Bootstraps and the GI Bill

You’ve heard it. You may have said it. “Everybody’s gotta pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

That’s pretty hard if you don’t have boots.

When I hear a white person say that Black people should work harder to improve their station in life “the same way everyone else does” I want to scream. Partly because it’s rude, and partly because it indicates that the person speaking has absolutely zero idea about how our country intentionally kept Black people from prospering.

It’s hard to pull yourself up from your bootstraps when you don’t have boots. Is it impossible to walk without boots? NO! But working without boots is harder than it would be otherwise and knowing that other people are being given boots and are wondering why you’re frustrated and have sore feet is infuriating.

At best the sentiment proves that many white people assume all people start at the same starting line. At worst, it’s “a way to tell poor people they deserve to be poor.

Many people serve in the military and, like my husband, make a career out of it. There are many benefits the United States bestows on those who serve honorably. One of those benefits is the G.I. Bill, and it’s given to those who serve for a certain number of years. Even for those who don’t make a career out of the military, it’s a fantastic way to have college paid for and the promise of a job after graduation. But imagine how you’d feel if you or your child signed up, completed the commitment, and was then denied the benefit.

The GI Bill is one example of several postwar policies in which the federal government invested heavily in the greatest growth of a white asset-based American middle class, to the exclusion of blacks…. But most American colleges and universities were closed to blacks, or open to only but a few in token numbers. Meanwhile, GI benefits in education, employment, entrepreneurship and housing assistance were all distributed overwhelmingly toward whites. 

Darrick Hamilton and Trevon Logan

So, while white veterans got into college with relative ease, black service members faced limited options and outright denial in their pursuit for educational advancement. This resulted in uneven outcomes of the GI Bill’s impact.

Lynne Anderson

In the blog post I wrote titled Erasing History I mentioned that “Affirmative Action” was originally to better the lives of white people. This inequitable distribution of the GI Bill is another example of that. Combined with the redlining practices I mentioned in the previous blog post, has had long-term impacts, increasing the difficulty for Black people to achieve wealth. While these two practices are now illegal, the ramifications are still felt by Black families today.

And because I am still seeing people up in arms about “not erasing our history” let me mention two other historical events that were never in any of my textbooks.
These were white people destroying property and taking lives:

  • Tulsa Race Massacre – During the Tulsa Race Massacre (also known as the Tulsa Race Riot), which occurred over 18 hours on May 31-June 1, 1921, a white mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history, and one of the least-known: News reports were largely squelched, despite the fact that hundreds of people were killed and thousands left homeless.
  • Memphis Race Riot of 1866 – [S]eventy-five persons injured, one hundred persons robbed, five women raped, ninety-one homes burned, four churches and eight schools burned and destroyed, and seventeen thousand dollars in federal property destroyed. Hundreds of blacks were jailed, and almost all other freedmen fled town until the disturbance ended. For two days, white mobs, which included policemen, firemen, and some businessmen, attacked the freedmen’s camps and neighborhoods.

Whites could use violence to force blacks from their property via the terrorism of whitecapping, where blacks were literally run out of town and their possessions stolen. This includes the race riots, as in Memphis in 1866 and Tulsa in 1921, which systematically destroyed or stole the wealth blacks had acquired, and lowered the rate of black innovation

Darrick Hamilton and Trevon Logan

Next time you use the phrase “They should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” ask yourself if the group you’re referring to had access to boots in the first place. Consider how infuriating it would be to be given the boots by the US Government, to serve honorably, promised an education, only to be denied that entitlement once you return from service.

Final note:
Please do not take my writing this as a way to say that Black people can’t get ahead or want any form of pity. The #OnceYouSeeRacism series is not designed to make white people feel bad for Black people and start “giving them things.” It’s to educate white people on the reasons for the deep, long-term anger that many Black Americans have and how certain mindsets (bootstraps, for example) feel like salt in an open wound. It’s also to get wheels started on finding ways our nation can set things right for those affected by these racist practices.

The Black Community has a tenacity and a strength of character built into their culture that I am impressed by and Matt and I are teaching our daughter to be proud of that part of her culture. We watched Selma (2014) in honor of Juneteenth and there is a conversation between Corretta Scott King and Amelia Boynton before Mrs. King’s meeting with Malcolm X. Mrs. King says she wishes she had more time to prepare. Ms. Boynton says, “We are descendants of a mighty people… who survived the holds of slave ships across the vast oceans. People who innovate, create, and love despite pressures and tortures unimaginable. They are in our bloodstream; pumping in our hearts every second. They’ve prepared you. You are already prepared.”

I don’t know if that is an actual quote from Ms. Boynton or lines from a screen writer, but they convey the sentiment I’m trying to express.

* GI Bill opened doors to college for many vets, but politicians created a separate one for blacks – Lynne Anderson – Nov 9, 2019
* GI Bill opened doors to college for many vets, but politicians created a separate one for Black people – Associated Press – Nov 11, 2019
* Here’s why black families have struggled for decades to gain wealth – Darrick Hamilton and Trevon Logan – March 4, 2019
* Tulsa Race Massacre
* Memphis Race Riot
* The Tragic, Forgotten History of Black Military Veterans
* How the GI Bill Left Out African Americans
* The G.I. Bill, World War II, and the Education of Black Americans
* The Tragic And Ignored History Of Black Veterans
* Blacks and the GI Bill
* Racism Created A Separate, Unequal GI Bill For Black Vets
* How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans
* If you like humor and irony, check out this article on a common phrase: PULLING YOURSELF UP BY YOUR BOOTSTRAPS IS ACTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE – John McDermott

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Previous posts in this series:
Intro: #OnceYouSeeRacism
1. Build your “talking about racism” muscles. – {general racism}
2. The Dangers of the Colorblind Mentality – (color blind mentality}
3. Be Color Brave, Not Color Blind {color blind mentality}
4. See and Honor Color {color blind mentality; “the talk”}
5. What is an Ally? {allyship}
6. Allyship – digging deeper {allyship}
7. What Privilege? {white privilege}
8. Nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. {white privilege}
9. What “White Privilege” is and is not. {white privilege}
10. Juneteenth… {freedom, history}
11. Erasing History… {freedom, history}
12. Jim Crow Laws {freedom, history}
13. Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho
14. Systemic Racism and Bob the Tomato {systemic racism; education; lending}
15. Mortality and Black Skin {systemic racism; health care}
16. Redlining {systemic racism; housing}
17. You are here {systemic racism; military benefits}

About Jennifer

"Yes, they're all mine." The answer to the question I hear most often.
This entry was posted in #OnceYouSeeRacism, Racism/Race Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bootstraps and the GI Bill

  1. Pingback: This is Us and Why We Should Celebrate Black History Month | thehamricks

  2. Pingback: Microaggressions | thehamricks

  3. Pingback: Grace, Justice, & Mercy | thehamricks

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