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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations


I at least prevailed in art


As a child, the only school subject in which I excelled was art. My dad and older sister were also artistically inclined, as I suspect my ability was due in part to genetic influence.


I performed poorly in all other areas of academic requirement. When reading out loud, I stuttered my way through sentences. When answering math questions in front of my peers, I couldn’t provide adequate responses past the level of basic multiplication.


I was one of the slowest children in physical education and I had insufficient upper body strength that impacted my ability to perform a single chin-up. I wasn’t musically gifted, I annoyed my science teachers with perplexing questions about lessons taught to the class, and the topic of history was boring to me.


As though my underperformance wasn’t enough for shunning from my peers, I was a member of a low-income family. There was a point at which my sisters and I qualified for the free lunch program offered by our school district, because my mom didn’t make enough money to qualify for reduced lunch fees.


The clothes I wore were hand-me-downs. I didn’t have stories of family vacations like other children. Once, a roach scurried from my backpack when I was in class. This was of no surprise, as the apartment complex in which my family lived was informally called the “roach motel.”


The ‘80s were a different era, because it wasn’t solely children who were guilty of bullying. Back then, teachers would openly tell kids that they would never amount to anything. I, too, was told that I was a hopeless cause.


I was provided conflicting reasons for my failure to adapt. Some adults told me it had to do with having a “hard head.” Others claimed it was due to my socioeconomic status. A few claimed that my racial composition (black and white) played a role. One even accused me of being possessed by a demon. 


Although my family moved approximately once per year, because we were either evicted or my single mom couldn’t afford a lease for longer than an annual basis, I gathered plenty of evidence from school educators and administrators about my future. It’s as though I tapped into a network of fortunetellers.


Apparently, I came from nothing, wasn’t worth much effort in the moment, and I was unlikely to achieve success in the future. From one previous school year to the next, I was moved along to the next grade. No longer the problem of one school, I was sent to burden different halls of education.


At each of these institutions of learning, I was sent to principal offices where I received corporal punishment. These instances were followed-up with abuse at home. The last grade in which I stopped receiving swats regarding the Texas school system was in ninth grade.


The final grade in which I no longer received accolades for artistic endeavors was in my senior year of high school. I may’ve had a challenging academic career in my youth, though I at least prevailed in art.


Long past the days of grade school, I was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Come to find out, reduced standards of treatment and lowered expectations didn’t teach me to learn how to work with my disability, they taught me that trying was futile, because I was apparently a lost cause in the first place.


Soft bigotry is still bigotry


According to one source, “The practice of expecting less from members of a disadvantaged group and thus implicitly encouraging those people not to reach their full potential,” is referred to as the soft bigotry of low expectations. This term was reportedly coined by Michael Gerson.


Bigotry may be defined as obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction, in particular prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group. A softer form of bigotry is still bigotry, even if it serves as a seemingly banal form of prejudice.


Brown University professor Glenn Loury, a black man, expands on this topic by stating:


To the extent that people are prepared to impute to African Americans a different set of standards of expectation about their acquiring mastery over reading, writing, and arithmetic, to the extent that they’re prepared to accept that that is a kind of racism—a “soft bigotry of low expectations”—that is very debilitating. It has very substantial deleterious consequences for the kids who are in that charge.


Worth noting, the definition of racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.


As well, a central component of racism is a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. The inverse of this proposal is that some races are inherently inferior to others.


For instance, if a white person says “white power,” the phrase is predicated upon the notion of white supremacy. This is true irrespective of a historic, systemic, or structural power and privilege framework.


Therefore, sayings such as “black lives matter,” “black girl magic,” “black don’t crack,” “once you go black, you never go back,” black power,” and so on and so forth imply black supremacy. These terms therefore represent bigotry. The more one argues for use of these terms, the more one’s bigotry is exposed.


As “consequences” were evoked by Loury, I assess this matter through the lens of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). In particular, the ABC model demonstrates how when Actions occur and a person Believes something unproductive about the occurrence, it’s the assumption and not the event itself that causes unpleasant Consequences.


Take for instance the fact that I was held to a different set of expectations as a child, left academically unchallenged due to the notion that I was unlikely to ever excel. This was an Activating event that didn’t form an Action-Consequence connection.


When directly encountering sentiment about my expected failure to adapt (Action), I didn’t therefore experience uncomfortable Consequences such as sorrow, heaviness throughout my body, or drastically reduced performance on quizzes and exams.


From an REBT perspective, the results of one’s unhelpful assumptions about occurrences are what form a Belief-Consequence connection. This self-disturbing conjunction is illustrated as follows:


Activating event –

I directly encountered sentiment about my expected failure to adapt, which was largely associated with my difficulty related to information processing (intelligence), socioeconomic status (poverty), or racial composition (black and white). 


Belief about the event –

“I shouldn’t be treated differently than other kids and it’s awful that I’m judged for matters beyond my control. I can’t stand the thought of not moving beyond my current position in life! Therefore, it’s not worth putting forth any effort, because I’ll likely fail no matter what.”


Consequences of these unhelpful beliefs –

I experienced sorrow, heaviness throughout my body, and I drastically reduced performance on quizzes and exams.


I have little doubt regarding the beliefs which recipients of the soft bigotry of low expectations maintain can create unpleasant emotions, bodily sensations, and behaviors. Even if a well-intentioned individual softly commits prejudicial acts to supposedly benefit a particular group, soft bigotry is still bigotry.


Nevertheless, it’s what one believes about intolerant actions—and not the behavior of bigots—which causes unpleasant consequences. In this way, people who are discriminated against have the ability not to self-disturb themselves over how they’re treated.


X, Y, and Z


One crucial component of REBT practice is that practitioners do not blame other people for their human fallibility. No one is infallible—not me, not you, not my former educators or administrators, and not people who practice bigotry.


To be charitable to the adults from my youth who told me I’d never amount to anything, they likely were lowering my expectations in an attempt to spare me disappointment in my older age. Had they lied by informing me about potential they didn’t actually recognize, what may’ve happened when I eventually didn’t realize that potential?


By informing a child that he never stood a chance, he could take one of three foreseeable routes. One, he could work hard to overcome the low standard to which he was held.


Two, he could give up completely and remain not much worse off than he already was. Three, he could simply do nothing at all and his condition would likely remain unaffected in either a better or worse direction.


Although I’m merely speculating herein, I can at least understand the plausible rationale underlying the soft bigotry of low expectations which I experienced in childhood. Applying this understanding to other groups I’ve since observed that experience prejudicial treatment, I contemplate the justification of treatment regarding groups X, Y, and Z.


Group X –

Per capita (by head), group X commits a higher percentage of violent criminal activity in the United States (U.S.)—just above 50%, although comprising somewhere around 13% of the population. Statistically speaking, members of group X are more likely to be killed by members of their own group than any other U.S. group of similar measurement.


Nevertheless, potentially well-meaning bigots have applied diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) standards regarding the miseducation of group X members. This is facilitated through Mockingbird media outlets, social media platforms, within the educational system, and elsewhere.


As well, criminal justice reform measures have paved the way for lighter sentencing measures of group X. After all, how will these otherwise disadvantaged people ever excel beyond the historic, systemic, and structural oppression to which they supposedly remain subject in the U.S.?


Group Y –

Worldwide, more members of group Y commit acts of terrorism, as labeled by U.S. authorities. The fastest growing global cohort of its kind, its worldwide population currently exceeds two billion members. Regarding some of the more extreme sects of this group, one’s head may roll for mocking the group’s figurehead.


Nonetheless, possibly well-intentioned bigots have used DEIA measures to protect group Y above other similarly situated groups within the U.S. Even when definitive evidence demonstrates incompatibility with some foundational U.S. doctrines, group Y receives preferential treatment.


Additionally, when pronouncements by group Y’s leading members become intolerably violent towards other group members in the U.S., government officials, legacy and missing link media sources, and social media slacktivits confuse and obfuscate an uninitiated citizenry about the potential danger posed by some members of group Y. Why lie in protection of this group?


Group Z –

On a global level, group Z comprises roughly half of the population, though there are slightly more members in the U.S. than there are group members of the opposite identity. Although a demand for conscription may be placed on U.S. citizens, group Z remains free of this burden.


Likewise, if its members choose to join the military, they enjoy lower physical standards than do their counterparts. As well, DEIA pushes to place group Z in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as the group receives funding and other support from government and non-government entities while standards arguably decline overall.


Notwithstanding their privileged status, members of group Z are an allegedly oppressed class of citizens within the U.S. Films, shows, novels, online articles, and other forms of propagandistic conditioning permeate the psyche of unenlightened citizens from both sides of a political aisle to where group Z is made more equal than its analogue. Why might this be?


I blame no individual or entity for the corruption of standards pertaining to groups X, Y, and Z. In fact, I can understand how those who maintain that they’re on the supposed “right side of history” may benevolently employ the soft bigotry of low expectations.


Although I dislike unequal treatment of this sort, I acknowledge human fallibility. Therefore, I practice unconditional acceptance as a means to keep from self-disturbing about matters over which I have no control and little influence.




As a child, less was expected from me, due to my membership to disadvantaged groups, which implicitly encouraged me not to reach my full potential. I was outright told that I’d never amount to anything and about this activating event, I believed I was worthless.


The consequence of my unhelpful assumption was that the entirety of my youth was filled with sorrow, discomfort, and underperformance. Thankfully, I eventually learned that the proclamations of others didn’t define me.


Aside from prevailing in art, I went on to earn a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. The key to my ability for success was to accept my fallibility while also seeking to improve my level of functioning and quality of life.


In order to do this, I needed to admit to myself that I had personal agency regarding my position in life and then accept personal responsibility and accountability for where I wanted to be. This required setting aside a victimhood narrative.


Now, I witness treatment of groups X, Y, and Z, taking note of the soft bigotry of low expectations which apparently absolves these entities of personal agency, responsibility, and accountability. Although one may be gullible enough to irrationally believe that this doesn’t constitute bigotry, it does.


To be exceedingly clear, I’m outright declaring that DEIA efforts—which center or elevate race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, sex, gender, or other identities above or in opposition to other characteristics—are a bigoted approach to life. This is the case whether in a soft or hard form of bigotry.


Moreover, I maintain that such discrimination is morally and ethically repugnant to me. Consequently, I reject the soft bigotry of low expectations. All the same, I unconditionally accept that bigots exist and recipients of bigotry enjoy privilege.


Ultimately, my beliefs about this matter do not disturb me. At any rate, if you’re in search of a mental, emotional, and behavioral health care provider who will advocate bigotry, you won’t find what you’re looking for here.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW




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