I have always hated the idea that black people were our own worst enemy, even before I did the unlearning of imperialist thinking that made us believe that in the first place. The Crabs in a Barrel trope is one that can ring very true for interpersonal relationships but it falls short as systemic analysis tool in the framework many black people use when they are referencing this idea/ metaphor. Many people apply it to both and say that because they have issues within their interpersonal relationships with black people, that means that there is no racism and that our real issues are just with each other. Obviously this is reductive, misguided, uneducated, dismissive, and, above all else, UNTRUE.
Black people are not our own worst enemy. We never have been. We never could be. So, today I am revisiting a post I wrote in 2016 on Facebook where I unpacked the idea of "Crabs in a Barrel". Upon reviewing and sitting on it I found that the trope was actually very accurate as a descriptor of black people in America- specifically those of us that are the descendants of kidnapped Africans- but that it was not accurate for any of the reasons that we were taught.
"Crabs in a barrel is actually a perfect analogy for the black community but not for any of the reasons you think
1. The natural habitat of the crab is not a barrel. They were captured and forced to be there.
2. The crabs are disoriented and thus must take on new behaviors- some dysfunctional- for survival.
3. The crabs don't intend to bring each other down. They latch on to each other hoping to go over the edge as well. They don't realize the weight of them all is bringing the leader down until it's too late. They don't realize that distributing the weight evenly would be the best way to get everyone out
4. Crabs that do succeed in making it out of the barrel never come back to help- they only return if they're captured and forced there again.
So yea. It's a great analogy. Just not for any of the reasons you've been taught. The crabs aren't each other's worst enemy and neither are black people each other's worst enemy. The enemy is the fisherman and the barrel he put us in. The crabs are just misguided."
Everyone notes the behaviors of the crabs in that barrel. No one notes that they were forced to be there for the consumption of people with no concern for their health, safety, progression, or lives. Black people- it is time we break the barrel, and focus on the real enemies and threats to our person-hoods. Who are our fishermen?
Why do we view crabs in a barrel as one being pulled down instead of several desiring to be pulled up? Crabs are not highly intelligent creatures but we, as humans, are. We can answer these questions, but we are too focused on attacking and blaming each other for our circumstances when none of us had control over the barrel that we were placed in, the barrel we didn't belong in, the barrel we don't own. Our barrel is mental. Our fishermen are not. Resist the real enemies.