Fatality of the Bootstrap Mentality

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” This phrase is commonly heard in conversations when people are talking about how they have overcome some type of struggle in the past, or how other persons who are struggling should adapt that same mentality. As Dr. Alexander mentioned in her article, the difference between a young American adapting this bootstrap mentality versus a young Nigerian woman doing the same, their outcomes look vastly different. For the American, this mentality may lead to reaping the fruits of hard work and perseverance. However, for young women like Najia, it means taking on lethal measures – leaving home to endure a life threatening journey – to reap the fruits of Europe (that is assuming her fruit is still there to be picked.) Do you now see how a classic idiom such as this cannot just be thrown at every and any situation? The stories of ‘rags to riches’ are most definitely inspiring, but the stories of life endangering migrations deserve a space in this arena. We have to acknowledge these stories because they show you that this idiom isn’t a one size fits all model. You cannot apply the “no matter where you come from, no matter your circumstances, you can have a better life if YOU work hard enough” mentality to these people who see borders as jail cells. Because sadly, work for these people doesn’t mean a 9-5 in a small cubicle or cheap labor job. Work for them means not getting caught, not giving up, not allowing the mental trauma of rape and abuse hinder their journey. And until we realize the disparity in these different paths, we will not understand how crippled these migrants and refugees are in their countries. We will not understand how imaginary lines seen on a map can determine a person’s fate. These stories are necessary to break down the ignorance that so easily enfolds the society that tells us – to get anywhere in life, we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. For many, the very action of ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstrap’ is fatal.