Identity – my Nigerian Race, By Ngozi Bell




Whatsapp News

Late Saturday evening a text message flashed across my phone screen for our family group text. I was busy and by the time I went to bed, I had forgotten to check it. Early Sunday morning, while still lounging I asked about the text and I was told its content – Nigeria had defeated the US team in in Las Vegas 90 – 87. This victory comes exactly nine years after US-Nigeria London Olympics game, with a 156-73 US win for the US. That Nigerian team included one NBA player Al-Farouq Aminu (with Dallas Mavericks at the time, but currently with Chicago Bulls). 

The 10 July 2021 Nigeria team featured six NBA players including Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala (Miami Heat), Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings), Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves), Miye Oni (Utah Jazz). The full 16-men Nigeria roster includes eight NBA players! Now of course this feels like great improvement, but check out the US team, all 16 are NBA players plus three with Olympic experience Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Kevin Love. That was the landscape of players over which Nigeria won and made history! So I rejoiced loudly upon the news of a Nigeria team win and thought to myself, I am a part of the profound Nigerian race, yes, I said race. 

Like everyone else, I got on WhatsApp to forward the message accompanied by my Nigerian race tag. By this time, there were now a few mentions of the game floating in the WhatsApp universe. “So, what does this mean, surely you mean nationality, not race?” a friend asked after receiving my WhatsApp. I replied “no”, then explained somewhat like this; we all know that race as in white and black is a social construct, yet we act like there is some scientific base for the division and we accept it, parrot it, build systems around it, protect it, defend it, weaponise it, live by it, die for it and so much

After the WhatsApp exchange, my thoughts became do I have a meaningful choice to identify as I choose? What does identity fundamentally mean, is it wholly representative or is identity more about who decides what others are called? To be clear, the identity I will be engaging is not one steeped in restructure or gender preference or orientation. It is the one stipulated in systems and institutions, the identity that scoops up swathes of people, especially for profit – the racial identity.

Identity?

How are you seen, known, how do you define yourself? Identity is rooted and fitted in perspective. Sometimes that perspective could be reality as in the case of colour. For example, if you see me from afar and describe me as brown or chocolate or dark, your depth of perspective accuracy, in spite of the obscurity of distance is rooted in the reality of what you should be able to see from the distance I am away from you. There are enough facts that can help you be highly accurate way before I am close enough to be known. Now, if it was dusk or very early dawn, your perspective might be more skewed and even completely wrong. Sometimes from far, trees appear like people, light coloured people appear dark. It is all rooted in the physics in play!!

In physics the accuracy and precision of a measuring system is related to the uncertainty in the measurements. Uncertainty is quantitatively derived as the degree to which your measured values deviate from a standard or expected value. So if your measurements turn out to be grossly inaccurate or unprecise, it then implies high uncertainty of the measured value (M). M=M ± @M, where @ is the measure of uncertainty. We can quickly see that if @ is a big our measurement will be off. It is easy to see that we cannot afford this large deviation in pharmaceuticals or medication dispensation because lives are at stake. In putting air in our tires, @ might not need to be as precise as in the medications but if it’s too lax, we could risk a tire bust or a flat, both risky. You can think of many examples. A newborn’s fever is extremely worrisome, so a rectal thermometer is used because of its accuracy and precision more so than a forehead thermometer.

Framing Identity rooted in Perspective

The real kicker here is that Uncertainty as defined above is impacted by these things: a. the skill, experience and knowledge of the person taking the measurement; b. the limits of the measuring device; c. the complexities and irregularities in the subject or object of measurement; d. situational peculiarities that can impact outcome

Do you see the a, b, c and d items? If you take the same principles to the framing of identity rooted in perspective. We have to consider another strong statement. Identity can be framed by the object or subject, but it is invariably determined by the perceiver. So, identity is ultimately squarely in the eyes of the beholder(s)! To robustly defend identity means to control the accuracy, precision, and uncertainty of what is perceived. For Identity to approach its highest limits of accuracy and precision, the uncertainty factor must be negligible.

In light of what physics has shown us, the Identity equation would be:

 I  = I ± lim   @I

                   @→0

The point is that Identity is always rooted in perspective (P) and perspective having the tendency to be grossly faulty is equivalent to the Uncertainty factor (@). So, P ∝ @

In the same vein, we can now safely conclude that perspective is heavily reliant on the following : a. the skill, experience, fairness and knowledge of the person defining the identity; b. the limits of the inputs and benchmarks used for calibration; c. the complexities and irregularities in the subject or object being identified; d. situational peculiarities that can impact outcome.

Let us unpack this Perspective factor or principle holistically using one concept we are all too familiar with, Brain Processing. Since perspective forms, lives and grows in the mind, all the inputs are concatenated in the brain(mind) to create outputs and outcomes, giving an “anchor” to perspective and “voice” to Identity!

Let us go mildly science to make the point.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and the brain. AI is human’s latest attempt to model cognition in machines. Basically, to use software to create the capacity to reason, be intelligent, make predictions and decisions etc. using the human brain as reference. The complexity of human reasoning and decision-making process as well as the need to create fast outcomes has increasingly brought about the greater utilisation of quantum machines with higher compute power to process more complex algorithms. 
  • In order to also extend human capacity in machine engagement, we connect human brains to machines, whether through the rudimentary interface with our phones via haptic and auditory feedback or via Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) using electricity generated by our brains acting as neurotransmitters. 
  • This is leading to the possibilities in brain-to-brain engagement using implants and brain science like cerebral morphology that uses advanced mathematical, stochastic and statical means to define the structural aspects of the brain. 
  • The biggest companies in the world and the military are involved in brain science – there are applications from basic brain support, to therapeutics to long range brain science.

What this tells us is that our brain has the capacity to teach a machine, to teach each other, to learn new ways and gain new perspectives.

It also tells us that it takes a lot to teach a machine, there are areas that machines will exceed humankind especially in logical and computational analytics and fast decision-making process. 

Affective Computing

Secondly, while Neural Networks (a branch of AI) and Deep Learning are today implementing affective computing it is still proving really hard to reliably and sustainably mimic all the many nuances of affective communications that humans specialise in.

This bring me back to something of great value.

Identity is anchored in perspective and perspective can be harnessed, modelled, changed and engaged. There is a part of perspective that has a unique or unity factor and can diminish from there or increase to unity. That is the notion of Affect.

Affect

Affect is the root word from which we get the word affection, it involves emotion, moods, impulse, tendency, attraction, intuition etc. It is the foundation on which Perspective seats. Its control system is situated deep within the brain, in the limbic system. It functions within the realm of chemistry (hormones) and biology (DNA) and physics (relativity – to inputs/environment).

Perspective that has taken root in the limbic system is deep seated and hard to change, but it also provides the best portfolio of options or template to re-inform or re-”affect” a belief system.

An example in story form

Jack meets Mary on a prairie off Interstate 95. Mary was with a group of people who lured Jack to the beautiful Prairie under the guise of voice practice to join the most prestigious choir of the time, only to brutally mock, discourage him, and run away leaving him utterly ashamed. Jack notes their faces and every time he sees any of them he is offended, he becomes deeply prejudiced against every one of them.

Years later, Jack meets Jill and walks up the hill with her as they talk. Jill tells Jack a bit about herself and through the conversation Jack finds out she is Mary, he accidentally trips down the hill, with Jill tumbling after. Jill rushed to Jack bandaged him up, got him excellent help without even considering herself. 

Eventually Jack is fully mended. He learns a lot more about Jill/Mary, he learns the details of that night of horror years ago, and the details of how his broken leg was saved. Can you imagine the scenarios to the story that would have reinformed Jack’s limbic system? Try these on your own, tell the missing parts of the story as possibilities to what Jack could now know, to do support the following scenarios:

  1. Consider Jack’s perspective in a need to reconcile Jill and Mary as two different people
  2. Jack’s old perspective is partially changed, but he is still wary
  3. Jack’s new perspective is fully reformed, his mind is completely changed about Mary/Jill

Share the missing details as feedback on the scenarios for a, b, c, in the comments section of this post!

Perspective on Identity

Most people expect perspective on identity to be framed in the deep recesses of the brain, in the limbic system but not so with racial identity and socially manipulated brands. They are actually framed in the frontal lobe, the reasoning section of the brain. The part that allows us to make decisions, that utilises our skills more, not our emotions. This is because those who traffic on identity for gain, learned something really powerful and exploited it. They learned that if you make the perspective on identity be accessible to be reasoned out with our smarts not our emotions you will create a more impactful outcome for the motive. 

Our perspective on identity for the most part have been framed for us through the narratives of others, through the already established systems that tell us that we need to think of one person this way, and another person that way. Through the visual expressions that one person is dangerous while another is safe. That this person deserves a break while another does not and on and on.

The margin of error on those inputs that make up perspective on which we base identity are so huge that it became necessary to broad base it in a way that would be hard to dispute. Thereby, birthing race identity, the most lucrative construct of the last few centuries.

Race and the Identity Crisis

Take race, something that fundamentally is a right of all humans, a unifying form factor for all homo sapiens. Redefine it and create a tiered approach to it, making sure one is placed higher than the other. Then create and skew systems to support one and denigrate and deny the other, teach it, speak it, make sure all adopt it. In comes the white race and the black race and the beginning of many wicked issues of today. All this adopted implemented and celebrated by our frontal lobe where our smarts reside. Because if our limbic system had gotten a hold of it first, it just might become affected and empathetic and be unable to sustain the harshness required to keep it going. 

The frontal lobe got it, sustained by hard false facts!!

So again, I say since race is a social construct, I am of the Nigerian race and if I go deeper still, the Igbo race!

About Ngozi Bell

Inspiration, , . These three foundational elements anchor Ngozi’s core belief that manifesting the extraordinary is always within reach. Inspired by her mother A.C.Obikwere, a scientist and author, she learned the privilege of living at the edge of important encounters and dedicating herself to robust and perpetual learning. Ngozi’s background is a combination of Physics, Engineering, Venture Capital/Private Equity, regulations, and business where she has managed over $1bn in cumulative revenue. Ngozi is a speaker, storyteller, and writer on a diverse set of topics including AI, iDLT, ML, Signal Processing, iOT, , entrepreneurship and more. She contributes regularly to VOA, has been a TEDx speaker and is published on tech and non-tech platforms. She is a champion of STEM, women, youth, art and the Africa we must engage. Ngozi is an adjunct professor of Physics and management with work

experience in Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and North America. She is a founder of a number of a number of enterprises and host of the podcast Stem, Stocks and Stews (https://anchor.fm/stemstocksstews-podcast).

Https://www.LinkedIn.com/in/ngozibell/