Shake Off Your Crab Bucket Mentality


There is a well known phenomenon with crabs. If you catch one, and put it in a bucket or barrel, it can easily escape and will. But once there are 2 or more crabs, you can throw that lid away…because no matter how close any one crab gets to escaping, its fellow prisoners will always do their Stockholm Syndrome-inspired duty and play no-nonsense warden, keeping your prisoner in the bucket for you. Today, I was thinking about this “crabs in a bucket” situation. Since I have never personally caught crabs myself, I began to ponder ways in which this whole thing could be one giant misunderstanding. I mean, it’s not like these little insect-like creatures have higher-level reasoning capabilities, right? Maybe they aren’t trying to keep their fellow prisoners captive along with them…MAYBE they are just trying to pull themselves UP, not thinking things through to the end. I even began conducting mini-experiments in my head of exactly how I could test this theory. I could try putting some type of net or something at the top of the barrel and see if the crabs try to latch on to it and pull themselves up. Or I could use a dummy crab attached to a cord, and when one of the other crabs latch on, I could keep pulling the dummy out, and see if the other crab rides to freedom. And then I found this video, and I knew I was playing myself.

crabYeaaaahhh. There’s not even really any barrier between the crabs and freedom. And the crab holding his buddy back? He’s not reaching up…nor is he moving a muscle, except for the ones being used to keep his new captive from actually escaping. Even when buddy appears to have lost all mojo and collapses, exhausted and defeated, the warden doesn’t loosen his grip for a second. Just wow. This behaviour looks so intentional, it couldn’t possibly be instinct. I thought in the animal kingdom, it was all about survival of the fittest. How in the world could this trait possibly increase fitness? I don’t see how ensuring that the whole lot of ya will never get away because you have an “all for one, one for all” mentality, combined with a “once we get caught, we should just sit here and wait for death to come take us…TOGETHER…and your wife and kids be damned” mentality, could in any way ensure survival of the species. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m somewhat confused as to how crabs are not on the endangered species list with this being a global behavior.

But, seeing this video, and doing some research, I really and truly understand why it is that Ninotchka Rosca coined the phrase. She says in her blog:

a Polish writer characterized his immigrant community to me as “crabs in a bucket” – which I transformed into the phrase “crab mentality” in an interview written by Cielo Buenaventura, which appeared in The Philippine News. Neither of us was prepared for the phrase’s instant popularity; it seems it was a reflection of a truth about the culture of Pinoys, whether born/raised here or over there.

Of course, prior to today, I actually thought the Crab Mentality phrase was coined to describe an unfortunate occurrence within the black community (although I was aware that, of course, it must exist in other cultures, too). Actually, it was coined to describe relations and behavior within the Phillippino community. And that was based on using the crabs in a bucket as a metaphor for the relations in immigrant Polish communities. Now, before we continue, for those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, let’s run through a quick definition, just so everyone is clear:

Crab Mentality:

The crabs could easily escape, but instead grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition, preventing any from escaping and ensuring their collective demise. In humans, it’s when members of a group will attempt to “pull down” (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, conspiracy or competitive feelings.

Definition from

Do you offer a helping hand? Only selectively? Never if it means putting yourself out there to vouch for a friend? Think about it

Well. That’s not me, you think, but boy do I know some people like that. Really? Are you sure? How many friends have you known who started up a business and you said “good job” and yet never sent any business their way…including your own? How many times have you been willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a complete stranger in the exact same line of business because you’ve secretly deemed them to be “actually trustworthy” over your friend/family member? How many opportunities have you seen advertised via facebook or twitter and let them roll by because it said “only serious applicants need apply” and you don’t take the people you know seriously enough?

I see this kind of thing far too often. And sadly, especially in the black community, the underlying factors I hear a little too frequently for comfort have to do with race. It’s bad enough to hear someone who is not black saying something along the lines of “ohhhh, it’s a black guy who runs that one? Yeah, probably safer to go with that nice Jewish company”. But when I hear the exact same thing from a black person, I’m flabbergasted. Seriously? Sight unseen, with absolutely no information, you’d be willing to write off the black company as less reliable, trustworthy, and efficient simply because they are black-owned and operated? When did a lack of those qualities become synonymous with blackness? Sadly, though, if you are someone who has black hair, you know we won’t turn to anybody but another black person for our hair cutting and styling needs. Sooooo basically, with the exception of hair, if the company is black, go with any other company that’s available? Any company run by anyone other than black people is worth a shot? What kind of tomfoolery is that?


And yet, we’ll scream “racism” to the high heavens and back, and have everyone on our sides, if we are passed up for that job promotion, and the person who ends up getting it is less qualified, has less tenure, and a lower caliber of job performance, but happens to be white. And we’d more than likely be right. But how can we not see that what we do when hiring private companies, and avoid the black one, is just as discriminatory, and even more wrong? Because if anything, if anyone in the world should know that the colour of our skin is no indication of the quality of our work, nor the level of our skill and professionalism, it should be another black person who faces the exact same discriminatory thoughts from employers on a daily basis and has to work twice as hard to get half as far, just like the rest of us. How can you demand equality from any other race or institution, how can you expect to be treated fairly regardless of the colour of your skin, if you aren’t willing to do the same when the stakes are personal to you?

Sooooooo, basically what it is, in a nutshell, is that you want to be free of the bucket. And you don’t give a damn who else is stuck in it, or how hard they are working, just as you did, to get the hell out of it. Ok. Or, you’re working your way out of the bucket, and you can’t afford to risk your own success and happiness by reaching a hand down and helping another crab reach up to your level. Fine. Or, you’re down at the bottom of the bucket, and you’re too damn lazy to try and work your way out of it, at least not in any way that involves effort. So, what you want to do instead is to drag everyone back down to your level and then maybe you can take teensy tiny baby steps up all their backs, til you see the top of the bucket. Because you’re happy with your 9-5 secretary job, your silly friend with his silly dreams of owning his own business is just trippin’, so why try and help him out when you can just put his silly ass down behind his back whenever you get the chance, giving him bad word-of-mouth referrals before he even gets the chance to break ground? So when he fails, which he will with friends like you, then you can say I told you so, get him set up flipping burgers for life, and at least you won’t be alone in your misery. Hmmm.


Well that works out perfectly for you, doesn’t it? Cause now you still have that free babysitter on the weekends, and you can be free to go out and find the man of your dreams. You’ve got someone who ain’t doin’ shit themselves, so they’re now free to help you out, so you can make the most of your mediocre life, maybe even achieving HIGH mediocrity levels…wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Or, you’re at the top now. You finally got that promotion/record deal/business boom, etc. So you say goodbye to the old “losers” in your life that are nobody’s now, even though if it wasn’t for them and all their love and support and help, you never would have gotten to where you are. But you don’t need them anymore, so they are now a liability. And why hire one of them to continue doing the job they’ve been doing for you for 15 years now when you can get someone who is qualified? Right.

I just don’t get it. People are not islands, and they don’t do anything alone. You will never succeed alone. The definition of success necessarily involves other people to some extent, especially when we’re talking about monetary success. Because, after all, if you were an island all to yourself, where exactly would that income come from? The people who pay you, either for your services or who pay your salary? Yeah. I thought so.

What we need to do is drop this “me, me, me” bullshit. And we need to stop buying into this media-driven garbage that all black people are anything. Or all jewish, white, asian, etc. people are X. If you want people to stop overgeneralizing about you and your race and what you are capable of, you must be willing to do the same.

But lets get one thing straight here. I’m pretty sure that when you ask a South Asian person, or a White person, or an East Asian person, if given the chance to give their business to one of two young, new businesses, one that was within-race-owned and one that was not, which would they choose, they’d say within-race, hands down. They want to give a hand up to the younger generations within their culture. Black people need to start doing the same.

each one teach one
20+ years and I’ve still got the T-Shirt. The message, and it’s meaning to me, were far too important to ever let go of. Here’s to another 20+

I had a T-Shirt when I was a little girl, and it said “Each One Teach One, Lifting As We Rise”. The message still gives me chills to this day, though at 8 I’m not sure how deeply I possibly could have understood that message. But even then it was deep and profound to me.

As a community, we need to start practicing what we preach. Or start preaching what we practice. But not a combination of both. How foolish do we seem when we expect people to live a way we never would, and expect people to do away with stereotypes we actually legitimize by making our decisions based on them?

There are some words of wisdom as you start off this week. Now tell me: how has the crab mentality affected you? Or has it not? Or do you think that, while I HAVE described some of your actions here, it has NOTHING to do with crab mentality? Inquiring minds wanna know, y’all, so pitch in your two cents!

This was the part of the message in my childhood I didn’t quite understand. And yet I somehow still understood it as inherently true




6 thoughts on “Shake Off Your Crab Bucket Mentality

  1. All right Ruby we are now back in simpatico! Because you are right I know those ones that I called a crab and kicked out of my life one I see what they are trying to do to my life, tear it down. And you are all right all around. Because I have avoided giving my business to a black person before to give it to some other race. I got a second and third opinion on my cervix cyst being cancer or not because my doctor was a black man. The second opinion was a black woman. The third opinion was a white man, and I’m asking myself afraid of the answer if I was only conforted by the third negative opinion because a white man told me it was negative. That is two part, holding down and not trusting my race and my gender. I have to work on that and myself to see why I feel like that in these things. I don’t try to really


    1. @That chick

      Based on everything I’ve learned in my psych studies, it probably is an automatic thing, to sine extent, based on conditioning you’ve had from your social learning experiences and rearing from your parents, your peers, and the school system. I’m actually going to go deeper into the psychology of it all soon so stay tuned!

      In the meantime, be comforted with the fact that just because it’s there doesn’t mean you can’t break it.. It just takes recognizing what you’re doing and then making a conscious effort to break down your reasoning process next time, and then adjusting your attitude and perception so you can react differently in that moment.

      Thanks for your reply!


  2. hahahahahahashh!!! the crabs! OMG the crabs! need more videos of ms lohans newest std!!! hahahahahash yeah really though!

    I totally put dumb white girls down because some of them are just pleading to be knocked off of their silver pedestals!!!

    does that make me a crab by your definition? maybe. but maybe us untroubled/ carefree /the only true challenge to ourselves is us /races need some more crabby behavior so that other races aren’t always blocked from moving up because the higher up white man is so busy helping out his own he’s not being fair or judicious in his decision.

    close up of lohans crotch has gaga has has has had!!!!!!!!!!!!


    1. @Chris

      I think if you are selectively putting down individuals, or rejecting an individual, based on their merits and their personal decisions and actions, and not on some generalized concept that “all white girls are stupid” then it’s not really being a crab, it’s using common sense…


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