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"White men can't jump": A Self-fulfilling Prophecy!

When I was younger, my friend's did three things nearly everyday of the week. We played basketball, drank Coca Cola, and listened to Van Halen. I stuck around for the Van Halen and the Coke. I played basketball becasue it was required for the friendship. Although, one buddy actually drank Dr. Pepper in spite of our social rule. We can save the psychoanalysis of this behavior for a future post. ๐Ÿง๐Ÿค“

During most games, I tried to annoy opposing players. I intentionally acted like a fool on the court. I ran, I jumped, I flailed my arms. At times, my energy worked to throw off a players shot. Mostly, my Shenanigans seemed to annoy my own team as much as the opposing payers. I was just trying to have fun because, let's face it, I sucked at basketball.

The behavior related to this last statement is what we intend to psychoanalyze in this post. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

During one special game. My team was down in the final quarter. The ball came to me. Normally, I'd get rid of it. Instead of passing the ball, to someone with greater skill, I took the shot. I can see the slow motion replay now. The ball soaring majestically through the air, with perfect arch and speed, gently spinning as it dropped straight through the net. I was shocked. I missed 90% of shots I tried. Seriously, I would shoot the ball, miss, and then endure menacing looks of "why did you do that" from my teammates. This time was different. For then next several minutes I couldn't miss. I dropped shot after shot. It was amazing. After sinking the last basket, I heard a buddy, likely just as surprised as everyone else, call out, "woah, the Scoringmachine"!

This nickname stuck!

Years ago, there was a term thrown around suggesting, "white men can't jump". The phrase was so popular a Hollywood film was released with the same title. The statement clearly suggests Caucasians can't play ball. But how true is this belief?

A group of researchers spoke of belief having the power to limit, or enhance, human capacity and goal completion (Madson, et al., 2018). They describe a concept called "self-fulling prophecy" or a perceived ability to accomplish a desired task. The crux of this research describes the strength of belief to help or hinder the completion of tasks, goals, or success.

"Stereotypes" are an example of this belief.

A stereotype is a "false expectation", a "false belief", or "a false assumption" (Madson, et al., 2018). A stereotype expects something different than reality. Stereotypes create trouble because they force inaccurate conclusions. According to research, a stereotype has the power to create an outcomes that's not grounded in "truth" (Madson, et al., 2018).

Let's say you and I are the owners of an American basketball franchise. We've invested significant time and money, into this endeavor, and we want our team to win. Let's say we discuss our "dream team". It becomes clear, we firmly believe "white men can't jump".

Research says a belief is all it takes to create an outcome. The belief drives the outcome. So much so, the more a belief is accepted the more the outcome will match our belief (Madson, et al., 2018). Think about it. If we believe white men can't play basketball how many "white guy's" will we hire for our team|? If we take things further, and convince other team owners this belief is true, they will avoid hiring "white men". With time, the belief will take hold throughout the association. When everyone believes Caucasians can't play ball, no Caucasian will, but not because they lack the skill.

Because belief stops the action.

Think of a time in history when the capacity of an entire race was vastly limited because of a "popular belief". In our example, we assume African American basketball players are the best because they comprise the majority. This assumption is validated when we look at racial diversity within the NBA. In 2020, total NBA players included 74.2% black, 16.9 % white, 2.2 % Latino, and 0.4 % Asian (Wikimedia Foundation, 2021).

We're not blaming the NBA for racists actions. Nor are we devaluing the hard work of any player accepted into the league. We're asking the ability of a Caucasian to become the next NBA superstar if no one believes it can be done.

A stereotype is a belief based on limited evidence that does not match the reality of what can actually happen. My Belief will either increase or decrease my capacity. The more a belief is accepted the harder it is to create an outcome contrary to my belief. If people don't believe a white guy can be an NBA super star then this outcome is less likely to occur. Not because a white guy can't accomplish this outcome. Because the belief hinders the outcome.

I wonder how many understand the ability of belief to shut down potential outcomes?

After all, people gather in groups for a reason. According to this research, the belief of a group will dictate what outcomes the group can create (Madson, et al., 2018). Not because the group is incapable of the task. Because the group can't accept they can complete the task.

Think about this for a moment...

It's been said, "Your network will determine your net worth" (Wade, 2007, pg. 30). This was said in the context of creating financial wealth. But the statement has value outside the world of dollars and cents. The statement is a challenge to look at the five people you spend the most time with (Wade, 2007, pg. 30). Who are they? How do they think? What do they do? Do they have limiting beliefs? Some suggested we, "...surround ourselves with the so they can call us forward" (Wade, 2007, pg. 30). Call us forward to what?

Our true potential.

If anyone needs evidence, "white men can't jump", they can watch me play basketball. ๐Ÿ˜ตโ€๐Ÿ’ซ My lack of ability, however, can't speak for the entire population! A stereotype is a limiting belief based on incomplete experience. As a society, we often believe something can't be done because we lack the experience it can be done.

In the real world, limiting belief infects success like a virus.

Inaccurate belief, created through limited experience, is dangerous to goal completion. Think about it, how much energy would you spend on any activity if you believed success was impossible. According to research, a simple belief a thing can't be done creates a belief we should quit.

We'll never know if we don't try.

We won't try if we don't believe it can be done. Success with goals requires a belief I can complete my goal. According to research, folks are less likely to create success, with goals, because a limiting belief stands in the way (Madson, et al., 2018). This is the reason successful people surround themselves with like minded people.

According to research, I am more likely to create success when I have a mindset that says, "I can" (Madson, et al., 2018). It actually goes deeper than this. According to research, I am more likely to create success when I belong to a group who believes we can (Madson, et al., 2018).

What belief's are limiting your success? What tasks have remained undone because belief says it can't be done? Start with belief. Replace "I can't" with something better like "I'll try". Because, I'll try believes something's possible. Action becomes far easier when I believe something is possible. Success is nearly guaranteed when I belong to a group that does not allow stereotypes, limited beliefs, and inexperience to stand in the way of goal completion!

Many have a desire to create success but find completion of goals difficult. Start with belief. Begin developing a belief system that will drive success. It's easier if you surround yourself with people who have the "right" mindset.

Years ago, I played basketball but I wasn't very good. I wonder what I could have done, all those years ago, if I believed something different than "I suck"? I'm not saying I'd be the next NBA superstar. But according to research I'd be much better at basketball.


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Madon, S., Jussim, L., Guyll, M., Nofziger, H., Salib, E. R., Willard, J., & Scherr, K. C. (2018). The accumulation of stereotype-based self-fulfilling prophecies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115(5), 825โ€“844. (Supplemental)

Wade, Chad A. (2007). Cracking the Producers Code. Stockton, CA: More Heart Than Talent Publishing.

Wikimedia Foundation. (2021). Race and ethnicity in the NBA. Wikipedia. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from

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