Cognitive Bias? (Or just some random ramblings?)

‘Do they breastfeed?’

‘What do you mean?’ My sister responded with a puzzled look on her face.

‘I mean, do Americans breastfeed?’ I tried to rephrase my question to her, thinking she didn’t understand what I was asking.

‘Of course they do! Aren’t they human beings?!’ She retorted, laughing, with some mild disgust at perhaps, how dumb the question was.

‘Yes they are’ I replied.

The answer had been given. But, the underlying observation that caused the wonder and led to the question had not surfaced and so, again – like always – I felt like I was not understood. I was never understood as a kid, so I thought.

Okay, you may be wondering why on earth I asked such a question. The thing is, although I never thought the Americans, the foreigners, the ‘whites’, the people who lived abroad – whoever they were – I never thought that they were a different breed of the human race, but yet, I always perceived them to be so. From television shows on cable and all the documentaries I saw, they seemed fundamentally different from ‘us’. The colour of their skin was the most obvious of course, but that wasn’t the basis of the thought. At least, that’s not what I think.

You see, I never, ever, ever, ever, ever saw an American woman giving her child suck in public. To be fair, they didn’t live in my community so the sum total of my orientation of their culture was what was portrayed on television. I never saw a scene of a woman giving her child suck out in the public. Unlike where I come from, you’ll just see grown women whooping out their mammaries out in the open, stuffing it into miniature versions of me’s mouths and those ‘mini-me’s’, would grab onto it for dear life as though it were an oxygen mask – and yes, the sizes were big enough to cover a baby’s entire face. Anyone who’s seen a mother chugging her breast into her child’s mouth understands clearly what I mean. Even in the videos I saw of foreign women feeding their kids, they used feeding bottles with milk in it.

So, I got wondering, maybe because their boobs were really small and couldn’t contain milk, they had to manufacture it to feed their kids. My mental gears were turning. Or could it be that, even if it produced milk, it wasn’t sufficient for their children and hence, the need to manufacture and distribute milk in baby bottles? I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. I had to ask. I loved to ask. I loved to learn. But, my questions, it seemed, were never seen to be quite ‘smart’.

Perhaps, what was ‘wrong’ with me was what psychologists term ‘cognitive bias’. Like I said earlier, I didn’t think foreigners were a different breed of humans, but somehow, looking back now, I think I perceived them as such. It’s like how you might ask someone who isn’t African if they thought people with dark skin are criminals, sure enough, they would most likely say no. But then, if they were walking alone at night and saw someone of dark skin heading towards them really fast, with a hoodie on – which by the way, everyone uses – they might fear for their lives thinking they are about to get mugged. It’s a fear from the subconscious self because of the information it has been fed.

Something of the sort happened to me one time. It might not have been this case of cognitive bias, but you be the judge. I had this European friend right, we knew each other for a few months and all the while, I kept an Afro. I was planning to do something different with my hair. I wanted to have me some braids men. I was gonna switch things up a bit. I googled up a picture of an African male with braids and showed her that that was what I wanted to do with my hair. She went ‘wow!’. Then added, that, if she first saw me with such a hairstyle, she would have thought I was a rough person. As if on second thought, she went on to say she couldn’t wait to see me with the new hairstyle. Sure enough, after I did it, she loved it!

Oh wait a minute, I think I’m getting the stories mixed up. I remember clearly what happened now. Actually the whole thing didn’t happen because of a change in hairstyle. What happened was that, I showed her an old picture of mine from like 4 years back or so. In the picture, I had on a dark t-shirt with a splattered-paint design on it, a dark-tinted Ray Bans and a glass of wine – actually, it was apple juice inside, but she didn’t know that. On seeing it, she went ‘OMG! If this was how she first saw me, she would have thought I was a bad boy. Her description of her perception of me from that picture was just shy of saying that I looked like a gangster. I ask, why doesn’t she think of me the same way now and she says, she knows me, that I’m a ‘nice’ guy – whatever that means!

Another thing happened during the summer. We were at the pool with my friends and everyone was having fun. We had this inflatable obstacle course that was exciting as crae. Not the challenge particularly, although that was real fun. What was most exciting was watching people getting wiped out. Seeing people slip, struggle and sometimes topple almost an entire section of the course as they fell into the water was just an absolute delight. Anyways, I go there with two of my Nigerian friends – guys, in case you’re wondering. Only two of us were swimming though. There was this middle aged man swimming with his daughter who was aged 4 or 5. Maybe 6 at the most. They were absolutely cute to watch. My friend in the pool tells the other guy standing outside to take a picture of him, and this guy, the father, starts ranting, saying that they must be paedophiles who are trying to take pictures of his daughter. Damn right! He took it from 0-100 in 0.6 seconds. Where did all that come from?! Sure enough, my friend responded angrily. What I gather is, he was still civil and didn’t make a scene out of it. I’m leaving the details out because I was at the other end of the pool at the time and didn’t see it happen. I don’t know if that was cognitive bias at play or just a case of monumental buffoonery. My bigger concern is that he might teach his daughter such gross stupidity. I do hope however, that she would know better when she grows.

What was the point of this you ask me? I don’t know. What do you expect me to do with all the thoughts in my head?

Yours with a quill.

Photo location: Main Arts courtyard, Bangor University, Wales.

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