“Bootstraps” are a Myth

I owe this rant to one of my brothers, Sven (I have 7 brothers in all).

Last December 2016, a few of my brothers and I got into a texting argument for a couple hours. I live several hundred miles away from them, so the only way we really communication is through texts.

This happened three weeks after the election. I had intentionally avoided bringing up the topic with these brothers because I knew where the conversation would go. Finally, I said FUCK IT, LET’S DO THIS! The text screenshots are buried in my Dropbox; at some point, I will find them, include them in this post and update it.

About halfway through the conversation, Sven said, “Dude, I have no problem giving my tax dollars to good, decent, hardworking Americans.” Translation- fucking white people.

(Sidenote- weeks later, Sven stated that he wasn’t racist because two of his sons were dating black girls and he (Sven) loves them. Yes, so of course that makes you not a racist). 

This is seriously fucked up. When black people are unemployed and in need of government assistance, they are called lazy, ungrateful, and milking the welfare system. When white people are in the same situation, they are just laid off or down on their luck.

This is when Sven actually mentioned the pick themselves up by their bootstraps notion. For anyone unfamiliar with the bootstraps phrase, it refers to “lifting oneself up the social and economic ladder through individual effort, hard work and personal responsibility.”

Noliwe M. Rooks wrote in The Myth of Bootstrapping “The concept of bootstrapping dates back to at least the 1890s, when Horatio Alger wrote novels about boys who worked hard and rose up the social ladder from poverty and is intertwined with that other mythical ideal, the American Dream.  Today, however, according to the recent Pew Study on the American Dream, social mobility between the lowest levels of American society and the middle class is increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Specifically, the study found that while a large number of Americans (84 percent) have a higher family income than did their parents, those born at both the top and the bottom of the “income ladder” stay where they are from one generation to the next. What that means is that those who begin life wealthy pass that wealth, but those born at the bottom—in other words those who would typically be candidates for bootstrapping—are now more likely to stay there. This is particularly true for African Americans who are stuck at the bottom more than any other group and may even to fall farther behind from one generation to the next.”

Bootstrapping is easy to say when you’ve experienced white privilege every day of your life (I’ll address white privilege in a later post). However, it’s interesting that three of my brothers and my sister have all, at various times in the last 20 years, lived at home with our parents and did not pay rent or help out financially in any way. They obviously did not pick themselves up by their fucking bootstraps; our parents did.


Another sidenote- Sven has criticized our parents for always being broke and not saving money. Well, shithead, it’s hard to save money when you’ve constantly been providing for four of your grown ass children. 

Sadly, the rich or upper class have actually convinced the middle class and below that we, too, can become rich if we just work a bit harder. Many in our society are content with the fact that many CEOs make 4,000%+ more than their employees or that basic health insurance and benefits should not be included. Fast food restaurants and retail chains prefer to keep their employees listed as part-time so that they do not have provided health insurance coverage and benefits. Meanwhile, these people are working 2-3 jobs. Only in America does a working poor class exists.

Obviously, many Americans do rise up from low-income families and become part of the wealthy and upper class. But let’s look at the statistics from the NASPA Foundation. Jabari Bodrick writes in The Myth of the Bootstrap, “In 2013, 9 percent of students from low-income families earned bachelor’s degrees by age 24, in contrast to the 77 percent of students from the wealthiest families.  These figures, published in the Pell Institute’s 2015 revised Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States report, demonstrate students from high-income families were 8 times more likely to earn a bachelors’ degree by age 24 than students from low-income families.  Similarly, students from high-income families in 1970 were 6 times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students from low-income families.”

Michelle Hughes, the Director of Investments and Partnerships of the National Young Farmers Coalition, writes in Dismantling the Bootstrap Myth:

“Although it has become synonymous with the American Dream, the word bootstrap is loaded with negative meanings for people of color and black people in particular. The concept has been used to place blame on people of color for our own oppression — the idea that anyone can improve their socioeconomic situation through hard work and determination alone trivializes race and discounts the barriers to success that structural racism creates for us. The legacies of slavery, violence, unequal education, dispossession of land and property, mass incarceration, and discriminatory lending practices ensure that we are not all starting on a level playing field. Simply put, we live in a nation in which some are issued boots and some are not.”

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Here’s a powerful quote by Dr. Martin Luther King:

“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

Since December 2016 I’ve had very minimal conversations with these brothers, especially Sven. There’s so much more to be said, but I’ll save it for a face-to-face conversation or not at all. They do not have the ability or refuse to step outside of their comfort zone and change their perspective. I now know why, in my late 30s, I left the Midwest and my family, and moved to the East Coast with my wife. I couldn’t handle the veiled bigotry and racism.








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