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Not White Enough for The American Dream

“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or let it slip?”

-Marshal “Eminiem” Mathers

One of the single greatest drives within human beings is the drive toward success. Mixed up in the provocative reputation of success in America is the celebrated ideal of the American Dream, the fantasy of complete independence and self-reliance mixed with the opportunity to attain wealth through one’s labors. On the surface, this reverie seems almost enchanted, offering people the unprecedented prospect of achieving success regardless of one’s race, religion, or family history. The American Dream is exactly what it appears to be; the opportunity of utopia, a ceaseless temptation of pleasure, the undying knowledge that eternal bliss lies just around the corner. But the very nature of this fantasy prevents the enjoyment of the success one has earned, as the temptation is always nagging, always insisting for more progress, urging one to work a little harder and gain a little more. The American Dream destroys any opportunity of complacency; its very essence, the immense libido it inspires and the eternal need for progression that it creates in the hearts of its followers makes any true realization of the mythical nirvana impossible. The heartrending and inescapable truth is that success in America is in fact the American Dream and anything less marks you a failure.

But in America we have a myth of who can be successful. Success in America is living the American dream. Owning a nice house, having a perfect family, owning two cars, and excelling in your career. As long as you try your hardest and contribute to society you will have the opportunity to succeed. But this has been proven untrue time and time again. With few exceptions, success is only available to those who have from the start and those who are not held back by minority status or gender or other factors. In fact, the myth of success is used against minorities. It is dangled in front of them like a carrot getting them to work as hard as they can to contribute to society. It is supposed to keep them in the dark about the oppression that exists, and happy they live in the land of opportunity. But, in reality, the myth of success is a tool of tyranny used by the majority to burden the minority of America.

Contrary to popular belief, America is not a classless society. If anything, we are the society with the most classes. Economically, we are divided into economic of lower, middle, and upper class. And yet, if the upper class is the wealthiest twenty percent of Americans, then the upper class alone holds eighty-five percent of the nation’s wealth (according to Class in America, by Mantsios, 321). This means that one-fifth of our nation’s population controls nearly seven-eighths of the wealth. Mantsios also tells us that the lowest class, made up of seven percent of Americans, live below the federal poverty line (321). This means that over one in fourteen Americans are poor. And yet, the economic class you are born into is not the sole factor of success. We are also divided into racial and gender classes. However, we find that economic and racial or gender boundaries are often found in the same places. For example, Mantsios tells us that, while one in eleven white households live in poverty, one in three latino and one in three black led households live in poverty. The statistics are even more discouraging for women, where one in four white woman led and one in two black or latino led households live in poverty (333).

The racial group most often cited as an example minority that upholds the myth of success is Asian Americans. Asian American household incomes often meet or exceed those of the white majority. However, according to Takai in “Race at the End of History,” there are two main factors that contribute to this. First, “A close look at these number reflects that Asian American families typically have more workers per family than white families, which serves to incline upward Asian American family incomes,” (386). So while an Asian American household will have a greater income than a white household, the three or four working family members will each make less than the two white working families each do. Furthermore, most Asian Americans live in areas with the nations highest cost of living (which have an accompanying increase in salary):

However, the skewed statistics are still broadcasted. They are shouted from the highest mountains to show that the myth of success is real, and any minority member who wants to work hard can succeed. And the reason is clear. When a minority complains about the economic discrimination against them and how they are trapped in this class, the majority can just point out how all you need is hard work, citing the skewed Asian American example. The dangled carrot is really a stick painted orange, and it is there to beat the minorities into silence. If the majority can sell the myth well enough that everyone believes it, nobody will ever question their place or see it as the system’s fault. This is how the upper class majority uses the myth to oppress the lower class minorities.

Another effect of the myth of success is broadness. It is all encompassing, and doesn’t argue with factors like race, class, and gender. Instead, it simply ignores them. In “Horatio Alger” Dalton comments on this oversight in regards to race and racial classes. “The Alger myth encourages people to blink at the many barriers to racial inequality – historical, structural, and institutional – that litter the social landscape,” (315). Basically, by simply ignoring these factors of race they are indirectly discounted; out of sight, out of mind. The tyrannical majority simply ignores factors, and the “ignorant masses” who blindly follow the majority see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. And the minority blacks who just had their sizable racial disadvantage completely discounted needs nothing more to succeed but to work hard.

There are still many, however, who will argue for the validity of the myth of success. Beyond citing the Asian American “ideal minority,” they will cite prominent cases where the racially disadvantages pulled themselves up and found their success. They will cite examples such as Colon Powell and Cora Tucker who pulled themselves out of poor beginnings into fame, fortune, and social prominence. However, these few cases do not represent all minorities’ opportunities no more than the few white homicidal maniacs represent the mental state of a white people. These are rare and isolated cases. And the presence of these cases exists, more than anything else, to use to point out examples of the myth of success at work, thus further oppressing other minority group members who are simply told to go out and be like Colon Powell.

Those that argue that success is around the corner cry out for relief from the white man’s burden. The Extremists of “White Only America” stimulate to inspire the masses to think that everything that is wrong with America and its oppressive nature becomes now the ‘white man’s burden’ and not their cause. Here is a historical account of a proposed resolution:

We must settle the Negro problem once for all, and to do this we have no recourse other than to return the Negro to his homeland. We of this generation have thought but little upon this, the sole possibility of solving the Negro problem. But we shall see that the removal of the American Negro to the home of his ancestors will work to the advantage of the Negro as well as be in keeping with the necessity of the Caucasian. By this process of removing the burden from ourselves and our posterity we shall have served Negro posterity, in a manner and measure highly satisfactory to every well-wisher of the Negro race (Cox).

The white man’s burden today does not just focus on the African American, although he is the pioneer in engineering the condition in which White America claims to find itself today. However, one of the empowerments that the theory of white man’s burden has caused is the production of other people’s burdens, defeating the purpose of unity and further adding to the flames of segregation and separatism. It diminishes historical facts and justifies everything that has been done and fails to acknowledge the fact that racism still remains today as system of racial subjugation against nonwhites in every areas of human relation, entertainment,, education, labor, politics, law, religion, sex, war and economics – everything that classifies an individual successful.

The myth of success in America is clearly inaccurate, but at the same time clearly serves a purpose. Its purpose is not, however, motivation. No, its purpose is to further oppress minorities it claims to be the key for. It is the carrot that draws them in and keeps them quiet and happy, and yet it is also the stick that beats them into submission so the majority can stay on top. And even though the definition of success is a personal judgment call, the myth of success paves the way for a definition of success that is the same for everybody, and at the same time out of reach for so many. Our society needs to rise beyond this and tear down all of the walls and glass ceilings. Because until we eliminate the blinding light and appeal of a largely unreachable carrot, the tempted creature who longs for it will never be able to see what is truly going on around it. How it truly can try to deal with circumstance, and how it can define success for itself. And once minorities can define success for themselves, they may be able to attain it. I do not think anyone would let an opportunity slip… sometimes the façade of an opportunity appears to be there, but it is only a mirage. Until we all realize the gravity of the situation in America, everything will remain virtually unchanged.

Works Cited

ReReading America, Bedford/ St. Martins, Fifth Edition, 2000.

Cox, Ernest Sevier, Chapter 14: The Ideal Negro State, White America, E-Books: http://www.melvig.org/wa/wa-14.html

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