Performing the ‘Milk Crate Challenge’ is more telling of finances than intellect

Toyloy Brown III, Managing Editor


This buzzword often describes the invisible advantages we possess in some form. This nine-letter word is also known for its power to prevent us from viewing another’s perspective, reinforcing our narrow-mindedness.

The everyday challenge we should embrace is detaching ourselves from our comfortable assumptions so we can understand the standpoint of others, even when it comes to viral trends.

Illustration by Lindsey Komson

The “Milk Crate Challenge” is a more recent trend to blow up across social media. The challenge showcases people tentatively walking on a pyramid of unstable milk crates several feet in the air. One of two things happens in these clips: either the participant completes the walk safely and makes it to the other side, or they experience a painful, embarrassing plunge. More often than not, the latter occurs, which is a component that contributes greatly to the challenge’s popularity. Laughing at people’s expense is a near-universal pastime.

These videos racked up millions of views on social media and were prevalent on TikTok. The app later made the decision to ban such videos because it was unaligned with its community guidelines that discourage content that “promotes or glorifies dangerous acts,” according to a company spokesperson.

After laughing at these videos, we say how we would never do this. Then, we ridicule these participants in the comment section or in real life for subjecting themselves to an endeavor that will likely result in a hospital visit. People who have fallen have experienced serious injuries that range from shoulder dislocations and meniscus tears to broken wrists and even spinal-cord injuries.

The go-to way to insult the participant is to deride their intelligence because only “someone stupid” would walk on crates. Celebrity sports commentator Stephen A. Smith filled in as a guest host on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Aug. 23 and said on the topic, “I challenge anybody — anybody on Earth — to find people dumber than these people.”

A response like this is commonplace, even among medical professionals. Henry Schuitema, chief of emergency medicine at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, told The Washington Post, “So many of these injuries we’re seeing are preventable just by being intelligent.”

Ostensibly, putting yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily should not protect anyone from criticism and online quips. However, it does seem strange that the discourse has mostly focused on attacking people’s intellect when there are plenty of other dangerous acts that are acceptable enough that participants are absolved from a guarantee of their stupidity.

If people who do dangerous things are all dumb, what about those who rock climb without a rope or harness? How about bull running? Over 200 people are injured annually at the Spanish festival activity in their attempt to flee from several unleashed cattle. What about BASE jumping, the more dangerous version of skydiving? Instead of leaping from a plane, a person jumps from a fixed location, like a building or cliff, at a lower altitude with less time to descend safely using a parachute.

These dangerous activities are not exact comparisons to the crate challenge, but the point is that these are exceedingly more hazardous. However, you can easily find stories on each venture without being inundated by writers and commentators claiming all who participate are nincompoops.

While finding stories about how dangerous these activities are is easy, it is just as easy to find articles that nonjudgmentally explain why people are interested in these things, like how CNN explained BASE jumping. One of the lone videos that provide a fresh perspective on the “Milk Crate Challenge” is an IGTV video from activist and life coach Justin Blu.

A reality that can’t be forgotten is that the majority of people seen in these videos climbing crates or spectating are Black, which is likely a factor in why there is an ease to call these people fools and a disinterest in discovering what could cause people to do this. If the majority of videos of people doing this dangerous trend were white, would the exact same assumption of idiocy be applied as widespread as it has been for Black people? Knowing the history of racism embedded in this country’s fabric, likely not.

Now, let’s do the arduous work of seriously considering the crate challenge through the perspective of the participants.

The origins of this challenge aren’t clear, but according to Know Your Meme, we do know that a clip back from June 2011 titled “Guy Falls Off 6 Milk Crates” showed someone doing a variation of this challenge. The first official version of this challenge arrived last month by Black male participants who posted it on Facebook. Now, why would someone suddenly decide to make this game? 

Ask yourself this: What do you do for fun when you don’t have a Playstation or when you don’t have streaming services or cable? What do you do when you don’t have money to go shopping, or when you can’t afford to travel?

If you lack many outlets for entertainment and have little disposable income because of systemic limitations in your opportunity to build wealth, is it all that shocking that you may resort to an activity that is dangerous yet exciting? It must be acknowledged that the options we have for recreation are often telling of our level of expendable income, resources and socioeconomic status.

From a financially privileged position, the “Milk Crate Challenge” is perceived as a ridiculous game for nitwits. But through the lens of the people in these communities, this game is apropos. The challenge is an inexpensive yet innovative way to preoccupy yourself in a community bonding affair where you feel the suspense of watching someone perform a feat that could end with adulation or agony. How different is that from watching someone walk a tightrope?

Additionally, imagine if people in these circumstances are offered money to successfully climb crates. Well, in Akron, Ohio, a $500 prize was offered for anyone who could climb the crates successfully. That may not seem like much, but in a city like Akron where one in every 4.2 residents lives in poverty, according to, doing this challenge is worth it.

To be clear, the “Milk Crate Challenge” is dangerous and should be discouraged. Additionally, it can’t be assumed that every single person doing this is poor — it has grown enough in popularity that well-off people chasing views have done it too. However, it’s wrong to ignore that there is actual reasoning as to why some people will resort to this activity. It is also misguided and lazy to blanketly call the majority-Black crate challengers stupid.

After getting our laughs and jokes off, is it too idealistic to focus more on wanting to create a more equitable and open-minded society where people don’t have to start walking up crates for any reason? And if they do, can we restrain ourselves from repudiating their intelligence to the utmost degree?

I don’t think so, but obviously, that’s a minority opinion.