An Alternative to the “Bootstraps” Narrative of Economic Mobility

Many sunsets ago, I wrote a blog post talking about why I thought that the “bootstraps” narrative of economic mobility is problematic. I saw the narrative as problematic for a number of reasons, but one of them was due to this notion that we can succeed by ourselves without any help from others (because, in reality, all of us who succeed need the help of other people in one form or another).

This fact, the fact that we all need the help of others in order to succeed, brings me to an alternative to the bootstraps narrative. What I propose is something that I will call here the “community narrative,” named after the fact that all of us need a community of people helping us along the way in order to succeed, whatever success looks like to us.

To highlight this fact, let’s think about one of the classic cliché stories we often hear from the bootstraps narrative: the person who comes from no money at all within their family but becomes wealthy through “hard work.” In this situation, it is possible, even probable, that there was hard work, but various people along the way from poverty to success needed to recognize the hard work in a way that helped advance the formerly poor person’s education/career. This could be anything from a school able to give a full scholarship to the person when they were a student, to a group of influential people recognizing the person’s talents, to a helpful mentor (or set of mentors), to some complete strangers who were willing to take a chance on the product produced by the formerly poor person. In the story I told highlighting the bootstraps narrative, there could theoretically be anywhere between one or two and several thousand people who help the formerly poor person become wealthy along the way—hardly befitting of the notion of one pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. But it is befitting of the idea that we all need a community of people in order to succeed.

Getting ourselves away from the classic cliché stories we often hear with regard to the bootstraps narrative, one must consider and confront the fact that all of us need some help from others in order to succeed. Everyone with a strong education needed a strong institution (or institutions) to accept them into the place(s) with the strong education; every person in a high-level position (unless they run their own company) was hired by someone and likely came with letters of recommendation from a variety of other people; every entrepreneur needed a group of people who believed in the product(s) or service(s) provided; and every politician needed votes from their constituents in order to take elected office. In all these cases, a person who has succeeded needed a community of people in order to succeed—bootstraps simply wouldn’t have been enough. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single industry where you’re able to succeed without a community of people helping you in ways small and large along the way.

While it is possible that someone at some point may come up with a better explanation than my community narrative to explain how some people succeed, I hope that what I propose at the very least helps move a few people from the previous bootstraps narrative—an ill-advised narrative, for a multitude of reasons.

The Importance of Recognizing Pioneering Figures on Injustice-Related Topics

An image of bell hooks from 2014. Alex Lozupone (Tduk), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some time ago, my family was at a bookstore that was clearly leftist politically. I could tell that because there were lots of books on LGBTQ+ themes, racial justice, and feminism, to name a few.

And yet, the bookstore felt lacking. Namely, it was lacking in works from pioneering figures on LGBTQ+ issues, on feminism, on racial justice, etc. There was no Audre Lorde, no bell hooks (bell hooks on the shelves would’ve been timely as I visited this bookstore just a couple of weeks after her death), no Angela Davis, and so on. (By the way, if these names are unfamiliar to you, I definitely encourage you to learn more about all three of them.)

This was, of course, unfortunate to me. But, at the same time, this bookstore made me think about whether I, too, don’t give the pioneering figures on injustice-related topics the credit or attention they warrant. And the bookstore made me think about other instances when said figures don’t get the recognition or attention they deserve. It made me think of the #MeToo movement, when people often didn’t (and, in some cases, still don’t) give due credit to how foundational Tarana Burke, who started using “metoo” over a decade before it trended on Twitter for many of the same reasons that people used the hashtag on social media,[1] really was. It made me think of all the talk about Critical Race Theory, little of which ever acknowledges the work of those who were pioneering on the issue (regardless of whether one agrees with Critical Race Theory). And it makes me think of all the things I’ve read about intersectionality—a big topic in many social justice circles (read more about intersectionality in this blog post I wrote on the topic)—that do not even mention pioneering figures on the subject, such as Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Keeping my mind at least somewhat on the disappointing bookstore I was at, what I am saying here is that, as underwhelming as the bookstore may’ve been, it’s far from existing in a bubble. Many of us, myself included, also struggle with giving pioneering figures on various issues of injustice the attention they deserve. If anything, the bookstore is only a microcosm of this larger issue.

But why should I, and we, care about giving such figures the recognition that they deserve?

Simply put, we should care because, in many cases, what some of us may find ourselves reading, writing, and researching on today is the result of what those before us wrote and spoke about. Even if we happen to come up with new ideas, the inspiration for them comes from somewhere, and it seems only appropriate that we recognize where they come from and give credit to the origins of said ideas.

So, in order to try and avoid being like that bookstore, I, and we, should really try to redouble our efforts to acknowledge and give credit to the foreparents behind many of the injustices some of us may find ourselves talking about. In some cases, if not many of them, I don’t think it’s a deliberate ignoring of people (though I could be wrong). But that is why the effort needs to be made to deliberately recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate those like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, and many others.


Why We Need to Discuss How We Teach Kids About Racism in United States History

In the second part of my two-part blog post on Critical Race Theory (CRT), I said that it seems like the theory has gotten mixed in there with larger, yet important, discussions on how classrooms should navigate through topics of race and racism. I even conveyed in my post that such discussions are needed. This is an opinion I feel strongly about as someone who was a history major in college and is still a self-professed American history nerd.

However, what I didn’t go into in said post was why those discussions are needed.

So, why are these discussions necessary? Why can’t we just go on with history lesson plans that teach about America’s greatness, without even so much as questioning it?

Simply put, not teaching about the parts of America’s past and present that involve racism is not a complete teaching of American history.

How can you have a truthful teaching of American history without talking about how there were slaves for nearly the first 80 years of the history of the United States, and how those slaves counted as 3/5 of a person?[1] Or how it took a bloody civil war to end slavery?[2] Or how it took nearly a century beyond that for legalized racial segregation to become a thing of the past? Or how the “War on Drugs” in more recent times has jailed millions of African Americans, thereby taking away millions of African Americans’ right to vote?[3] All these things are a part of our history.

If we start talking about Native Americans, we run into a whole other element of American history that is inconvenient for some to teach about, yet would leave us with an incomplete picture of American history if we don’t teach it. This includes the killing of so many Native Americans, one of the most infamous examples being the Trail of Tears during the period in which Andrew Jackson was president.[4] It includes the largest mass execution in American history—38 Dakota warriors were hanged during the Sioux Uprising in 1862.[5] Policies were so brutal against many Native Americans that the idea of “kill the Indian and save the man” (an ideology which relates to Native Americans being taught at white boarding schools) was considered humanitarian reform.[6]

And then there is our history when it comes to many other groups of people not considered white during their times. Internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II,[7] the Chinese Exclusion Act (which specifically prohibited a group of people; in this case, Chinese people, from immigrating to the United States),[8] and the despise many Americans felt towards Irish escaping strife during the mid-19th century[9] are but a few notable examples of dark elements of America’s history when it comes to the treatment of people who aren’t or weren’t viewed as white. The treatment of people coming from Ireland in the mid-18th century, in particular, gives me a lot of pause, given the parallels I’ve seen between how those from Ireland were treated and the treatment of certain groups of refugees today (particularly refugees coming from places that are majority-Muslim).

All of these things need to be taught in American history, even though such parts of American history are unsavory, and even if such parts of American history may challenge certain beliefs some of us may hold about this country. In particular, teaching such parts of American history may challenge the idea that America is and always has been morally superior to other nations—an idea often associated with American exceptionalism. But sometimes, a truthful looking back at any history, whether it be with the United States or with one’s one family, contains some difficult aspects that we wish didn’t exist.

As to how to teach these elements of American history, I will not comment on that. I am not a teacher or professor, and therefore I do not have the sort of knowledge about teaching methods that are needed for me to give an intelligent opinion on how these things should be taught. However, what I do know is that these are things that should be taught if we are to give the students of today and tomorrow a more complete picture of American history than what some teachings of American history currently provide.









[9] It is also worth noting that the notion of whiteness has since expanded to include the Irish. The subject of what whiteness means is its own topic though, and beyond the purview of this blog post.

Texting as Part of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: It’s About Time

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the news and heard that starting next year, people could dial the 988 number to reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline through texting, not just calling.[1]

And when I heard about this, I thought the following: it’s about time. Actually, it’s beyond time.

I should start by saying that having a phone number to dial for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is immensely helpful to have. It can be a vital resource for those in crisis.

However, there are many people who may not be able to, or may not feel comfortable, calling a phone number to talk out loud with someone. Among those who fall into this category are:

  • People who lack the privacy to talk on the phone about what is making them suicidal.
  • People who feel most comfortable expressing what they are going through by way of text messages instead of a phone call.
  • People from marginalized communities for whom marginalization within their own homes is why they feel suicidal. People in the LGBTQ+ community who are not accepted within their own homes come to mind for me, but there are other groups that I’m sure experience this.
  • People who have certain kinds of conditions that prevent them from speaking, but still allow them to write. One example of this for me is that there are some people who are nonverbal because of autism yet are able to communicate through written word.

For those wondering about the Lifeline’s online chat, while it may be helpful in certain circumstances, it faces many of the same shortcomings as calling does for many of the same groups of people, as well as other shortcomings that calling does not face. One notable shortcoming unique to the online chat is that people who are concerned about their online whereabouts being tracked might not want to go to the Lifeline’s chat in the first place. Another issue is that if demand for the chat is too high, people are directed to a list of “Helpful Resources” or calling the lifeline, meaning that the chat is not an option in some cases even if it might be otherwise preferable to calling. While the online chat can be helpful in certain circumstances, there are still large groups of people for whom the online chat is not a viable option, even if one were to assume that someone was available to do the online chatting in the first place.

While I have highlighted the shortcomings of both the dial-in Helpline and the Lifeline’s online chat, this is not to say that texting is going to be perfect. The biggest potential pitfall I can see of the texting element of the Helpline is that texting, in general, can result in major misunderstandings under the best of circumstances, but that in the worst of circumstances could lead to someone taking their life. This is a potential pitfall that I assume the Lifeline is aware of, and one that the Lifeline will have to work to try and prevent.

Even with this pitfall, what it boils down to is that there are many groups of people who will be helped by the existence of a texting element of the Suicide Prevention Helpline, and it is beyond time that such a thing exists. I am so incredibly glad that this will be coming into place next year—it can’t come soon enough for some of the most mentally and emotionally vulnerable among us.

Until such time that the texting Helpline is in place, though, you can call the Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with the Lifeline if you need help.


Why Parents Should Involve their Kids in the Political Process

A “vote” sticker

With Election Day happening next week in the United States, I hope that my readers in the States are making plans to vote, have made plans to vote, or have already voted. While there is no presidential election on the ballot this year, unlike last year, many of us have races at the local and state level—races involving representatives who, if elected, will in many ways have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives than who is elected as President of the United States every four years.

However, with Election Day coming up, I think we should talk about more than just the importance of voting. We should talk about the importance of parents having not just themselves, but also their kids, involved in the political process.

But why? Hasn’t it been said that the two topics to avoid at the dinner table are religion and politics?

While I understand why people want to avoid talking about politics at the dinner table (politics can be so stressful, frustrating, and at times infuriating), it is important to talk about politics at dinner (and other times), including and especially around your children, so that they can get exposure to:

  • Who their representatives are, at all levels of government
  • What some of the major issues are, at least from the perspectives of the parents or guardians
  • Who is running for office, and therefore who they may find themselves being represented by, in the future
  • What the process of voting and deciding on which candidates to vote for may look like

In addition to talking, there are other things that parents can do to expose their kids to the political process, such as:

  • Listening on television to news stories about candidates in various races (with the caveat that some news sources offer more balanced coverage of the races than other sources)
  • Watching a televised debate for a political office with kids
  • Taking children with you to the polls
  • Taking children to see legislative activity going on, whether it be at the local, state, or federal level

Some kids may end up largely agreeing with their parents’ political stances while others may end up largely disagreeing. And some may end up somewhere in between. That is to be expected, but what should not be expected is to not talk about politics with a kid one is raising, so that they end up being ill-informed on politics and the people running for various political offices when they are all grown up.

After all, the goal is for the children to grow up as kind, caring, and well-informed citizens of the areas, country, and world they reside in. Not doing all we can to ensure this would be an injustice to the kids and to the world.