Standing In Judgement
One eveing in our night school (expulsion) program, I greeted each student in my five groups with a hearty handshake and greeting by name. I wanted to see how they would respond. Would they offer me a firm grasp or the “limp fish?” How many of the guys would try to crush my hand? Would there be eye-contact or eye-avoidance? Who would say “hello” and who would accept my greeting in silence?
The Activity and Discussion:
Once all of my students were in the room, I asked “so, what did I do as you entered?” Of course, they answered that I shook their hands. I asked them to think about how they responded to my handshake, and, more importantly, what did that handshake say about them? The crushing grip might say “I plan to dominate you” or “I am overcompensating.” Conversely, a limp handshake and avoiding eye-contact might indicate a lack of confidence or disinterest. Many of my students equated a solid handshake with showing respect. We talked about how a good handshake goes a long way in making a positive first impression on someone such as a potential employer.
While the kids agreed that people begin formulating an opinion of you based on your first handshake with them, they denied that they begin judging people even before they meet them. I challenged them (thus creating cognitive dissonance) that they, as humans, are programmed to begin to judging a person within the first few seconds of seeing them, before they even have a chance to speak (or shake hands)! The students emphatically disagreed!
I informed the group that I was going to show them a series of pictures (the pictures are below). Each picture would be exposed on the smart board for about 3 seconds. They were to call out whatever came to mind about the pictures. The student’s responses were fairly consistent and usually in line with stereotypical labels (such as geek, goth, thug, jock or athlete, etc…)…until number 8. That picture was almost always met with silence before anyone spoke. When all pictures were shown, we reviewed the pictures and the student's responses. Why did they respond the way they did? The kids were able to acknowledge that, to some degree, we begin to formulate an opinion of someone when we first see them, often before we meet them. We also determined that picture #8 was the most difficult because it did not easily fit into a stereotypical category (this became a topic of discussion at our next session in terms of racial stereotyping).
I showed the group the YouTube video and subsequent CNN interview and discussion for Malik King’s Pull Up Your Pants Challenge We had a lively discussion about how, wrong or right, they are judged by others based on their appearance. Many of us (myself included) had stories to share about this.
*The pictures below were found using Google searches for stereotypical words such as nerd, thug, goth, etc… You can use these or find your own. While I didn’t anticipate the response I received from picture #8, it certainly led to some interesting discussions about racial stereotypes and what people believe about their own race and other races. More on that in a future post!