Schultheis 1 Introduction to Communication â€“ COMM 110 Professor Judith Dutill 28 October 2013 Case Study #2 â€“ Similar But Not Identical Experiences When it comes to the initial intention of a person's words, most statements are not malicious. The same is true when someone attempts to identify with someone by saying they understand how someone feels because they have been subjected to similar prejudices. It usually comes from a lack of understanding as to the complexity of every person's background. It is even difficult for one Black person to identify with another Black person; for example, Barry Bonds, the former baseball player, who grew up as the son of another star baseball player. He was brought up with an upscale lifestyle and many privileges that the majority of the United States population do not. Even he cannot state that he understands the struggle of a Black teenager on the street in Baltimore City. While it may be true that he has felt unfair prejudice due to the color of his skin, his background is not the same.
I agree with the quotation from Marsha Houston when she says; "Similar experiences should not be confused with the same experience; my experience of prejudice is erased when you identify it as 'the same' as yours." Even as a White person of European descent, I have been subjected to racial profiling. During the aftermath of the Columbine incident, I had been harassed by the police and scrutinized by members of the general public because I shaved my head and looked 'German'. My personal style was to wear all black and I wore leather pants and a leather trench coat; with heavy steel-toed leather combat boots. I had worn this for about six years prior to the event, so it was not a new fashion decision on my part. I was pulled out of a movie by police because a theatre worker thought I 'looked suspicious'. The officer made
Schultheis 2 comments about my German name and the German name of my girlfriend. They questioned me viciously as to why I was at the movie theatre and where I was headed afterward. They asked all of these questions and made some unfair judgments and all that I could do was comply respectfully; because if I made any attempts to assert my frustration, that would only complicate matters. That being said, I cannot simply walk up to a Black man and give him a 'fistbump' and say; "I feel ya, man." Because of the color of my skin, the majority of my life has not been encumbered by unfair bias.
During my youth, we did not have much to live on, but my father made too much for us to be considered officially impoverished. We got by as best as we were able but there were certainly no extras, and often we had to be creative with our choices. However, we did have a single-family home to ourselves and we were able to eat every night. So I cannot go up to a person who lives in poverty and say; "Yeah, it is terrible; I've been there." I haven't been there. I have never been homeless; I have never had to dig through garbage to eat. Whereas my family did not have electricity for about two years, I did not suffer from frostbite or hypothermia; as I had warm clothes. I cannot identify with the struggles of those who are truly impoverished.
When I was growing up, my mother abused me terribly. I was struck by her or whatever implement she could find. There were times where I was bleeding, or inexplicably bruised or suffering from internal pain from the effects of her abuse; but there are children who suffered much more. I was not sexually violated, I was not burned with cigarettes, nor was I subjected to broken bones, lost teeth or other permanent scarring that so many unfortunate children have
Schultheis 3 suffered; that continue to hurt from the wounds of their past. I can't tell someone that has suffered like this; "I know exactly how you feel." I do not know exactly how they feel.
There are many similarities that we all feel to the people around us. As a part of the social aspect of our human nature, we wish to find common ground and identify with other human beings. However, in our efforts to find that connection, we can inadvertently offend others. There are many ways to respectfully express that we understand their struggle as they've described it to us, without diminishing their experience. One particular way to do so is to start with the simple validation of their difficulty; "That sounds terrible, I can see that it made your life very difficult." Another way to express the same sentiment, especially when someone expresses something that you have no personal experience, is to simply confess ignorance; "I cannot claim that I know completely, but I understand from what you've said that this was really tough on you and I think that is terrible that this has happened." There are some times where it is difficult to find the right words and, when someone is not at their cognitive best and unable to engineer the perfect response, they can just say; "I'm sorry that this has happened to you."
Whereas it would be wonderful to live in a world without prejudice, where no single group is marginalized, it is unrealistic to expect this to happen. Prejudice and grouping are as much a part of nature as trees and rocks; even if it is an unsavory portion. The only amount of control that we are able to exert is that which we use upon our own communication and actions. We must all lead by example and, if we feel strongly enough, put ourselves in a position that allows us to teach others to do the same.