The Problem with the Bootstrap Mentality & Racial Colorblindness

         Our society often mistakenly looks towards surface level elements as the basis of their conclusions of a situation or object. This leaves out a great deal of information about the situation that plays a fundamental role in how it functions. This is essentially the basis of an incomplete way thinking, known as the the bootstrap mentality. This ideology argues that no matter the circumstances of one’s situation, through their own dedication, perseverance, and discipline, they can reach success.

         Yet, while the idea sounds inspiring for those in virtually any economic class, it fails to account for the very real influences that paralyze many from reaching their goals. This seemingly goes hand in hand with the colorblind racial ideology that practices perceiving and treating people equally by not acknowledging their race, (see).  While colorblindness and the bootstrap mentality have great intentions, they both ignore the the institutional oppression minorities still face to this day that cripple some from upward mobility. In mentioning institutional oppression, I am referring to  “the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group,” (see).  This is the bulk of the issue with the bootstrap mentality; it places the responsibility on the individual before consideration of the larger inescapable systems that limits the equity folks of color have in reaching greatness.

          Often times one’s privilege shields them from fully grasping the issues occurring outside their environment. As a result, this unawareness constantly perpetuates in the the falsities within the bootstrap mentality. Therefore, it would be beneficial for some to illustrate ways in which American institutions further marginalized people of color. While institutional and systematic oppression are present in a variety of American institutions, discussion of our education system is sufficient to highlight the ways in which youth of color are discriminated against. 

           The institution of education has long played a role in the cycles of poverty and imprisonment for youth of color. The disparities and harassment these youth encounter as they go to school make it increasingly more difficult to reach graduation. Some folks in society often look at minority students as “troublemakers,” “lazy,” “a distraction” and flat out accuse them for not caring about a education. However, there are a variety of root causes that explain why they behave the way they do. As someone who went to an inner city LAUSD school, I have witnessed first hand the ways in which the education system fails many students. One of the main contributing factors include some awful teachers who would verbally abuse their students and instill a culture of hopelessness. I still remember the time a teacher told my little sister who was 13 at the time, that she was going to “get pregnant and dropout.” Additionally, during my freshman year, another teacher told me not to even consider applying to universities like UCLA and USC because “people like me don’t get in.” While I never let their ignorant comments diminish my drive, it illustrates the constant struggle many minorities  students face on a daily basis as they attend school and try to work their way out of their low income communities.

            To have an authoritative figure like an educator tell students they are not smart enough to graduate high school, has an extremely powerful influence on weaker minded youth who may have low self esteem for other reasons. This is often the case for some students of color who live in economically disadvantaged communities. Our public schools rarely factor in the struggles that come with their community that make it difficult for one to put school as their main priority.  A night in some of these communities is greeted by sharp, high pitched police sirens, the thundering noise of helicopters, gang violence, police brutality, lack of access to healthy foods and poor air quality.

            Though, this is unfortunately swept under the rug when schools often punish these youth for their misbehavior that is often rooted in the issues they face in their community. The racial mistreatment of youth of color is more directly apparent in the administrative “zero tolerance laws that target them and put them on a path of juvenile delinquency and ultimately a life behind bars, (read article). This is also referred to as the “school to prison pipeline.” These “zero tolerance” policies within the public schools of the United States often harshly punish students immediately following misconduct. They don’t leave much room for students to learn from their mistakes but instead criminalize them even further. In addition, those laws disproportionately impact African American and Hispanic students as enormous numbers of them are sent to live their lives behind bars. How is anyone in this situation suppose to overcome these injustices, lace up their “boots” and work their way towards success? Instead, they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence on behalf of the institutions that have racially discriminated against them. Therefore, in critical examination of the institution of education, we can see how institutional racism does not allow everyone the equal opportunity to reach success as depicted in the “bootstrap mentality.”


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