Assumptions and Racism

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Do you think you are open-minded? But others often seem annoyed with you? Or hae you been told you are ignorant or even racist, and don’t know how that can be true? You might be hooked on assumptions.

What are assumptions?

Assumptions are things we decide are facts without actually questioning their validity, or finding proof they are indeed true.

Assumptions can be a great start to a creative project or idea. But they can also leave us trapped. We assume we won't get a promotion so never try.

Our assumptions about others can sabotage our relationships. We assume a partner, for example, would reject us if they knew about our past, so lie instead.

We also make assumptions about ourselves. We can assume we aren’t capable of something without even looking at what it involves.

Or we can also assume we don’t stereotype or aren’t racist, without taking the time to look at the facts or investigate thoroughly.

Assumptions and stereotypes

Stereotypes are a type of assumption. We take our thinking about one person and assume an entire group of people are the same. All Americans are loud, all Brits are reserved, all blondes are dumb… some stereotypes are well known. The more insiduous ones are the ones we don’t even bother examining, or that hide in our unconscious. This is often because everyone around us, our social group or even culture, shares our assumption.

And recently it's been shown we can even assume we don't have stereotypes or that they don't exist in our culture when they do.

A 2019 study at New York University asked five and six year-olds to identify which person in photos was the very smart one. Even the black and Latino children identified a white man as the brilliant one, not the woman. When it came to black people in the pictures, they assumed that black women were smarter than black men.

Assumptions and racism

Assumptions lead to stereotypes, which leads to prejudice, which leads to discrimination.

We assume immigrants want to live in our country, so we develop the idea that immigrants are here to ride the system (stereotype). Which makes us feel anger towards immigrants (prejudice). Which leads to us treating immigrants with disdain or saying they should ‘go home’ (discrimination).

How to stop assumptions and understand others better

Question your thinking.

Use tools like mindfulness and journalling to face what your thoughts are in the first place. Then ask good questions.

  • How did I learn this thought?
  • What facts do I have to prove it true?
  • What facts do I have to prove it not true?
  • Does this thought help me? Does it help others?
  • What might be more true than this?

2. Learn how to switch perspective.

This means taking the time to truly be in another person's shoes. What might life be for them, if you let fall all your preconceived notions?

3. Listen to other people’s stories.

Take the time to investigate the experiences of others. And when people talk, listen fully. Don't interrupt. Don't spend all the time they are talking planning to respond with your own story. Honor theirs.

4. Assume you know nothing.

If you must assume anything, assume you know nothing, and go from there.

5. Seek support to understand your thinking.

Can't seem to stop thinking the worst of people? Sometimes we 'can't see the woods for the trees'. We can benefit from some help to see through our own dysfunctional thinking, like a coach or counsellor.

Othertimes we are seeing the world through a difficult lens because of past trauma. We struggle to have empathy as we don't have enough empathy for ourselves, let alone others. So we need help to process our emotional distress.

Ready to make changes in the ways you think and improve your relationships? Find a therapist you like at a price you can afford and start moving forward.

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