Gather round my children. It’s story time.
For reasons that are irrelevant and have to do with recently seeing the movie Predestination (fantastic movie, definitely see it!), I recently had cause to look up the word “bootstrapping.” Now if you’re doing anti-racism work of any kind, then you’ve probably heard the term used in the context of “buckle down, work hard and you can achieve the American dream regardless of your birth circumstances.” It’s used as a way to take the teeth out of the arguments around systemic disadvantage, and negate the effects of racism, classism, ableism, sexism etc, on the ability to build wealth.
The term appears to have originated in the early 19th century United States (particularly in the phrase “pull oneself over a fence by one’s bootstraps”), to mean an absurdly impossible action, an adynaton.
What’s an adynaton, you ask? (Ok, I asked, I didn’t know)
Adynaton (plural adynata) is a figure of speech in the form of hyperbole taken to such extreme lengths as to insinuate a complete impossibility
Meaning that when people say you should pull yourself up by your bootstraps, they’re literally asking you to do the impossible.
I’m not sure, but I think there’s a term for when words come to mean the opposite of their original meaning, but this seems like a hilariously egregious case. My mind was literally blown reading this, and then I cracked up laughing.
White people so dumb, man...
But yeah, now you know, if you didn’t already, and you have a brand new mic drop thing to tell white people when they fuck with you!