Pull up your own Bootstraps!!!

Pulled up bootstraps:  The field is level...
Pulled up bootstraps: These boots are made for walking (and opportunities) and they’ll walk all over you…

“Why can’t  they pull  up  their own bootstraps? I did it, why can’t they?   They skirt accountability and  their ‘ghetto behavior’  doesn’t help!”

Many are convinced this is the case.  They boldly declare cultural differences — such as,  social class, ethnicity and gender — do not limit opportunities.   Disadvantaged groups are deservedly  stuck in poverty  because of laziness and attitude.

But can there be alternative explanations?  Explanations that do  not skirt accountability and blame “ghetto behavior”  for the plight of those struggling to survive in America.

Here are three alternative explanations (there are many more).   These alternative explanations are grounded in research and I included a partial reblog of a well-written  article  from the World Health Organization (WHO) on health determinants.  (A link and a brief snippet of article follows)

No bootstraps to pull up; Can't go much farther on rugged terrain in these...
No bootstraps to pull up; Can’t go much farther on rugged terrain in these…
  • Poor environmental conditions profoundly impact health by creating unhealthy social, physical and emotional environments; as well as producing self-imposed social isolation and societal-imposed social isolation.    People living in desolate, impoverished and unhealthy environments  are  often blinded by the darkness of their world.  They can’t see, making it extremely challenging to find boots, let alone pull them up.
  • Media coverage reinforcing negative stereotypes stigmatize  disadvantaged and targeted ethnic communities and their members.    Positive media coverage of disadvantaged groups are sparse with very few societal reminders that they are  main characters in this movie called “life.” Disadvantaged or unprivileged groups are given few opportunities to break the cycle of poverty but many opportunities to stay where they are.  The media plays an important role in keeping the status quo.
  • Access, equity and justice are unfairly meted out to disadvantaged groups and targeted ethnic groups.    Instead they are treated like children without brains.    Decisions are made about their best interest without their input.   Unintentionally  giving these communities,  boots filled with gaping holes without strings — impossible to pull one’s own boot straps up.

Have poor people and other ethnic groups stopped pulling themselves up by the bootstraps?  No, they are walking bare-feet.



Which baby is likely to die first?   It’s a shame!  We can make such predictions based on the color of one’s skin!   We can also make those predictions based on social class!   We can predict but cannot prevent!

The following was reblogged from World Health Organization’s  Health Impact Assessment  http://www.who.int/hia/evidence/doh/en/

The determinants of health


Many factors combine together to affect the health of individuals and communities. Whether people are healthy or not, is determined by their circumstances and environment. To a large extent, factors such as where we live, the state of our environment, genetics, our income and education level, and our relationships with friends and family all have considerable impacts on health, whereas the more commonly considered factors such as access and use of health care services often have less of an impact.

The determinants of health include:

  • the social and economic      environment,
  • the physical environment, and
  • the person’s individual      characteristics and behaviours.

The context of people’s lives determine their health, and so blaming people for having poor health or crediting them for good health is inappropriate. Individuals are unlikely to be able to directly control many of the determinants of health. These determinants—or things that make people healthy or not—include the above factors, and many others:

  • Income      and social status – higher income and social status are linked to better      health. The greater the gap between the richest and poorest people, the      greater the differences in health.
  • Education      – low education levels are linked with poor health, more stress and lower      self-confidence.
  • Physical      environment – safe water and clean air, healthy workplaces, safe houses,      communities and roads all contribute to good health. Employment and      working conditions – people in employment are healthier, particularly      those who have more control over their working conditions
  • Social      support networks – greater support from families, friends and communities      is linked to better health. Culture – customs and traditions, and the      beliefs of the family and community all affect health.
  • Genetics      – inheritance plays a part in determining lifespan, healthiness and the      likelihood of developing certain illnesses. Personal behaviour and coping      skills – balanced eating,      keeping active, smoking, drinking, and how we deal with life’s stresses      and challenges all affect health.
  • Health services – access and use      of services that prevent and treat disease influences health
  • Gender – Men and women suffer from      different types of diseases at different ages.

More information:


An excellent video on the importance of Early Childhood Education as well as innovative approaches to lifelong health. http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/multimedia/videos/

Other Posts:

The Forgotten Black Experience, not Trending…What is it?

White Privilege


Author: Angela Grant

Angela Grant is a medical doctor. For 22 years, she practiced emergency medicine and internal medicine. She studied for one year at Harvard T. H Chan School Of Public Health. She writes about culture, race, and health.

19 thoughts on “Pull up your own Bootstraps!!!

  1. “Decisions are made about their best interest without their input…” The biggest political injustice there in America and the Western world. The Left pretends to be the mouthpiece of the working poor, but really they are the mouthpiece for the middle class and upper class workers, because they represent themselves. The left has not let the poor represent themselves within the party. The politics of poverty can be easily fixed. My issue number 1: The politics of poverty. The worst thing the western world can do to contribute to poverty is not allow the poor to speak for themselves. So we throw food stamps, welfare benefits and other social programs at the problem without providing a way out from under the it… Great article…

  2. Hi Leon,
    Thank you for your comments. You picked up on a pet peeve of mine…discounting or de-valuing the resources of the working poor.

    These communities have been through hell and back; and survived! We can learn a lot abot resilience and develop less expensive and more effective solutions to help them by involving them in the process. They are treasure troves of information( mavens) but no one asks their input. These people will form the backbone of any successful long-term infrastructure; increase the likelihood of acceptance and success. Why do we not involve them at the start?
    So, Leon, I agree wholeheartedly that is one of America’s greatest injustices perpetuating the cycle and culture of poverty… And I could go on and on and on. 🙂

    BTW, I am glad you enjoyed the article.



    1. Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your comment.

      I think you only read the title and not the story. Let me know if you still feel the same after reading the story.

  3. I am white and poverty is proverty- no matter what color. I too had to pull myself out of pro retry and other members of my family.
    1. Blinder- yes, sometimes you really are so use to hearing you are poor then you become blind to what is around you
    2. You have to make tough decisions in your life to get food on the table. Example: no children – you can not afford till you have work; no video games; no special clothing; no gangs and music that is negative.
    3. Read books not be computer but by books. Back to basics; it is cheaper.
    4. Today, you have several therapy resources for shame, Insecurity and other negatives from people.
    5. Respect your parents but they also may not know that you have college IQ, so go to a technical school, college, etc. and take the test for your type of job placement. Mine was engineer, hair dresser and computer analyst.
    I tried hair dresser first but it did not work: It took me 2 part-time jobs and full- time work to get me thru 10 years of night school.
    I had to stay focused. No husband – no children til I finished. Rewards came after college in that area.
    I have never had idols or heros that I opcessed to look are act like them.

    6. It is harder for women or we would have had a woman President by now like other countries.

    7. Learn other cultures from all over the world to understand them so you can make you decision .

    8. Do use credit cards that you can not pay. Live on what you have even if you have to ask a friend for dinner so you can make it thru the next new day at work and school.

    9. Never – never cheat on test!!!! You will fail in the work place of your dreams.

    10. Lastly, you may be in proverty but there is no where to go but up and YOU have to make it happen.

    No, WHO can fix this problem – money has be throw around enough. Ethics and love for others and learn the 10 Commandants; they are universal truths and focus on positive media advertisements and movies and songs!

    Quit having the children in the house telling their parents what to do or Dad’s looking dump. Poor family’s parents can participate; my mother God bless her ( no front teeth); could not go to PTA meetings or my school activity that she felt I needed and saved for it but she spent time with me planting; painting the house together; laying down vynil floors. Which taught me love and at least the value of a clean home even if you are in proverty!
    Boy, I can add more to those boot straps I have. Thank you! Good article

    1. Hi Deborah,

      I appreciate your comments — So many thoughts and so much wisdom. Thank you.

      I agree focusing is extremely important. Do you think that can be taught?

      You know we each have talents; some of us are focused while others have talents in other areas. Those talents are acquired. And as you astutely pointed out there are no role models or mentors pushing poor children in “acceptable paths to success.” They become what they see (or acquire).

      I applaud your resilience in pulling yourself up…it can’t be easy when working against the wind, the currents and other counteracting forces.

      Very thoughtful comments and good advice, thank you.


    2. Thanks Deborah. I think it makes a lot of sense and is quite encouraging.Sure there is no where to go but up and i personally have to make that happen.

  4. Hi Angela
    thanks for article, it is a matter of changing behavior which takes times to see changes. I think changing of behavior is one of the most challenge full area in the community.
    to change the behaviors and make people change attitude, behaviors, or practices, it is not easy but it is not impossible.
    I think community participation is very successful area , it will make people to have input and believe in themselves so they will adapt new changes in behaviors and attitude.
    also we need to learn more about the cultures, attitudes of these subgroups in the community to facilitate change.
    finally in some countries poverty affected the way the people live and practices, also lack of access to health services and resources challenging to some people

    1. Hi Fadiah,

      Thank you for bringing up a very important point.

      Changing behavior is key AND it should come from all sides. Change in behavior is a not one-sided process– involving ONLY disadvantaged groups, who are usually not even at the table to help start that process.

      For disadvantaged groups, it is challenging to change behavior when you are not invited to sit at the table and everyone thinks you who should adapt. But you have adapted to your environment, your survival (in harsh environments) is proof.

      Society is not respectful of all groups! I believe longstanding change will occur when societal norms, values, beliefs and attitudes are inclusive of all groups and people.

      Very idealistic but if we come close, wouldn’t that be nice?


  5. So I have to be honest. I am white and I struggle to know how to tangibly help. The best and most tangible way I have found, in my area (which is still largely ethnically and religiously homogeneous) is to foster children…but as I attend the classes, I realize I might be just adding to the problem. I am hearing stories of white foster moms being heckled by others for helping children (which I am still flummoxed by). I don’t use the “don’t know what to do” as an excuse…I REALLY want to make a difference in my world…am open to ideas!

  6. Hi FreeRangeCow,

    I appreciate your comments because it takes us from theory to action. What can you do? It always depends on your unique context. With that said, we all can do our part in effecting change and eliminating poverty, racism and other forms of discrimination.

    When I decided I wanted to make a positive impact in this world, the first thing I did was to reflect on my own motives by answering the following:
    Why do I want to make a difference?
    What kind of difference do I want to make?
    How can I realistically do that considering my personal “context”?

    Just the thought process alone will fill your mind with ideas. One advice is to start small, increasing the odds of success. The power of that first success bears the fruits for other successes.

    Your blog is making a difference.

    You make a difference every day you refuse to accept the rhetoric of the media and do your own research by getting to know and understand other ethnic groups. We live in a culturally rich world

    Your question made a difference! You are no longer ignoring the elephants in the room.

    Great question, thank you!


  7. Hi Angela,

    First of all, I loved your piece of art.
    When I first read this article, I was bitter because I felt betrayed, but then I realised its the attitude I have grown to have_ “those who have had their way will always pick on those who have not.” At times we feel that some people will forever have better treatment than others, yet it is not true. And you have clearly brought this out, everyone has an opportunity to
    pull up their bootstraps((: Thank you for this, and I am waiting for many more.

    1. Hi Kasabiliti,

      Thank you for the compliment on the article and “art.”

      Your comments gave me joy: Hearing your initial bitterness and sense of betrayal did not prevent you from listening and appreciating my article was the ultiimate compliment. I even shared it with my youngest.

      There are opportunities all around, but we need to be prepared (have the skills) and not let the darkness prevent us from seeing those rays of hope. Always easier said than done!

      Why did you feel betrayed? Many do not understand.

      Glad to have you on board.

  8. I think this is very important. I am a sociologist by training and always think there is too little discussion of the social control aspects of public health if we don’t listen, empathize and learning from those we are “helping.” I think there can be a real moralism. I worked in practice for many years and I recall very few times when consumers were REALLY involved as opposed to advocacy professionals. I remember one place I worked where most people worked on child obesity, but no one except me and the admin assts ever talked to the people in the neighborhood, most of whom were poor, overweight, smoked etc. but were good parents in the face of a lot of challenges. I think public health needs more heart.

    1. Ann,

      You hit the nail on the head. “…public health needs more heart.” I have noted the same.

      There is a problem when advocacy professionals are the voices of the community. Often they don’t even live near the community. I went to one community meeting where community members didn’t know they even had a community advocate (they never met), who was speaking on their behalf. Interestingly, that person sat on the opposite end of the room, far away from the community.

      How can a person truly advocate?

      These are excellent comments.

  9. Good job on this article. I never thought about the health and psychological aspects of poverty in context to fighting against the fallacious “bootstraps” argument. Those angles were something that can easily strengthen that argument. Especially here in America, the majority got a head start even going back to the 17th century with the Homestead Act. Fast forward to the 20th century, you had the GI Bill which gave so many tangibles to White soldiers and their families with jobs, education, and an ability to flee to the suburbs during the genesis of what would be the Baby Boomer generation while Black people got nothing or in some cases getting lynched in uniform. If those benefits happened in the same circumstances to Black people and any POC group in general, people would cry and call it “socialism”.

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