MORE FANTASTICAL THAN SWORD & SOUL AND STEAMFUNK: Dispelling the ‘Crabs in a Barrel’ Myth



“If you have ever gone crabbing (which i have), once you begin to put the crabs in the pail you have to not only put a lid on it but a weight on top of the lid because they put a lot of energy into getting out. they do this by assisting each other, by creating a ladder out of each other with the last one being pulled out by the others. “Mwalimu K. Bomani Baruti on the ‘Crabs in a barrel’ myth

Recently, on Facebook, I posted this photo of a Steampunk crab as my profile picture. One of my Facebook friends asked what the significance of the photograph was.

I posted the photograph as a joke with my friend, creative partner and one of the Producers of the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage author Milton Davis after he and I were unceremoniously booted from a little website for having a “crab-in-the-barrel mentality”, according to the Administrator of that little website.

Since anyone who disagrees with this person is labeled a “crab-in-the-barrel” and because the crab-in-a-barrel mentality among Black people is just another excuse – along with the “White man”; the Illuminati; Satan; the Boule and Hollywood – for our own laziness and / or complacency, I wasn’t bothered by the accusation and really didn’t care one ounce I was removed from that little website, which I rarely frequented anyway.

crabs 2For those who don’t know, the Crab Mentality is a phrase popular among People of Color – particularly Filipinos and Blacks – and was first coined by Filipino writer and feminist, Ninotchka Rosca. The Crab Mentality describes an “if I can’t have it, neither can you”-way of thinking. The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition that prevents any crab from escaping and ensures their collective demise.

The analogy in human behavior is that members of a group will attempt to “pull down”, or “hate on” – diminish the importance, or negate the efforts, of – any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, self-hate or competitiveness.

While there may, indeed, be others who seek to pull you down, the only one who can keep you down is you.

If you give someone so much power over you that they can prevent your rise and ensure your eventual demise, you are a fool…or were not going anywhere anyway and using that as an excuse.

And we do love our excuses, don’t we?

A student in my martial arts class – a man in his very early twenties, yet possessing the muscle tone of a cup of chocolate pudding wrapped in silk – said to me that he decided he would no longer go to school or work because he wasn’t “plugged in” (initiated) to the Boule (also known as Sigma Pi Phi – believed by many to be the Black branch of Illuminati), so any attempts at success were futile. Since he considers me successful, I took that to mean he felt I was “plugged in”. He went on to say he would get plugged, but he refuses to have “relations” with another man, as the Boule is allegedly required to do, according to him and others. I asked him how he, or whoever his source is, knew this was a requirement unless they are Boule and participated in such “relations”. He paused for a long time and then responded “Damn, I fell for that bullshit.”

Yep. He did. It was easier to sit on his ass and do nothing, with the excuse that, since he wasn’t “plugged in”, anything he tried would fail anyway, than to get up, get out and get something.

Because, God forbid, he might break a sweat…or a nail.

He let himself fall for “that bullshit.”

And many of you have, too.

crabs 1Many people seek to blame some external force for their lack of success, or wait upon some external force to deliver it. Whatever we call this external force, we should call it by its real names – laziness and/or ignorance, which are both rooted in fear, the very opposite of power.

I am a Steamfunkateer. Like Steampunks, we subscribe to the Do-It-Yourself Mentality.

Furthermore, I am an African traditionalist. As such, reliance on external forces is completely foreign to me, so I do not – I cannot operate from a position of fear. I refuse to wait on some savior to rescue me. I rely on my wits, my skills; my experience and my relationships with others.

And no, I’m not “plugged in” – not to the Illuminati anyway (*insert evil laugh here*).

Okanran-Osa, one of the 256 patterns of life in the ancient binary system of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria says “Hoes cannot cultivate a farm by themselves; we human beings are the force behind them…cutlasses cannot, by themselves, clear a forest; we human beings are their aids…but what forces are working as aids to humanity, other than Olorun (the source of creation; the essence of evolution) and human beings themselves?”

Simply put, you are the catalyst for your own growth; for your own success; for your own failure. Others may assist you, but it is you who is ultimately responsible.

So, get off your ass, claw your way out of that barrel and get to work…or prepare to get eaten… with a buttery garlic sauce and some cheddar biscuits.

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at

18 responses »

  1. authorsherysenoelledubose says:

    Nothing left to say but “Amen.” Excellent post!

  2. jayjbee says:

    I guess my error is in thinking ‘we’ instead of ‘me’?
    I have to believe this is true, btw. And I do.
    But I do not need to believe ‘our’ crab mentality is due. Boy have I undergone some. The word ‘begrudging’ was missing in my personal dictionary, so to speak, so my defense was never on point. I only understood why folks acted like they did/do when it fell in place quite recently.

    “I’ll stick to the crabs in a barrel theory”

  3. slow clap building to *thunderous* applause. never been a fan of being compared to crustaceans. and I seriously tire of these urban mythologies of black pathology masquerading as historical or sociological “fact.” about the only thing these fabrications and half-myths (from crabs-in-a-bucket to Willie Lynch to the Boule) have in common is their attempt to demean and denigrate black people under the guise of “upliftment.” you simply can’t have such low opinions of those you claim to be trying to help. well said. very well said.

    and, as for that “little website,” had noticed such traits from its proprietor in the past, and a penchant for that belief system…including a peculiar intolerance for conflicting opinions. haven’t been there in quite a while. missing all the fun it seems. darn. I likes me a fracas!

    • Balogun says:

      Well said!
      That “little website’s” proprietor is quite intolerant…and yeah, you missed it! LOL!
      Thanks for your feedback, Djeli! 🙂

  4. diopmalvi2 says:

    Now I can stop scratching! It’s them gotdamn Illuminati trying to play!

  5. kjama says:

    Good Stuff Comrade!

  6. Ronald T. Jones says:

    That websight isn’t what I think it is, is it? Say it ain’t so!

  7. […] in the shadows – demands your undying loyalty.  Any who disagree with his edicts is labeled a ‘crab in a barrel’ trying to pull the others down. You try to leave the group, but the Admin doesn’t allow it. You are forever trapped in this […]

  8. […] analogy of crabs can possibly represent many aspects of The African American community. Chronicles of Harriet states the mentality diminishes the importance, or negate the efforts, of any member who achieve […]

  9. […] forgot that insecure people have the crabs in a bucket mentality. Author Balogun wrote a nice post on this but for the sake of brevity, this mentality is similar to the phrase “misery loves […]

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