The Myth of Bootstraps goes something like this: I never got any help from anyone. I achieved my American Dream all on my own, through hard work. I got an education, I saved my money, I worked hard, I took risks, and I never complained or blamed anyone else when I failed, and every time I fell, I picked myself up by my bootstraps and just worked even harder. No one helped me.
This is almost always a lie.
There are vanishingly few people who have never had help from anyone—who never had family members who helped them, or friends, or colleagues, or teachers.
Who never benefited from government programs that made sure they had electricity, or mail, or passable roads, or clean drinking water, or food, or shelter, or healthcare, or a loan.
Who never had any kind of privilege from which they benefited, even if they didn't actively try to trade on it.
Who never had an opportunity they saw as luck which was really someone, somewhere, making a decision that benefited them.
Who never had friends to help them move, so they didn't have to pay for movers. Who never inherited a couch, so they didn't have to pay for a couch. Who never got hand-me-down clothes from a cousin, so their parents could afford piano lessons. Who never had shoes that fit and weren't leaky, when the kid down the street didn't.
Most, maybe all, of the people who say they never got any help from anyone are taking a lot of help for granted.
They imagine that everyone has the same basic foundations that they had—and, if you point out to them that these kids over here live in an area rife with environmental pollutants that have been shown to affect growth or brain function or breathing capacity, they will simply sniff with indifference and declare that those things don't matter. That government regulations which protect some living spaces and abandon others to poisons isn't help.
The government giving you money to eat is a hand-out. The government giving you regulations that protect the air you breathe is, at best, nothing of value—and, at worst, a job-killing regulation that impedes the success of people who want to get rich dumping toxins into the ground where people getting hand-outs live.
When people really don't have any help from anyone, it doesn't look like gold-plated car elevators. It looks like this: Arizona Mother Arrested after Leaving Kids in Car During Job Interview.
Shanesha Taylor is a homeless, single mother of 2 children, who was arrested for child abuse this week. Taylor left her children, ages 6 and 2 years old, in her Dodge Durango while she attended a job interview in Scottsdale, Arizona.At the link, Taylor is seen in her mugshot, tears streaming down her cheeks.
A passerby found the children in the car, with the engine turned off and the windows cracked open. Once Taylor returned to the car, 45 minutes later, she informed the police officer that she did not have a babysitter for her children.
"She was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job. Obviously not getting the job. So it's just a sad situation," said Scottsdale Police Sergeant Mark Clark.
She was arrested and booked into jail for child abuse.
Her children are now in CPS custody.
The bootstrappers will argue that she should have found someone to watch her kids. Everyone has someone they can ask to watch their kids. No. Not everyone does. That's what really having no help from anyone looks like.
People who don't have family they can ask usually have neighbors, but Taylor is homeless. Or co-workers, but Taylor is jobless. Or someone they can pay, but Taylor has no money. With whom could she leave her children? There is no free daycare offered by the government—the same government that is trying to force women to have as many children as possible.
She and her children need food and shelter. She needs a job to provide food and shelter. She needs to go on an interview to get a job to provide food and shelter. She needs to leave her children somewhere while she goes on an interview to get a job to provide food and shelter.
She doesn't have anywhere to leave them. She leaves them in the car, because it is her only option. And she is arrested and her children removed from her care.
Nothing makes sense about indefinitely separating Taylor from her children, as punishment from her leaving them for 45 minutes. But criminalization is the only solution we have. We offer jail, instead of help.
Last fall, I read this story in the local paper: "Poor school attendance leads to charges against parent." That story, too, features a mugshot of a black mother, looking grieved. Because of her son's truancy—he had 19 unexcused absences and was tardy 30 times during the school year—Moina Lucious was arrested, charged with a felony count of neglect, and faced six month to three years in prison.
There were no details in the story about what may have been happening in this family's life that was contributing to the truancy. (I will also note that excused absences cost money; if your kid is sick, and you can't afford to take hir to the doctor, your kid might stay sick for longer, and you also don't have a doctor's note to provide to the school.) Naturally, we're meant to assume that Lucious is just a Terrible Mother, but I can imagine about 2,000 reasons why this could have been happening when support from her community might have solved the problem.
In a way that sending her to prison never will.
What if all the taxpayer money that's used arresting, processing, probably public defending, possibly trying, and maybe jailing women like Taylor and Lucious were instead used toward social programs that would have supported them in the first place?
The people who claim to never have had any help from anyone are the same people who tend to criticize "government hand-outs" and talk about the social safety net like it's a giant waste of taxpayer money—a "wealth redistribution program" to steal rich folks' money and give it to the poor.
(They're also the most likely to say shit like, "Don't have kids if you can't take care of them," while they simultaneously support policy that seeks to deny women control over our reproduction.)
But people need help. Everyone needs help. And not everyone is fortunate enough to have the kind of help that is so reliable it's possible to dismiss it out of hand as not even having been help at all.
This is what really having no help looks like. We don't actually reward not having help in this country; we criminalize it.
And that's not a solution. It's the problem.