The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
Why you shouldn’t let what you look like hold you back in life
I’m, by way of pure statistics, one of the top writers on Medium. I make a six-figure living as an author and blogger. Millions of people read my work each year.
Oh yeah, I also happen to be black.
Let me tell you some other facts about me — facts that most people would call disqualifiers to living a successful life:
- I was on felony probation for five years
- I’ve been arrested multiple times
- Even though I came from a middle-class upbringing, I ran my life into the ground and had to rebuild from the position of being a broke felon black male working a labor job at $10/hr
According to many people in society, that’s where my story should end. I mean, look at my demographic — the black male.
Does my category have a significantly high rate of failure and problems in life? Yes.
Are there systemic reasons why this happens? Duh.
Do forces outside of your control, particularly what you look like, shape a part of your life? Obviously.
But why does that mean we should aim lower by default?
I was never raised with low expectations. It didn’t matter what I looked like, success what just expected of me.
My mom grew up in Milwaukee, WI, which is still the most segregated city in the united states, smack dab in the middle of the period of deep racism — anyone who claims things are getting worse now…is just not very smart.
She grew up in a bad neighborhood. A neighborhood most progressive people literally wouldn’t walk down. Her mom was illiterate. Her dad worked a labor job. Yet, somehow, she managed to graduate. I’ve told the story before her dad’s solution to fighting an uphill battle as a little black girl — he got her a library card and told her to read every single book in the library. Problem solved.
Here’s a quote from that article:
I was never raised to be a victim by either of my parents. They wanted to see us do better. Going backward wasn’t an option. Their parents did what they could with what they had to give their children a better shot at life, and they did the same for me.
This ethos of generational building and sacrifice has somehow been lost on us. Many people genuinely don’t understand how fortunate they are to have this foundation built for them.
Your forefathers and mothers didn’t sacrifice for you to complain about micro-aggressions on Facebook? Nope. This is not what they would want you to do. They’d want you to simultaneously fight for yourself and the collective at the same time. They’d want you to keep building. It’s not that hard to understand. Care about issues and fight to improve your own life at the same time.
My dad grew up in Nigeria — one of the poorest countries in the world. He came to this country with nothing. His first job was at McDonald’s. He drove taxis. Eventually, he graduated with a finance degree and started businesses.
He came to this country with much less than the people who complain about their living standards here, yet he didn’t bathe in self-pity — the opposite, actually. Like many immigrants, he looked at the opportunity with wide eyes.
It’s so funny, while we complain about being oppressed on our iPhones built by some seven-year-old Chinese kid in a sweatshop, people all around the world are dying to get here. They’d kill to live at the poverty line here. Often, they come to this country far below that line and make something of themselves.
The one thing they have in common? They didn’t fall victim to the soft bigotry of low expectations.
The soft bigotry of low expectations is the form of racism that actually bothers me. I can brush off overt racism, but it pisses me off that certain “benevolent” people look at someone who looks like me with pity, just because I’m black.
Maybe some people want your help and pity, but let me make it clear. I definitely don’t. It annoys me that your form of caring actually masks the true belief that you think you’re somehow better than me. I can write circles around people of any color and I could care less what my competition looks like — because I’m a beast on this keyboard.
Society continues to grow this movement of making you feel helpless just because of the way you look.
You’re a woman so you can’t be a CEO, work in STEM, or hold any position of power.
You’re black so it’s impossible to get ahead and you fear for your life because you can get pulled over and shot at any time.
[Insert your marginalized category here] and you’re destined to [insert fatalistic prediction].
Highlighting institutional forces that shape our lives is crucial, but acting as if they’re a death sentence does nobody any good, especially those who are actually in those categories.
I remember reading this story about a teacher who worked in the inner city with a bunch of “problem” students — behavioral issues, couldn’t focus, behind in learning level, etc.
Did she look down on them with pity? Nope. She made the students read material well above their grade level. She inspired them to learn and evolve instead of making assumptions about them.
Well, guess what? The students adapted to the material. Who knew that kids were sponges who are not only dying to learn but dying to simply have someone believe in them?
Again, people always come out of the peanut gallery with their little rebuttals.
“You don’t understand Ayo! Some kids have it so bad that they’re destined to fail!”
This is true to a degree.
Still, is it helpful to give these kids the message that they’re screwed unless the entire structure of society changes overnight? Pause and ask yourself the question — how is highlighting and aggrandizing their plight in any way shape or form helpful or useful? How does that improve their lives?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s more helpful to acknowledge the difficulty of their situation, but push them to succeed anyway.
The latter is much more useful. But human emotions don’t work in a logical way. This soft bigotry isn’t about actually helping anyone, it’s about making the soft bigoters feel good for caring.
Let me be clear to all of my fellow minorities and marginalized people. The people who take pity on you and spoon feed you this message that you’re oppressed don’t care about you at all.
They will post on your behalf on social media, but they won’t visit your neighborhood. They will “stand with you” form the safety of their gated communities. The politicians who claim to want to help those who are struggling often oversee some of the worst districts in the country and do nothing to help them improve.
Real caring involves telling the truth.
And the truth is that, without question, your path to living a successful life can and will be harder based on circumstances you have no control over. This is the entire ethos of my new book. Duh. No intelligent person would deny this.
But, so what? Fuck, dude, I don’t know then, maybe just stop trying, be depressed, and vote in November!
Is society perfectly equal? Nope. But do you have time to wait for it to become perfectly equal? Also, nope. You have to live your life.
And let’s be honest. In 2020, especially if you live in America, you at least have a fighting shot. You can run an e-commerce shop that only shows products, no pictures of your face or what you look like, and make a killing. No excuse — literally no one can see you.
I follow this corner of Twitter I like to call black excellence Twitter. Real Estate investors, e-commerce store owners, bloggers, agency owners, all types of successful black people from all walks of life and socio-economic starting points. Do we converse about the plight of black people? Nah, we talk strategy, decision making, ideas, things like this:
We care about solutions to problems. We care about winning regardless of the cards life deals us. Ultimately, we just came to the rational, logical and obvious conclusion that virtue signaling does absolutely nothing to help us.
We feel bad for the people who feel stuck in this loop of learned helplessness and we are trying to share the truth. Whether or not they accept it is on them. It’s on you.
One of my favorite blog posts is titled Why James Chartland Wears Women’s Underpants.
It’s written by a woman who had to use a pen name because she wasn’t getting jobs as a freelance writer back in the early 2000s. The minute she changed her name — same quality writing — she got a ton more jobs and was able to easily raise her rates.
Was it fair? No. But it worked:
Eventually, I had earned enough income and credibility to get a mortgage, and I bought a tiny, modest house for me and my kids in a quiet town near my mum. It was the first home of my life I could truly call my own, paid for by long hours and hard work. Paid for by my own sweat and tears, at the tender age of 37.
She decided that it was better to focus on living herself and her family out of poverty than it was to cater to her own feelings. What a thought!
I’ve talked about this with my business coach, who happens to be a woman. I say happens to because what she looks like has zero to do with why I hired her.
She flat out told me that, yeah, she faced plenty o’ sexism on her rise to the top in male-dominated fields, but she decided that she wanted to be successful, period.
Again, maybe your path will be tougher because of things you can’t control.
But what are you going to do? Take your ball and go home? Or fight for your own life?
Up to you.
I have clients, customers, and readers of every race, political affiliation, religion, and sexual orientation.
It’s funny. I’ve seen the people who follow me — I have MAGA followers and some of the wokest of woke followers. How is this possible?
Simple — my message cuts through the noise and talks about the things we all care about, regardless of what we look like:
- Finding purpose and meaning
- Not hating what you have to do day in and day out
- Taking pride in the person we see in the mirror
- Taking care of the people we love
- Having the means and freedom to do the things we want
This message cuts through the gordian knot of contrived division. You do realize why you’re being injected with messages of fear, division, and outrage like some sort of hate-filled I.V., right?
They’re pulling the “Okie Doke” on you. They’re feeding you little scraps of emotional validation while they enjoy the fruits of the oligarchy.
I’ve said this so many times, but these people who pretend to hate each other on T.V. literally party with each other in their off time.
How can you not see the irony of being told to hate the elites, by an elite?
Wake up and remove the wool from your eyes. No one in power is fighting on behalf of your marginalized category. Trust me. They huff and puff, but they do nothing. The calvary isn’t coming for you friend. Fair or not, you’re going to have to do it yourself.
I never once focused on the way I looked like. I don’t call myself a black writer, a black father, a black entrepreneur, a black anything.
I don’t think it’s a special achievement to be a successful black person.
Does representation matter for some? I’m sure it does and I honor that. But me personally? I don’t need to see a black person do something to think I can do it.
I’m Ayodeji — a man who has spent years learning, testing, and implementing the strategies I need to be successful. That’s my identity.
Remember what Martin Luther King said:
I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Don’t forget the goal.
I’m not saying to be blind to the issues of the world, not at all.
Spend time fighting for your causes, focus on what matters to you civically, and work to make the world a better and more equal place.
But also, live your fucking life, too.
Ayodeji is the author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement