The “crabs in a bucket” mentality is often attributed to people who climb over and pull down those around them in an attempt to make it to the top. It is frequently used in relation to Black people who act selfishly and maliciously toward other Blacks. For years, when I’d hear elders use this analogy, I felt that it was steeped in some sort of anti-Black rhetoric. I feel similarly about the notion of “Black on Black” crime. I thought, “We are not the only racial group who has these problems, so why the need to associate ourselves with such poor behavior?”
In some ways, that’s true. Yes, Black people are not the only ones who backbite and backstab one another to get ahead, but the caveat is, we feel the pain a little deeper. When we don’t work together, we suffer.
The other day, a friend of mine who is a member of a Black Greek-Letter Organization (BGLO) shared with me a video clip from the Roland Martin show, featuring a panel of three BGLO members and one non-member. The conversation, taped live during Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.’s 94th General Convention in Baltimore last week, focused on Greek organizations and their activism … or lack thereof.
Martin, who is himself an Alpha, began by stating, though the organizations — collectively known as the National Pan-Hellenic Council — have millions of members and strong organizational leadership, the group “has not sufficiently maximized its power.”
Jeff Johnson, journalist and fellow fraternity member, concurred, adding that he believes the organizations waste money and leave conventions with no legitimate strategies. Toward the end of the conversation, he noted that these issues affect not only BGLOs, but also other national predominantly Black organizations. “The challenge that we’re having is broad. We have incredibly weak national leadership by and large when it comes to creating consistent and focused agendas,” he said. He added that those involved in these institutions must challenge “who we have on our boards” and “make it a mandate to say, image means nothing without impact.”
Now, I am not a member of a BGLO and have not dealt with any of those organizations closely enough to add my two cents, but I feel that what Martin and Johnson shared can be applied in other instances. For example, the panel discussed the fact that many Black organizations, rather than working together on key initiatives that affect the Black community, opt to recreate the work in their own likeness. Why? I believe it comes down to intention.
There have also been times when, instead of focusing on the work, a person had to make sure their logo, their messaging or their name was front and center. I’ve watched as one group planned an event, purportedly to bring awareness to a major community issue, even though there was a demonstration already planned in the same week for the same purpose! These people were more concerned with notoriety and appeasing power structures. They put image over impact, which resulted in piss-poor execution.
We have what seems like an innumerable list of groups going after the same coins, targeting the same communities and essentially doing the same work. The need to survive and exist independently, like those crabs in the bucket, often leads to shoving, pulling and clawing matches. And in the end, that mentality leads us to destruction.