On Sunday afternoon, Dr. Michael Fowlin performed “You Don’t Know Me Until You Know Me,” a one-man show that uses powerful character sketches to burst stereotypes—about certain ethnic groups, athletes, gay people, the disabled, and others—and to make the hurt of discrimination, bullying, homophobia, and insensitivity real and intimate.
Fowlin discussed the pretense of the “mask” that we all wear and had his audience imagine what life would be like without it. He touched on various media messages, from Sesame Street—which he believes sends a message of intolerance through the simple lyrics, “One of these things is not like the other; one of these things doesn’t belong…”—to abuse allegations against Ravens’ running back Ray Rice.
Fowlin argued that we create an environment conducive to prejudice by laughing at hateful jokes and celebrating violence. “You love to see Ray Rice be as violent and aggressive as possible on a Sunday afternoon,” he said. “How do you say to the same person, 'Calm down bro?'” Fowlin's presentation touched on difficult topics such as eating disorders and suicide; throughout it, he quoted from Langston Hughes’ poem, “I’m Still Here.”
In Dr. King's honor, Sunday had opened in St. John's Chapel with a special, multi-faith Chapel service; the day's activities ended with a poetry slam.
On Monday, the actual Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Dr. David Shim, who teaches psychology at Boston University, shared his own journey as an immigrant from South Korea with the Groton community. He arrived in the U.S. at age seven, and at first bumbled through school because he understood virtually nothing. For example, following visual cues carefully but not understanding the assignment, he unwittingly made himself a birthday card, eliciting laughter from his classmates.
Shim also discussed how, at a previous job, he was assigned to every Asian student who needed counseling, including a Chinese student whose culture was entirely foreign to him. His superior told him, “You’re Asian, he’s Asian; go to your office and be Asian together.” He also described a professor who assumed a Chinese student was depressed because he did not make eye contact, when in fact the behavior was typical deference in China.
Shim worked in a mini psychology lesson, explaining that humans are hard-wired to notice differences and even to categorize them, but that trouble begins when humans attach value, or lack thereof, to those differences.
“Be careful when you deal with ignorant, closed-off people because they’re like vampires,” he warned. “They can make you like them."