Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Crabs in a Barrel

I was reading a discussion on a listserv where the people were bashing various presidential candidates. Of course, that's not at all unusual around this time in a presidential election year; but I noticed one rant that argued Obama should not be taken seriously because he was like "Superman… wearing his armor suit of ethnicity."

Probably your first thought was that the author of that rant must have been a bigoted, cranky white guy. But I'm familiar with the guy, and in fact he is not white, and he has a history of being a very outspoken advocate of civil rights. So I was disappointed to see that attitude from him. Disappointed, but not surprised. That sort of thinking has been so common in the African-American community over the years that it has a name: Crabs in a barrel. That name comes from a fable that goes something like this:

A bunch of crabs were sitting in a barrel at a seafood restaurant, waiting to be cooked. One of them said to the others, "Hey, you know what, if we all climb to the top and push on the lid, it'll come off and then we can escape."

The other crabs all laughed. They knew it was impossible to escape. What could this foolish dreamer be thinking? It was nonsense. Couldn't be done. Not even worth trying.

After a few minutes, when it was clear he wouldn't be getting any help, the one hopeful crab climbed up and started pushing on the lid alone. The other crabs just laughed harder, until they heard a faint creaking noise and realized that the lid was starting to shift a little. Then they all got angry. How dare one crab try to escape by himself? He was just another crab, and he needed to be shown that he was no better than the rest of them.

So they grabbed the crab who had been trying to escape and dragged him back down to the bottom of the barrel. They all got cooked and eaten soon afterward, but at least they had the satisfaction of knowing that no other crab was able to achieve more than they had.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that this kind of self-destructive envy is in any way unique to the politics of the African-American community. It's not. Just about every disadvantaged minority group has some version of it. I see it in the autistic community, too, with all the carping about "shiny aspies." Some people seem to think that if a talented, well-educated autistic professional accomplishes something worthwhile, it shouldn't even be mentioned because it might give the wrong impression. Just who does this shiny aspie think he is, anyway? He's just another crab.

Granted, there are a few high achievers in the autistic community (just as in any disadvantaged minority group) who try to distance themselves from the group by claiming to be much more intelligent and capable. That false claim does need to be challenged, in the strongest terms; but when some in our community mock high achievers generally, for no other reason than the fact of their accomplishments, that's wrong. It's just ugly, corrosive envy, and it is harmful to the community as a whole.

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  • Wow, I had not seen or heard that "fable." It is quite apropos, isn't it? Thanks for another thoughtful, thought provoking post.

    By Blogger Niksmom, at 12:41 PM  

  • That metaphor is only a valid one to apply to Obama if you consider becoming, or nearly becoming, President of the US a valid "accomplishment".

    I have a better metaphor for Obama (or anyone from any disadvantaged minority group who thinks that becoming involved in electoral politics is a genuine way to change things for the better): The Master's tools will not demolish the Master's house.

    Obama will not save you.

    By Blogger shiva, at 4:15 PM  

  • Obama can really promise nothing more than change. Hey, it's all up from there!

    And you know what I'm thinking? I don't think of him as a black man or a lawyer or a representative or senator...I think of him as a TEACHER, first. A GOOD one. Although not mentioned in the fable, he's the one that shows the little ones how to make their way up the pot as they stand on his back.

    Okay, I'm a bit idealistic.

    My son's TEACHERS have loved him and made all the difference in his life beyond what we could give him. (The best have been two black men, I'm jus' sayin'...)

    Biblically, teachers are held to a higher standard. That would be nice for a change.

    By Anonymous Rose, at 8:23 PM  

  • We're not asking him to save us. We're just asking him to help us get this damn lid off.

    By Blogger Joeymom, at 9:52 PM  

  • Accusing a member of a minority group of “envy” because he doesn't care for the tactics of someone you consider a more successful (and more palatable, evidently) member of a minority group is highly offensive. As is using an analogy cultivated among the black community to declare what you think is best for the black community. As is suggesting that, because someone is a member of a minority group, they must harbor the political views you think are appropriate for that minority group. (As is, Rose, saying “I don’t think of him as a black man”.)


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:36 PM  

  • And for the record, I think what the person in question said was stupid too. But only for the reason that it’s unfair to say Obama’s wearing an "armor suit of ethnicity" when it’s the people looking at him that can’t seem to get over his blackness.

    Evonne again

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:45 PM  

  • Jeez Evonne, you certainly have a bug up your ass today. Go back and read my post again. There's nothing at all in it about what is best for the black community, or what political views anyone should hold, or who is more palatable (whatever that's supposed to mean).

    The post is about envy, its destructive effects on communities in general, and why the autistic community should avoid this sort of envy.

    You didn't read the rant I was talking about, so where the hell do you get off self-righteously yapping that my description of it is offensive? And what racial/ethnic group(s) are you assuming that I belong to, anyway? As I see it, you're the one who is being offensive by making such assumptions and then declaring that you have a right to tell me what I can and can't say, based on your assumptions about my ethnicity.

    By Blogger abfh, at 5:19 PM  

  • Your ethnicity is in fact irrelevant, and can remain ambiguous if you prefer. *Your* assumption of "envy" is where I take issue. This -- "declaring that you have a right to tell me what I can and can't say" -- is false, and I'm quite sure you know it is. Not sure how "yapping" or my ass is of any pertinence, but I'll keep those responses in mind for any future encounters.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:42 PM  

  • Evonne, I am not going to repost the entire listserv thread to convince you that I have a valid reason for believing that the person I quoted was envious. I have known him online for several years. Although I respect him as an intelligent and courageous person, he does have an unfortunate tendency toward envy.

    You don't have any idea who the guy is, and you didn't read the discussion I was quoting from, and you don't know the context. So you were way out of line in arrogantly presuming to lecture me that it was "highly offensive" to suggest that he might be envious.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:28 PM  

  • I don't understand why Evonne is playing the "race card", and take it the worng way, and I don't thank that you are accusing any member of a minority groups of “envy” of being successful. As a minority (I'm African-American and Autistic), We should takle these issues and that is related to us and help each other and working together, instend of putting eachother down,or envy eachother, no matter if we are successful or not. Second, I beleve that It is wrong to for someone wanted to vote someone because of their gender or ethic background. All we have to is to see what is on the inside of that person,and then, it is up to us to be decide who is the beast to became the president. And third, I beleve that we all shoud love eachother and stop looking on the outside apperance nor to judge in base on their race, gender, color, religion, sex, national origin marriage, education, finical, and veterain status, and the only way we judge is our carature. Diversity is the what America is all about, and sometimes we forget that we all cerated equal!!!!!! No wonder way the Four Fathers and MLK stressd the issues of equalty and diversity.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:55 PM  

  • Anonymous: Yes, that was the main point I was trying to make -- that people should work together in their communities. And I agree with you that voters should decide who is the best candidate based on the candidate's character, not on gender or race, and that we all should avoid making superficial judgments. Thanks for commenting!

    By Blogger abfh, at 3:23 PM  

  • The really sad part about this very realistic fable is that this is how our black children treat each other. Very intelligent youth will try to "dumb down" to gain acceptance or not be singled out by their peers. It is really sad that potential talent is being wasted. By the way Rose, I don't think you're idealistic at all. You obviously care about our children.

    I also see it in black women who maybe higher or lower on the economic ladder. Someone may not want what you have but hate the ideal that you have it. It is extremely difficult if the black woman has lighter skin and is considered attractive.

    By Anonymous Retired Stew, at 4:20 AM  

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