Sit Down, Randy: The Myth of Bootstrap Pulling by Chris Thompson
^ additional editing by Calvin Eaton
Hi. If you have ever said, “I don’t see race”, “This black person is successful, so why aren’t you”, “Stop dwelling in the past”, “It goes both ways”, “You’re creating division by talking about this”, or my favorite, “Martin Luther King said…”, I have great news for you. Target has a sale on lawn furniture. You can go there right now, and take several seats for a low, low price. Use them to reflect on your hollow words rooted in oblivious bigotry. Randy.
“Have several seats, Randy”
In the United States, and especially here in Rochester, there is a serious racial socioeconomic wealth gap. This is by design, and that despite what our inadequate middle school text books told us, that design wasn’t put in place 60, 70, or 100 years ago. The country’s constitution established and codified that gap when it decreed that black folks were only 60% human, and only for the purpose of padding populations counts for states that had enslaved black folks. The problem did not go away with the Civil War, nor did it get resolved with the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments (By the way, Mississippi didn’t ratify the 13th Amendment until 2013, in case you need another reason to hate Mississippi). The gap didn’t disappear the day after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, nor did it fill in with the passing of the Civil Rights Act or Voting Rights Act. Many like to speak as if all these things made the country better, and black folks still suffering from poverty and crime are “doing it to themselves” and deserve nothing for their wanton ways. A few successful moments in the fight for equality do not magically resolve over 300 years of vicious inequality, especially when while those triumphs occurred, other setbacks were systematically being put in the way. Ask any woman or person with a uterus how one successful court case 40 years ago does not mean that everything is resolved. Those successes are bandages on the wound. Talking through and detailing the depth of racial inequality is part of the process. If I say I want to build a bridge, I have to talk about what material I will use and how much time it will take to construct it, but I must also discuss what natural habitats I may disturb, the pollution I will cause while building it, the noise and emissions generated from people using it, and how much it will cost to maintain it. Discussing those details I don’t like are not “causing division”; they are being realistic about the whole picture. Randy.
“But we had a Black President”
“But look at all the successful black people in the world! I talked to some of them, and they aren’t complaining!” A statement like this is why you need to hurry up to Target before their seat sale is over. Randy. You having to point out that you talked to black folks is racist in and of itself. This is the “I have black friends” defense, an imaginary shield that makes white folks think they can say borderline racist stuff with immunity from social consequences. And yes, there are successful black folks in America. I suppose that I can be considered one. I was born poor, witnessed abuse and addiction firsthand, was homeless for a few years in high school and college, have a criminal record, but I somehow managed to get a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, have a decent job, and I get paid to write occasionally. You could say I “pulled myself up by my bootstraps”…but don’t. I succeeded despite the obstacles in my path at birth. I had no father, so we were at half the income of a “traditional” two-parent family. We were poor because transportation was not great in my neighborhood, and the house we lived in was in a bad neighborhood.
Both of those factors were by design, originally mandated by the government during the New Deal, and then perpetuated de facto by private industry from the 1970s through to the 21st Century. I have no doubt that my chronic asthma developed form our proximity to factories. When we moved to Baltimore, it was the murder capital of the nation. Still, I rose. All I did was do some homework, and I was lucky enough to have a high school counselor my last year of high school who helped me fill out damn near every grant program and scholarship and loan for school. I made the best of living in the dorms, and when I lost my full ride, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who cared enough to get me some tuition and fees money (the fees always get you). By happenstance, I found a job right out of school, and they were on a hiring binge, so I was able to get some of my classmates jobs too. None of this had anything to do with “bootstraps”. I left out all the details of weekly police harassment, the rejections for jobs, the YEARS couch hopping since I didn’t have a permanent place to live, my dream of being a graphic artist dashed when the movers tasked with evicting us destroyed my portfolio and drafting table.
“But the Irish had struggles”
“Other communities were treated badly, and they are successful now, so you have no excuse!” Other communities benefited from eventually joining the “white club”. After a few generations, German, Italian, Greek, Polish, Norwegian, Irish, etc. used propaganda and acclimated to society (often by joining in the denigration of Black folks and Indigenous people), and they were considered white, and with that, they received all the privileges as such. Besides the fact that they can go about mounting generational wealth and property with no government mandated barriers, those few extraordinarily successful families now are often two or three generations separated from criminal ancestors. Or perhaps they owned some people. It is easy to accumulated wealth if you don’t pay your staff. Have you caught yourself saying, “But Irish people were slaves, too”? If so, keep sitting down, Randy. The only people who were enslaved in America were the indigenous people here and the African people transported here. The Irish may have been indentured servants, which was brutal, but they were NOT slaves. You sound like an O’tep.
“I was born with a poor Mom”
“I was born with a poor mom and an alcoholic dad and a gerbil who beat me and a dog with diarrhea who pooped on my SAT scores, so white privilege doesn’t help me! All the black kids called me ‘whitey’, and it hurt my feelings!” I’m sorry about your bad childhood and incontinent pet, Randy, but your dire circumstances don’t disprove white privilege. Poverty is something that plagues many communities. Add race to poverty, and it is exacerbated by excessive harassment and fewer job choices. There are more than enough numbers to show how the justice system treats poor white folks in contrast to poor Black folks. Poor white men still are more likely than poor black men to receive plea deals for the same minor crimes.
“I Have a Dream”
“Martin Luther King said…” -_- From now on, anyone who thinks they are clever by bringing up Martin Luther King and quoting a line of his “I Have a Dream” speech will be ignored, unless they can recite the ENTIRE speech, and the Letter from a Birmingham jail, his speech on capitalism, and also name at least five of his Civil Rights contemporaries. Jeremy. The second you say “MLK”, I shut down. America hated MLK in his time. He was a troublemaker. He got people out in the streets. He blocked traffic. He sat in legislature hallways. He tricked racist landlords into being racist on film, and then broadcast it. As soon as he publicly opposed the Vietnam War, he was labeled a bigger communist than before. The FBI sent him a letter telling him to kill himself. On top of that, a lot of black folks thought he was an Uncle Tom for “not doing enough”. So before you try to act like Martin Luther King is the Patron Saint of Respectability, remember that, and remember that despite your depiction of him as the “good negro”, he still got killed.
In conclusion, Randy, me talking about all the gaps in history that explain why we are where we are now is not “causing divisions”. Knowing from whence we came is important, especially since we have not talked about this until recently. Thinking the few successes we had is resolution is as ridiculous as thinking that a cast on a broken leg completely cures one’s arm. They still need to have the cast on for a few weeks, take it off, and go through physical therapy for months, and they still might not be at 100%. The idea that pink = girl and blue = boy feels ingrained in society, yet it is only a concept developed in the 1940s, and it is just now being questioned for its absurdity. Why would you think that the 400-year concept of racism, and all its subsequent systems that stemmed from it, would be “solved” in less than less than 60 years, with a few new policies? Get real, Randy. Hurry up and get to Target before they close. Those seats aren’t going to take themselves.
About Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog , he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com
- Why The Phrase ‘Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps’ Is Nonsense, Huffington
- There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal-justice system is racist. Here’s the proof., Washington Post
- When you say you ‘don’t see race’, you’re ignoring racism, not helping to solve it The Guardian
- Forget Wealth And Neighborhood. The Racial Income Gap Persists, NPR
- The Some of My Best Black Friends Are Black Defense
- Civil Rights Act
- Voting Rights Act