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Snapshots That Frame Us

I call that quick glimpse we get of someone else a snapshot. That quick glimpse is often all we have to frame a person that we know little about. I remember a time when I was talking with people that were quite different from me and was preoccupied with how others might be framing me, how others may have seen me in that moment. After all, the saying “birds of a feather flock together” is how many of us make our determinations of other people. So, growing up in South Central Los Angeles, it wasn’t thought of as cool to hang out with the kids who read books more than they played ball. In college at Cal State Long Beach I ran the risk of being framed as an “Uncle Tom” (especially by other members of the Black Student Union) if I had too many white friends. As a graduate student, having become more enlightened about heterosexism and homophobia, I remember still having a concern of being framed as “gay” by others who might see me rapping with a group of men who were romantically interested in men.

As a professor I can be framed as an elitist if I am too often surrounded by my best students (even if it is them who seek me out) or a philanderer if I am surrounded by too many female students. I remember a few years ago eating lunch with a female student in Broadview Deli and being approached by a woman who knew I was married and wasn’t good at hiding the fact that she wanted to know what my relationship with this much younger woman was. Of course she didn’t know that this young woman had taken three classes from me, was twice my Teacher’s Assistant, and perhaps more importantly, had become one of my wife’s best friends (having traveled with her to the New Orleans Jazz Festival and other similar locales).

At times I still battle the racist frame if I talk too much to underrepresented students while talking too little to white students, an intellectual lightweight if I am not having coffee with colleagues, and an aloof faculty member if I am not seen hanging out with students enough. When Andre Agassi popularized the adage “Image in Everything,” was he stating a fact or delivering the marketing phrase that would send consumers running to Nike products (while Agassi himself was losing tournaments until he figured out image wasn’t winning him grand slam tournaments)?

How many of you find yourselves overtly preoccupied with people’s perceptions of you?

How many of you think that you might have some sort of subconscious reaction to the way people could be framing you which then makes you conform more to others opinions than your own desires.

How much should we consider other people’s opinions on what we do? Why? Why not?

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Comments

J.W.

Image is what you make it. what others think really should'nt matter. Your real friend's know the real you. right?. Just becouse a person has friends that are Gay dose'nt mean there Gay, an a person who has friends that are of different color an have special needs should only show you that
he/she has a very wide range of friends an not closed minded. If more people excepted people for the way they choose to live there life an not judge them. The world would be a better place....P.s. At 42 I really don't care what people think of me, you know that J.W.

I have learned, from my humble beginnings, that your perspective is colored by your experience. Growing up in an urban setting, where it was common place for people who looked like me, walked like me, talked like me, to be considered hoodlums, or gang members, I was often fearful of how I was viewed. Actually, I can recall a time when I was stopped by the police, forced to assume the position, and searched, because I fit the “profile” of someone who had committed a crime. Even then, at 14 years old, I knew that I was being “framed”, to borrow from your term, unjustly. I was far from the neighborhood hoodlum!

I still find myself today, when I’m speaking with people in positions of authority, or people of a different ethnicity, aware of what I think their perceptions are of me. I might even find myself asking questions. Am I communicating effectively? Am I using proper English? Do I have food in my teeth? These frames of reference, or snapshots, all influence how I interact with people. Sometimes, so much so, that I am not fully present for the conversation, or don’t contribute as much as I would have liked. Growing up in a society where stereotyping and profiling are common place, I think it’s impossible not to be affected by how others view you and those who look like you.

The problem, however, with creating snapshots of people, is that we fall back into the dangerous, yet familiar, pattern of stereotyping. Looking at a black man, for example, having an intellectual discussion with a group of white men might send the message that he has sold out, or that he was born of privilege. How unfair is it to make this assessment based on a single observation? Yet, it happens.

I believe the power lies in the acknowledgement that snapshots serve a purpose, but are not conclusive. It is unrealistic to attempt to eliminate this behavior, and I don’t feel it’s necessary to do so. These snapshots help us to make quick judgments – but it is our responsibility, if we are truly trying to reach a higher level of awareness, to understand that the judgments must be a work in progress.

I don’t believe that I react, subconsciously, to how others view me. This would imply that I am unaware of the fact they have created a snapshot of me. Clearly I am aware of it! I do, however, believe there needs to be a distinction made between personal and professional interactions. I vibrate on a different frequency when I am hanging out with my friends. I am more relaxed and less inclined to be concerned with their perceptions of me. Conversely, in professional settings, although I am myself, I am aware of how being myself might be perceived and how that might influence someone’s opinion of me, or people who look like me. Do I allow it to influence my decisions, or do I conform to their opinions instead of my own desires – no! I am, quite literally, a man who stands in his own light. This is not to suggest that others don’t continue to have those snapshots, only that I don’t give them the power to use them to define me.

Finally, there is some value in the opinion of others. If we look at them objectively and honestly, we could stand to learn a lot. Not just about ourselves, but about the workings of others, and their perceptions of the groups with which we identify. I don’t feel it should be something you preoccupy yourself with, but instead, an awareness of how it will influence your interactions and experiences.

Interesting topic, JW, and a loaded one.

I don't think that at the ripe old age of 49, I worry like I used to when I was younger, and less aware of "who I was". None the less, there are still times when I am preparing for a lecture, deciding what I will wear to a meeting, or contemplating how I will voice my opinion on a "controversial" issue, that I still consider how I might be "judged" or perceived by those meeting me for the first time. Is this a good thing? Yes, I believe it is. I think it IS important to care about the impression you make. I know that for me, I want to be sure I make a "reliable" impression, one that is representative of who I am, and how I live my life. Is this impression always a "good" one? Perhaps not, if what I say or how I look is not consistent with what my audience "expected". But whether it is good or not, is not as important to me, as is whether it is a "realistic" impression of who I am. Not everyone is going to "like" me, "agree" with me, or necessarily form what I believe is a "valid" impression of me. I've lived long enough to realize and ACCEPT that. However, I think it's far more important to focus on MY actions, MY appearance, and MY statements, and hope that I am doing all I can to best "represent" who I am, what I believe in, and how I live my life. I can not control how or what others will think, but I CAN control ME, and do my best in hoping that others may "think' of me, or form an "impression" that is as close to accurate as is possible. I guess what I am really trying to say is worry about the BIG picture, the TOTAL picture, and not the minutia of every single interaction, as you've described above, for we are the SUM of all that we do and say. If we become overly preoccupied with how we are being perceived every time we have an interaction or participate in a group activity, and try to modify ourselves to "fit" each new situation, I feel it is THEN that we take the risk of creating the 'false impression'. Relax and be consistent in the "who" you present. There will be those that like that WHO and those that don't. But, isn't that life, regardless of how hard one may try to "influence" the perceptions of others?

Love this particular topic as this is one that I think we all battle with. When I am back at home I am sometimes branded as a wannabe intellectual, who has been corrupted into being "politically correct." However as CC stated above, once you are consistent in stances and behaviours you have it is hard for people to say you are being false in any way. Sure sometimes you may have to make slight alterations to behaviours to suit a situation, but not to the point that you go against who you see yourself as. And one way I put it to a friend who told me that I may alienate some acquaintances (as they are definitely not close friends of mine) with my opinions on topics such as homophobia in my country, "My friend bank is pretty full, so I am not desperate to make any more deposits. If you don't like me that's all well and fine, I got enough to last me for this time."

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