October 30, 2019
I heard mom grumbling, “I’m so going to flunk this test.” I ask her what test she is talking about. She tells me it’s called “implicit bias test.” I ask mom what implicit bias is. Mom says that implicit bias is an underlying prejudice that keeps a person from treating other people equitably. I look at mom. And I blink. And she gets that I’m an Axolotl. So mom decides to tell me a story.
When mom was 29, newly divorced and newly minted as a faculty member at Ohio University, she was scared out of her mind about her future. And to ground herself, she decided to look for love. Mom called the first name in the local yellow pages under the category of “veterinarian” and asked if they knew of anyone who had a litter of kittens that needed homes. The clerk asked mom how many phone numbers she wanted.
Mom called the first number and it was a woman who lived on a farm. The woman said a stray kitty came to the farm a few weeks ago, and even though the kitty was such a small cat that the woman thought she was a kitten herself, this kitty was pregnant and had the litter just last week.
Mom had done some research and found that the longer the babies stay with the mom, the more well-adjusted they are. What is true for humans seem to be true for cats. So mom asked the nice lady for two kittens in two months time when the babies will be fully weaned from the mom. And then mom added two extra weeks—just to be safe.
So one fall weekend, mom drove out of town to a small farm and picked up two kitties. The first kitty was a yellow ball of energy bouncing off the walls, and mom said “I’ll take that one.” While mom was looking for a second kitty to take home, there was a very small tri-colored kitty as small as a mouse that just sat next to mom and peered deeply into mom’s eyes. Mom tried to break eye contact, but the runt of the litter would not look away. And mom said, well, I chose the yellow one, but it looks like you chose me! And with that mom found Heya and Kumma.
The nice farm lady told mom that Heya was a boy and Kumma was a girl.
My eyes start glazing over at this point—slightly distracted because I realize I need to go poop, but I get a sharp look from mom and decide to pull myself together.
Heya and Kumma adjusted nicely to their new living environment. The most surprising thing was how affectionate Heya was. We are talking about head to head-butting, then turning around and walking backwards so that mom got a face full of kitty butt kind of forceful affection.
Mom would brush Heya off of her face and say, oh enough already. Get a hold of yourself. This went on and on and on.
Then one day mom took Heya and Kumma to the veterinarian office to get them fixed. Mom asked the doctor to neuter Heya and spay Kumma. The doctor looks over the two cats and says, “I can spay Kumma but I can’t neuter Heya.” Bewildered, mom asked why not. And the doctor tells mom that he can’t neuter Heya because Heya is a girl.
It takes a bit for mom to get her head around this. And the two kitties get spayed.
When the two kitties come back home, they are back to their old routine. Sleeping in mommy’s armpit. Licking her face clean with their soft and scratchy tongue. And the forever and ever Heya head butting mom and giving mom a face full of kitty butt. But mom doesn’t brush off Heya anymore saying “enough already.” Instead she cuddles Heya even more and says things like “who’s mommy’s girl.”
And then it hits her. Mom that is. What. The. Fuck. Mom is a feminist. Not because she doesn’t like men, but because she believes in equity. But here she was treating Heya SO DIFFERENTLY. JUST. BECAUSE. SHE. WAS. A. GIRL. I mean she almost/sort of/not really/but really withheld love and affection from a tiny kitty cat because she thought it was a boy kitty cat. I mean seriously! At this point I started getting really mad at mom because I AM A BOY TOO!!!! Has she been withholding love from me? And shaming me if I wanted attention or love?!!! What the fuck!!! MOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!
Mom looks at me and says that is an example of implicit bias. Without even knowing what she was doing, mom was following set norms of the society she grew up in and belonged to. Boys are rough and tough and girls need hugs and kisses. Mom had to adjust her behavior so that it lined up with her thinking.
Implicit bias. Holy mother forking shirt balls.
The good news is that everyone has it. But not everyone is willing to look at it.
Mom took the test a few years ago. In her mind she flunked it. And yes, she does have implicit biases all over the place.
But her behavior has changed. She is not defaulting to the social norms but is practicing mindfulness in how she connects with other humans.
I think I have implicit biases towards all of my previous roommates. Dinner or friend? Snack or friend? Yummy or friend?
I have to go poop now.