Crabs In A Barrel

Part of the Straight Up! No Chaser! Commentary Series By:​ Tonya Crew, JD

My father had a theory about Black folks. Part of that theory was the crabs in the barrel story. But he added, there are four kinds of black people: the opportunists, the idealists, the beaters, and the invisibles. He never used these terms; he was a simple man and street smart far beyond his fifth-grade education, but he lacked the requisite vocabulary.

The opportunists are well-educated, whether street or formal. They are constantly cruising for that break, looking to make things happen for themselves.  They are usually not very creative, and tend to acquire their brilliance from others, with or without their permission.

Next is the idealist. This is usually a well-educated or spiritually tuned individual, who understands the concepts of sharing, empathy, and compassion. They have a strong sense of right and wrong – they will stand up, but usually alone. They take responsibility until life wears them down and they want no more of it.

Then there are the beaters, who are exactly what the name represents. They have no desire or pride and do not care from where their bounty comes, just so it does. They are the schemers, plotters, planners, and con (wo)men). And finally, there are the invisibles. They see everything but they know nothing – they don’t stand up or sit down. They wish to exist just under the radar. They don’t support or protest anything. They are resigned to get through like a soldier trapped behind enemy lines, forced to employ stealth to survive. None of these models precludes any of these folks from running a successful business. I am sure you can match a business with each of these proposed “types.” Even the invisibles run stores, beauty salons, etc. They just don’t want anything to do with anyone or anything else, like chambers, organizations, or charities. Part of the rationale behind this thinking is the age-old theory of crabs in a barrel.

But without regard for the history, let’s speak of the future. Not surprisingly, minority small businesses were more disproportionately impacted at the onset of the recession than their majority counterparts. Black businesses don’t benefit from the loyalty of ethnic consumerism like some groups.

There are two important things to note here. First – should the economy get worse, small business may be forced to consider collaborations and services packaging to survive. There are already bartering systems being instituted across the country. But one would have a really difficult time exercising any type of Black collaborative because of “haters” (you know who you are). There are many opportunities which could be quite lucrative for Blacks if they could sit down to the table, agree to dislike each other (over personal unrelated minutia) but agree to work together for the prosperity of all involved.

And second – the denial of credit to minorities has switched from detriment to benefit. Blacks were forced to use cash, and so cash is how they deal. The amount of cash Black Americans inject into the US market annually is staggering. However, the amount that stays in the community is not and our community has been singing this song for over forty years. Our history of fighting and backstabbing has to be addressed and rectified. Other ethnic groups are much more successful at setting aside their differences in the name of profit. This is a lesson we are hard-pressed to learn. Unfortunately, those of us capable of promoting change are more “invisibles” than “idealists.”

So where do we start? Acknowledge the problem, that’s the first step. Next, we can start small and build collaborative work spaces with others. Opportunity happens where the right people are sitting around the table. And don’t forget, the crab that is trying to escape the barrel is in the same situation as the one pulling him back into it. They are all headed for the pot.

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