August 27, 2015

B for 'Bias'

When was the last time you formed a prejudice about something or someone--created an impression without knowing the facts right, formed an opinion a tad bit too early? 

Is the above question making you squirm uncomfortably in your seat?
Well, alright. Answer this one then.

When was the last time you felt someone having a biased opinion against you?  
Yes, I am sure you remember that.
Bias or prejudice is one of the most common characteristic of human nature, and our society is especially cursed in this regard. We often have all the time in the world to indulge in worthless and senseless gossip which is slowly but surely bound to create a prejudiced opinion over time. Sometimes we are not even sure about the reason for our prejudice. But once set in, we are simply unable to wipe it out. Ever seen the carriage bound horses who are made to wear blinkers on either side of their eyes to prevent them from seeing sideways or rear? We become victims to bias in pretty much the same way.

I have had the unfortunate opportunity of encountering a few such prejudiced opinions. Just like a butterfly fluttering its wings in a distant Amazonian jungle is capable of causing a typhoon across half the world, a prejudice is capable of ruining a nation.
I am pretty sure that a lot of people out there will differ and vouch for an improving world (at least I'm hoping they will), but I am taking the liberty to generalize.
I hereby elaborate on the various types of bias we commonly encounter in our day to day lives:

  • Beauty bias: I can safely say that this is perhaps the earliest bias to be ingrained in our minds from a very impressionable age. Little girls dressed up in ribbons and lace grow up watching their mothers lathering their face with beauty creams and makeup. Television commercials endorse lipsticks and chapsticks for smooth and shiny 'baby' lips, talcum powders and fairness creams promise to make one as white as snow, and varied shampoos and hair products guarantee silky smooth and lustrous hair. The problem is that these commercials and endorsements are creating a false definition of beauty in the hearts of the average teenage girl watching. Her favorite 'Barbie doll' with its unrealistic body proportions is not helping either. It has only managed to further mar her self esteem. As she touches her limp hair, her chapped lips and dusky cheeks, a deep inferiority complex begins to set in making her wonder why these products are not able to rectify her looks like it did to the girl in the ad. Is she so irreparably damaged?
The outside world is not that kind either. Thanks to the bias society has created against dark skin, she is humiliated time and again. "Hot chocolate", "Gobar queen", "Black currant", "Oreo cookie" and other jabs by boys in her locality further lower her self-esteem. Matrimonial pictures are toned down a few shades. Social network pics are in B&W. She has started skipping meals to attain a perfect size zero---the current Bollywood inspired craze amongst all young girls these days. She is instructed against wearing certain colors that will make her look 'darker than she already is'....
Every time her fair(er) cousin comes over, she feels a pang of jealousy. She goes to bed praying she turns a shade fairer in the morning, and yet every morning she wakes up and feels 'ugly' all over again.

Who decides the definition of beauty really, I ask. Each and every one of us is beautiful in our own way. You don't need to be a size zero or Snow White for someone to love you. You will always be perfect to those for whom you matter. Instead, focus on being healthy. Eat right. Stay happy. As for people who still judge you on external appearances, you can always give them a standing ovation with your tallest finger. 

Yet, I still see a small trickle of level-headed people trying their best to clear this bias. Campaigns like 'Black is beautiful' are being conducted. We have dusky celebrities setting an example and carving the way towards a better change. However, it is only when matrimonial ads stop demanding slim, fair girls and television commercials no longer show dusky women needing a fairness cream to become an air hostess that I will be convinced we are making progress.

On the flip side, all is not hunky dory for the pretty face either. There is a bias against her too.(I told you, we are a prejudiced lot.) I have heard people smirk and claim that beauty with brains is a myth. A beautiful woman is generally considered an unintelligent form of life. That is where terms like 'Arm candy','baby doll', 'tota', 'maal', 'bimbette' come in the picture..
Seriously, what is the problem with society? Why can't you stop this preposterous objectification  of women? And no, a fairness cream for men is not going to make us feel all liberated and equal.

  • Bias against the rich:  I have heard people comment that money and emotions can never go hand in hand. Somewhere deep inside, we all like to believe that those who are rich have traded their soul with the devil. Even Bollywood has been feeding off this bias in the 80s and 90s. Remember the exceptionally arrogant and beautiful heroine (with the gang of giggling girls) who discovers the meaning of love and life only after she gives her heart to the poor, jobless but self-righteous hero? Remember the scheming villain (yes, the one who owned the yacht) got women pregnant, eyed the hero's innocent sister, and splurged endlessly on extravagant parties (and at times even chambers filled with liquid nitrogen)? Remember how the hero always won in the end? The rich 'bad' guy either ended up dead, or in prison while the poor 'good' guy walked with the girl into the sunset. The film makers had discovered the formula for a box-office hit---feed on the sadistic side of the audience that took comfort in believing that nobody gets it all--until Karan Johar came along...(and changed the formula altogether. But that is a story for another day...sigh!)

But even today, there are people waiting to bring down those who are up there. What they conveniently forget is the effort and perseverance it takes to reach that height, the sacrifices made, the bridges crossed and burnt. It is a commonly known fact that in an accident involving a car and a bicycle, everybody would blame the car. The pedestrians walking by would pick a fight with the car owner and sympathize with the cyclist (irrespective of whose mistake it was). That is just the way our society functions. Pelt the rich with stones. The poor can be forgiven for their mistakes. Is it fair, I ask.
Yes, I agree its not a perfect world. Our minds have been clouded by corrupt officers, power play, bad examples set by rich brats who drink and drive etc. But somewhere in that commotion, there could be a honest man who is trapped due to bias despite having strived his way to the of you perhaps, one from the honest hardworking lot.  Everybody deserves a chance to fair judgement. Don't give a dog a bad name and hang him.

  • Bias of class, title, caste: This one is common mostly in India, and is tough to explain in just a few lines. What we see is only the tip of the iceberg. There has always existed a regressive school of thought in Indian society that believed in an unjust and baseless hierarchical system. They declared and propagated the theory that the son of a king deserved to be king (no matter how inefficient) while the son of a bard no matter how talented was meant to be nothing more than a bard.
In an otherwise progressive world, it is indeed shameful that there are still people gloating on titles that are entrusted upon them, not by merit but only by genetics.
Social class, caste, titles , just like skin color and beauty are intangibles that we have no control over. So what kind of a retarded mind set makes you believe that you are made to belong to a so-called 'higher' place because you actually 'deserve' it?
Discrimination against these intangibles gets me wondering if it's only those that do not have anything better to gloat about that take solace by fooling themselves into believing they are superior.---harboring such a bias is akin to adopting a pet piranha; It will eventually feed on the entire society but also eat you out of your home.

  • Bias of language: I see a lot of people in Goa raising a huge hue and cry over the medium of instruction in Government schools. Personally, I believe learning a new language is always a good thing. However, what I do not agree is restricting yourself to just one particular language. Be it English, Konkani, Marathi, or Hindi, I strongly oppose the bias held against any of them. 
While I see some people consider English to be their language of choice, others think it is too anglophilic and that we should resort to a local language.
I have been to Chennai where people refrain from talking in Hindi.Despite knowing the language there is a certain hostility towards anyone talking in Hindi. Well, people in Delhi show a similar aversion to English. So I guess that makes it even. NOT!

  • Bias of company: They say a person is judged by the friends he has around him. I disagree. This is again a bias---a prejudice you would hold against or in favor of someone. In my experience, I have known people to have been completely different from the friends they hang around with. I believe it is possible for one to be completely independent of the company he is in. You might not always like everything about your friends. I've seen people as different as chalk and cheese hang out together. Judging someone on the basis of his friends wouldn't be totally fair in that respect. It's a bias I would try to avoid.

I guess that's all for now. If you have encountered any more such bias, do feel free to add. Awareness is the first step towards making a change.
You might think I am too much of an idealist. But it's only when you aim for the moon that you fall amidst the stars. Clearing bias is no big feat. In fact, it is of utmost importance not just at the level of society but also at an individual level. I promise myself to stay away from all kinds of prejudice, starting today. I want to view the world in a totally unbiased fashion.

Call me an hopeful optimist. I hope to live in a world where nobody will judge me on the basis of the language I speak, the company I am in, on the clothes I wear, on the color of my skin, on the company of my friends, on the caste I belong to, on the profession I have chosen, on my financial status. I want the world to know me for me. I want the world to see the clarity of my thoughts, the smile on my face, the optimism in my heart, the enthusiasm in my soul, the freedom in my expression, the content of my character.

I want you to know me, the me I am, the me I want to be...

Writers note:  B for 'Bias' is the second post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)


Anjali Sengar said...

Nice & thoughtful post :)

Pri said...

@ Anjali
Thanks dear. It's a pleasure having you around :)