“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a dead narrative, and Donald Trump has put the nails in its coffin. For decades, the phrase has been used to patronize oppressed and marginalized peoples and paint them as being responsible for their own suffering and disadvantaged positions in society. If these people just worked hard enough, they would be able to lift themselves out of their own hardship; this hardship thus exists only because these people are too lazy to improve their own situation.
This narrative has been used to criticize everyone from Bernie Sanders to the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, it obscures an obvious fact: privileged people – particularly white Christian men – blame everyone else for their problems all the time. One can see this easily enough by listening to Donald Trump and his supporters who claim that America’s problems are the fault of immigrants, Muslims and the “politically correct culture.” White people are the masters of blaming other people for their problems; the only difference is that this blame is wrongly placed, whereas the blame felt by minorities is legitimate.
Minorities are subjected to the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative, thus it is a mechanism of white upper class patriarchal hegemony. This narrative serves to negate the very real effects of hegemonic systems that disadvantage and oppress historically, and newly, marginalised groups, loading blame off of the white upper class who benefits from these systems and onto the very people who are subjected by them. The white lower class, on the other hand, is instilled with an innate pride in its “whiteness” and the superiority imbued by such a quality. The poisonous influence of this pride is manipulated by the upper classes to convince poor whites that the “other” is to blame for their problems, thus obscuring the hand of the upper class itself with a veil of common “whiteness.”
Any change in society that threatens the condition of “whiteness” is thus targeted as the cause of the “downfall of (white) America.” White people being relegated even one rank lower than uncontested superiority over other humans would, after all, be the “downfall” of American society. Trump’s supporters believe themselves to be “under attack.” By wielding the double-blade of “whiteness” and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative, white America – both the upper class and the poor masses – manages to renounce its complicity in American hegemony, failing to “take responsibility for their own lives.” Others are to blame – and they must accept responsibility for that blame. White America’s slate is spotless.