Second, if the police stop you, you stop and/or get out of the car, hands high, fingers splayed and say “yes sir” and “no sir.” That is teaching basic respect for law enforcement, and hopefully is a guarantee of living through the experience.

Those fundamental life principles, a mainstay of the Greatest Generation and older Baby Boomers, seem lost on so many younger parents and their offspring. Maybe we need to get back to the basics of appearance, behavior and respect for the law. Then there would be no dead teens – black, white or otherwise.

Jo-Ellen McDonough Catto, Ph.D., R.N.


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