Crabs or The Barrel: Pulling Each Other Down

by Zettler Clay

Crabs in a BarrelDear advanced animals humans,

Time after time, I keep being referenced in your discord. Well, enough.

I come from a long line of crustaceans. There are over 6,000 species of us, give or take. Marine water, freshwater, land, we have shown an amazing tendency to adapt.

Our origin is somewhat of a mystery, our presence is an evolutionary marvel. We’re viewed as sacred emblems in many cultures, including the zodiac Cancer (latin for crab) which is when the sun is at its peak. But we’re not always viewed so favorably.

Y’all like to consume us. Why? Who knows. It’s not enough to have plants, fruit or even four-legged land animals. We have to be a staple of your sustenance, too. Whatever. Life feeds on life, so I ain’t trippin on that.

What I do take offense at is a particular mischaracterization of our existence. Recently, a character from the movie Best Man called us out, comparing Black people to us. This is common practice, especially when minorities are concerned:

“We (Black people) have a crab mentality where we still pull each other down because of choices that we make.”

He said some other stuff about marrying an Asian woman and Black women, but all I heard was “crab mentality.”

What’s a crab mentality? As stated earlier, we’re aquatic and terrestrial creatures. Buckets? Nah. We’re placed there because of your desire to consume us, not to mention an unnatural pursuit of profit.

We don’t belong in crates. When you take an organism out of its natural habitat, strange things happen. I imagine the same is true with you, especially when forced to assimilate into a dominant culture.

The reorientation of your identity is tied to the ideals of that dominant culture, leading to a sort of cultural amnesia. Envy is a by-product of a lack of identity. If one knows who he or she is, then what is there to covet?

It may look like we’re fighting each other, but maybe our grasping and pulling is a misguided attempt of keeping close. Like all multi-cellular creatures, we view our survival collectively. It can work both ways, either we rise or we stay down…together.

Similar to you, we know how it feels to be uprooted and having to adjust to newer constrained environs. Whether it’s in a boiler or land, jealousy (yes, animals get jealous) is the offspring of a group seeking to recover lost identity.

When true knowledge of origin eludes an organism, that organism can be easily controlled by their “captors” in a zero-sum, king-of-the-hill game.

All of us don’t have the power to escape the clutches of your cleverness and hunting gadgets. You, on the other hand, have all the resources you need, yet finger-pointing, indolence and general disenfranchisement serve as barriers to collective progress. There isn’t a lid on your “barrel” either, except the ones you place on yourselves.

Situations tend to look rosier from the outside, so take that with a couple of salt shakers. However, we face the same existential crisis. So please, let’s cut the “crab in a bucket” meme and recognize the situation for what it is: We don’t know how to act in a bucket because we’re not meant for a bucket.

Get rid of it and, well, I’m not writing this letter.

Guess we’re more alike in that regard than we realize. Please avoid seafood for a while.


One Emancipated Crab

  • Sasha

    But I’m from Maryland, all I know is crabs, beer and football Mr. Clay :(

    On a serious note though, I truly appreciate this piece. I briefly glanced the TH article but I didn’t watch the video. Nonetheless, from the article and comments I gleaned that he likened people being “upset” with his dating choices/ preferences as having a crab mentality and was genuinely confused. A) I don’t recollect anyone EVER commenting on his dating choices/ preferences but instead about the comments his ex-wife made and B) the comparison does not make any sense at all, unless he meant that dating a non-Black woman/ person was escaping the “barrel” and people were trying to pull him back and if that’s the case, why does it matter what others or anyone would think about his romantic life? He is a strange man, strikes me as one of those people who says everything they think.

  • Chika

    I guess this article was kind of clever, but we already addressed Terrance Howard’s foolishness and judging by the comments, I think most people expressed their annoyance and moved on. Please, let’s not devote anymore energy to this hooligan.

  • Clutch

    Thanks for your comment! We are hoping this article will entice conversation + dialogue about Black people and the use of the phrase “Crabs in a Barrel” and NOT Terrance Howard.

    Thanks! Also – if you ever have a topic you want us to discuss – please email us @ [email protected]

  • Anon

    I’m sure Clay isn’t only addressing TH, but other people who always wants to reference the “crabs in a barrel” sentiment.

    Also, from looking at Clutch’s masthead…I don’t see a “Chika” as an editor…so they’re free to write abt whatever they feel fit.

    Do you go to CNN’s website & leave comments like, “hey…you’ve already wrote politics today…so stop”?

    Just wondering.

  • Chika

    Will do. I love Clutch!

  • Chika

    Whoa…there’s no need to be harsh. I was just giving my opinion. Now you gave your opinion. That’s what comment sections are for…giving opinions. Have a nice day.

  • Clutch

    Thanks Chika! We LOVE you too! :) and thanks again for your comment!

  • AnnT

    The “Crabs in a Barrel” phrase (I always said crabs in a bucket, is that a regional thing?) gets misappropriated the same way a Black person calls another Black person an “Uncle Tom.”

    Ninety percent of the time when someone utters that phrase, I instantly wonder if the person knows the words that are coming out of their mouth.

  • Keshia

    Every racial group has a crab in the barrel mentality, but black people like always are more vocal with airing this out.

    Terrence Howard is a insecure black man, so of course like many of them do they blame their faults on black women, nothing new.

  • Whatever

    This piece was great!

  • J. Gail (@Author_JGail)

    This is a very well- written article. The sooner we (black people and all people for that matter) stop pointing fingers and accept full responsibility for our own lives the better. Some of us are constantly looking for someone else to blame. No one can pull you back if you’re seriously intent on winning.

  • GeekMommaRants

    There can be no overdoing the personal responsibility. Everyone must stand accountable for their own decisions, and actions. This is maturity.

  • Gina

    ,,,,I know this isn’t what the article was about.

    But that first picture of the crab made me hungry as hell.

  • The Comment

    “It may look like we’re fighting each other, but maybe our grasping and pulling is a misguided attempt of keeping close.”

    First I’d like to say that today’s article are really on point. I hope Clutches read the women in military article. So that when you do see a sistah in need you’ll help her w/no ?’s asked.

    Second…maybe I feel this way at times cause I was taught at a young age that black people stick together. When I was young and green I interpreted that as that ALL BLACK PEOPLE….which is a delusion ON MY PART. Not the fault of the perpetrators.

    We assume that just because someone has dark skin or identify as AA, speaks the dialog and such…that’s makes them black. But it doesn’t.

    Just like we say any man can make a baby but not every man is a father. I feel the same way about being black. Just because you are born black doesn’t mean you represent the legacy, dedication and hard work. From the inception of this earth…to this present day…everyone has benefited from how Africans thought. From math, food, culture, art on down the list to fighting for civil rights…the whole world has benefited from Africans efforts to better humanity.

    In my thinking…real black people are revolutionaries. Inventors and thinkers. From the granny that lives in the front of your parents living room to Neil deGrasse Tyson; who is our ancient ancestors in all their genius incarnate…..real black people progress. Those who don’t——are the crabs.

  • KemaVA

    I love it!

  • Cocochanel31


  • Cocochanel31

    Where is said Terrance Howard article?

  • chnyere

    The point of the crab phrase is to highlight the fact that when crabs r put in a bucket ( for whatever reason), when they try to get out they can’t because they keep pulling each other down; they think that pulling the other crab down will help them get out but it doesn’t. And blk ppl r the same way; when another one of us is trying to excess (or excelling), others pull them down with words or actions, we believe if one person excels we will not have the opportunity. This is a horrible and stupid belief that is prevalent in the black community and it needs to be FACED and dealt with.

    “When you take an organism out of its natural habitat, strange things happen”

    We can’t keep blaming our issues on what others did ( or others in general), it is high time start taking responsibility for our selves. Its seems as if there is always an excuse and excuses get you no where.

  • lexdiamonz

    *hand clap* the SAME thing ALL the time when the brothers fall off it is the black woman’s fault, not because dude acts THE SAME IN EVERY ROLE!! oh no sistas don’t like him because he married an Asian women 0_o ….umm I thought his wife and children’s mother was white…Tyrese’s album flops… oh it is not because his voice now sounds like used sandpaper,oh no its sistas too independent so we don’t buy baby making music no more and he so hurt he has to get with REV RUN *side-eye* to write a book on what is wrong with us…… Steve Harvey gets on national TV to tell the sisters to tone it down think like a man to GET AND KEEP another MAN ….REALLY …if a man wants to be with someone who acts/looks like a woman but thinks like a man Rupaul has a stable FULL of them..SORRY so *off topic* but I am sick and tired of brothers SICK AND TIRED excuses for their “issues”…Terrance Howard surely looks like he has had his fair share of “crabs” and I DOUBT they were in a barrel….(*twirls* out this post singing gone with the wind fabulous lol)

  • Clutch
  • AJW

    I’m not trying to be disrespectful to you. Not at all but people like yourself whom like to use this phrase on other blacks alot tend to come of as paranoid to me. How can every black person in the world be against you or anyone else for that matter. You can’t bully people into being your cheerleaders. Instead, if you are as great a person as I’m sure you are, you would let that light shine on its own. We all have to be accountable for our own actions and stop demonizing our people for not applauding everytime you do something you think deserves accolades. That’s all I’m saying. We’re not monkeys or crabs. We’re people with feelings and we should have the right to support (or not) what and who we want to.

  • binks

    Boom! Very well stated!

  • P

    Yes to this article!! Very well written! Time has been passed to stop saying that phrase. Personally, I’ve have never taken kindly to the concept of “Crabs in a Barrel”. It is stated within a sense to apply to a race of people and not to an individual. When it comes to having a crab mentality, this can apply to anyone who doesn’t mean you well.

    Not only that, I think personally when a person speaks of others having a “crab mentality” – I consider the chosen statement as a glimpse into your mentality. It’s similar to one of those situations if a person talks about another person’s business, next they will discuss yours. Out of all the things you could start a conversation about, that is what he or she has chosen? People do exist that will pull others down – I guess I just can’t entertain the ones that discuss it (really it’s another form of negativity).

    That is why I love this article. It’s long overdue to walk and think in another direction. Let it go.

  • P

    You can’t bully people into being your cheerleaders — this statement is a classic. too funny! #LoveIt

  • chnyere

    no body said we were crabs, like crabs, ok. And I did not say all blk ppl, but alot of blk ppl put in the extra effort to pull others down. And it is true that u r responsible for your own self but the negativity and hate make it so much harder to be successful;for some blks they strive to put down others because they think it is the only way to succeed. This is especially an issue when you are young, u r shaped alot by your surrounding. If the negative actions of your ppl r not affecting u, good for u continue to ur success, but that is noth the case for some ppl.

    And it we are responsible for our selves, y is the bucket being blamed?

  • chnyere

    “We’re people with feelings and we should have the right to support (or not) what and who we want to.”

    The ppl u chose to not support (or tear down) have feelings as well, I am sure ppl r aware of that. And u don’t have to be a cheerleader just shut up and mind ur own business.

    (sorry bout the rant)

  • Val

    I get the point of the article, not disputing it or criticizing it. But, I have what might be a fun fact about crabs in a barrel.

    I heard that crabs in a barrel aren’t really trying to pull each other down, they are actually building a ladder by holding on to each other. And, when they’ve created the ladder then begin to crawl up the ladder and out of the barrel.

  • Anon

    I’ll bite. This is not about bullying people into being your cheerleaders, it is ACTIVELY targeting other black people… while being too dayum scared to EVER pull that ish with white people. Take workplaces. There is usually one black woman who knows every.single.detail about other black co-workers. She’ll know your bathroom break schedule. What kind of food you bring for lunch. Ask questions about where you get your clothes. Google you, your neighborhood, and try to find out about your marriage/relationships/dating life. Quick to start rumors, or play up any rumors… but you will never catch this same chick doing anything of the kind with white people.

    If you’re younger, prettier than said woman, or she perceives you as getting any kind of light-skinned privilege the gloves are off! Basically, it is a reaction from being unfairly treated and the social (or employment) repercussions are too high to attack other groups, so they go after other black women. THAT is crabs in a barrel, messiness, etc… . It is okay for those types to see other folks getting theirs, but when it is someone who looks like them what THEY don’t have (or see getting to have) is too close to home.

  • I got sense!

    Well dayum.

  • I got sense!

    “Envy is a by-product of a lack of identity. If one knows who he or she is, then what is there to covet?”

    This is the fundamental issue with many African Americans whose forefathers “came” here before the Civil War. Even Chris Rock said it on that show about finding your ancestors (African American roots o something like that). He said had he known where he came from as a child he would not have chosen to be a comedian. He would have wanted to be in politics or a professor. There was a recent study that showed black kids did better in school and had higher self esteem when they had an African American history class in school (and I mean a real one that starts prior to the transatlantic slave trade but included other countries that were apart of it).

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    @ Anon’s last response, you are preaching, cause I’m a witness chile and have plenty of testimony!!!!

  • Ourdiversityatwork

    How is going out with a Black man (so not being in an interracial relationship) makes me a “crab in a barrel”?

  • BettiePAge

    first of all we are not an evolutionary marvel we are God’s creation and everyone with a history background knows we have this mentality because we were transplanted about 100 or so years ago. we are not united like other groups are

  • Raymond

    I grew up in a small town in the south, (mostly white). I was a natural “oreo” you can say. The small group of black kids at high school would laugh at me and jeer at me for being who I was naturally and not having their pack mentality. I could understand if I was being malicious but I wasn’t; I was just naturally being myself I would have done anything for anyone it was my nature. You touched on some very poignant truths, (and you did so with gentleness and tact!) but the operative word is “truthful”. In today’s politically correct world this post would be frowned upon but I guess it’s understandable because race is a VERY sensitive subject and virtually everyone has had a defining moment in it. However I think honest discourse like this is necessary to examining social, (and maybe further in the future genetic) issues in a respectful and sensitive way. I don’t know. I really don’t know I don’t have the answers.

    “…grasping and pulling is a misguided attempt…” beautiful analogy

Latest Stories

Guardian’ Writer Blasts Beyoncé for Calling Herself ‘Mrs. Carter,’ Says It’s Unfeminist


Compton Residents Shocked to Learn Surveillance System Tested Without Their Knowledge


Janelle Monae Talks Diversity and Being Honored at Harvard University


Shanesha Taylor Still Faces Eight Years for Felony Child Abuse Charges

More in African Americans, Crabs in a Bucket
Blacks’ Voting Rights Face Big Test

The African Dispora
Hashing Out The Diasporic Beef