Of Facial Recognitions and Judging a Book By Its Cover

Some time ago, I was on a Kumasi-bound bus away from Accra, and two police officers made a raid in what looked like a routine traffic stop. ‬

One of them stood in the bus’ walkway, glanced through the passengers and pointed at 3 random men, instructing his junior officer to search them. ‬

‪I observed how thorough the search was — like he was processing a crime scene for latent evidence. The officer would repeatedly run his hand around their legs, searching for guns; shuffle through every luggage they carried, emptied their pockets, even looked beneath their seats. One man was even made to step out of his shoes!‬

‪Everyone had questions: why they specifically chose these subjects, even though there were no suspicions, tip-offs or unusual movements. ‬

‪Later, all the passengers would engage in an open conversation and we discovered these targeted folks had the “criminal look”. Either they donned a tattered jeans, wore a cap or shades, or kept a beard. ‬

‪Nothing was found on any of them.‬

‪Much as it was an unfortunate moment for these men, so it is for a lot of people, who have been judged and maltreated by their appearance. And then the real wolves clad in sheep skin and get away with wrongdoing…‬

The incident reminds me of my own ordeal at an airport when I was subjected to extra security check amidst a lot panic, supposedly because of a hooded sweater I wore.

People make snap judgments and form opinions about others based on their facial appearance and on their pre-existing beliefs about how others’ personalities work. When we look at people, we try to judge them and make impressions about them — usually turning out false.

In business and networking, first impressions can make or break a potentially lucrative and successful relationship. As a rule, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover — making assumptions is a recipe for misunderstandings and miscommunication. But it is unfortunately human nature to make form unwholesome opinions about people based on how they present and carry themselves.

Have you ever been a victim of facial bias?
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