J. Pharoah Doss: The biggest display of the bigotry of low expectation

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Presidential speech writer Michael Gerson coined the phrase: the soft bigotry of low expectations. Gerson was referring to White progressives who expect less from Black youth because they suffer from the historical effects of racism and poverty. 

Gerson’s concept was on full display during the early stages of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Columnists wrote glowing articles about BLM protests and expressed their support for BLM, but at the same time admitted they didn’t know what BLM was actually about. These columnists praised the BLM leaders for standing up for their beliefs, but that’s when they displayed the bigotry of low expectations.

How so?

An adult will praise an adolescent for standing up for their beliefs, but the adult is reinforcing the adolescent’s bravery, not the adolescent’s fleeting beliefs. The adult wants the adolescent to develop the courage of conviction. However, when adults stand up for “social justice,” they aren’t praised for displaying the courage of their convictions; they are evaluated by the validity of their causes, the soundness of their arguments, and the practicality of their solutions.

There was no serious evaluation of BLM’s leadership because there were no high expectations.

When the rioting and looting took place in Ferguson and Baltimore, the columnists quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous line, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The columnists used MLK’s moral authority to excuse violence. The columnists who admired BLM’s courage didn’t question the validity of BLM’s fleeting protests because they didn’t expect BLM’s leadership to have sound arguments or practical solutions.

In other words, BLM’s leadership was treated like adolescents, but that’s their problem. The bigger problem is when teenagers imitate BLM but don’t realize they are being reinforced by the bigotry of low expectations.

Last month, Atlanta News First reported that hundreds of Decatur High School students staged a walkout to protest a teacher who used the N-word in the classroom. When the story is reported in that manner, it’s assumed that the teacher used the racial slur maliciously.

But that’s not what happened.

According to the school’s superintendent, the n-word was used in the context of correcting a student that the teacher heard use the word. Neither the student nor the teacher directed the word at anyone, but the teacher repeated the word that the student used in telling the student it was inappropriate language.

It can be argued that the teacher didn’t have to repeat the racial slur to make his point. The teacher apologized for his lapse of judgment. However, the students didn’t accept the teacher’s apology, even though it was obvious the teacher meant no harm. The students told Atlanta News First that the teacher needs more diversity training and should be fired.

The students claimed they were hurt. One student said the school cares more about its reputation than protecting Black students and their safety.

The school principal told parents, “As a person who is growing in my efforts to be an anti-racist leader, I am committed to addressing this issue and holding the teacher who was involved in the incident accountable for their actions.  I also wish to repair the harm caused to our community … As a White woman committed to establishing an anti-racist school, I stand with staff and students as we do the deep work required to keep all students and adults safe.”

The school principal, should encourage the students to stand up for themselves to help them build character and a backbone. Since the students were demanding protection from a harmless misunderstanding, the school principal needed to help the students evaluate the incident in its proper context.

But an evaluation would have been expecting too much of the Black students.

By overprotecting the Black students, the White school principal demonstrated one of the biggest displays of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

How so?

Freelance writer Jeff Charles wrote, “Assuming that Blacks are not able to overcome racism in the 21st century is every bit as racist as Richard Spencer arguing that Whites are superior by virtue of their race. The difference is that the bigotry of low expectations is harder to identify because it is concealed behind a facade of political correctness.”

Or, in this case, the façade of antiracism.

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