The Fallacy of the American Dream
What I had to learn before blazing my own trail and betting on entrepreneurship
Cover design: IG: @madexmightyofficial
The American Dream is briefly defined by the opportunity to have it all. It, being a successful career, beautiful-healthy family, money in the bank, newest luxury vehicle and the house on the hill. They tell you in order to achieve this, all you have to do is follow a checklist of goals. Mine went a little something like this:
Go to college- Meanwhile,no one with any real experience considered divulging useful information about any concentration aside from the medical field. Mainly because that's all they knew about. Or even what college would best suit what you planned to do with the remainder of your life. Again, because a lot of them have absolutely no clue.
Meet your partner in college (or die trying)- Completely forgetting to mention that sometimes even the college educated are emotionally unintelligent and you'll wind up down the same road you would if you found someone at a local business doing well for themselves. There's really no grand difference in my opinion. Trust that there are plenty of people who started out in full participation of substance abuse and gang culture , that are now sober marketing execs and successful entrepreneurs. They normally have a better sense of humor and street smarts that serve them well in life. I kinda prefer them.
Refrain from starting a family (or as my mother would say “keep them babies out yo’ ass”)- Yes, don't start a family until you gain complete self sufficiency. Whatever the hell that means.
Move out as fast as you can - Partial homelessness is not the same as living out on the streets- at least you have a couch AND a roof. Clearly you're ahead of the curve.
And those are just the rules that I can think of from the top of my overworked and underpaid brain. Now all of these rules may prove to be quite triumphant, but that just hasn't been my experience. I sacrificed close friendships, bonding opportunities with my family, and the true chance at adolescence in Chicago to make sure that these things were done in clear and orderly fashion. While in high school, my black mother didn't play the whole “stay at home during the summer months” game, so I was forced into the group activities to ensure I had “something to do”. By the time that was all over, I was headed 900 miles away from everything I knew and loved to be a Gramblinite at Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana.
“900 miles and counting” was the slogan written on the shirts we paraded around wearing in this whole new world covered in red clay sidewalks and culturally shocking accents. I was unsure of myself then and there wasn't much reassurance where I had come from other than “this is what is required in order for you to secure the type of future you want for your life.” Grambling in all it's glory beat my ass for four long years, taught me a lot, forced me to grow, gave me lessons that will carry me for the rest of my life and changed me forever. By the time December 2013 rolled around and I achieved that degree, I was certain I was suffering from some sort of identity crisis.
This was solidified for me when I found myself professionally degreed, over qualified and unable to find a job in my field regardless of how hard I tried. I knew next to nothing about the market coming out of school. I had what I felt like was tons of experience, networking skills and an elevator speech that rivaled the best of them. Yet and still, I found myself doing an internship at a talk radio station and working a job I hated. How did I get here? Post-grad depression had sunk in and taken my last optimistic breath from me. I wanted out.
It was preached to me especially as a first generation child that without that degree, I was sure to live a life of consistent struggle until I went and acquired my education. Ultimately, I wound up going out of fear of living a worse life than I had already been exposed to.Where I grew up, there were pissy hallways and crackheads galore. So,if all I had to do was graduate from college to never be subjected to that life again, I was eager to sign up. Having done the leg work, what was supposed to happen next? My expectation after the degree was to just jump out into the workforce and some wonderful company hands me a six figure salary based on my sixty thousand dollar education. That's not even remotely close to my experience. The truth is a lot of black millennials are out of school upwards of five years before even getting the opportunity to work as a top company's administrative assistant. And this is regardless of degree earned. But why? Why are Black millennials not bringing in the revenue promised if we just followed these simple steps? How is it that this prestigious piece of paper that my people fought and died for the rights to attain has made my life much harder than it was before I crossed the stage to receive it? What part of the “dream” did I miss? At what point did I no longer qualify to live the dream that was supposed to be awarded to every American that followed through with the plan?
In the midst of trying to become part of the American elite, love tends to lurk around the corner. But where does this even fit in the daunting trek? After being so consumed with graduating and then finding a career that pays a livable wage, the idea of finding a partner that is of equal value and vision is exhausting to say the least. We hold off on anything that even resembles intimacy or an in depth connection because to the hustling Black millennial an emotional attachment screams distraction. We are programmed to remain steadfast and alone on our journey because any decision outside of the checklist will set you back tremendously and you'll catch hell trying to make up for the time lost trying to catch up with your peers. Ironically, back in the day women were taught that the best place to find your husband was on the college campus of your choice.
White women are groomed to go to the best ivy league schools and make the conscious effort to meet eligible upcoming doctors, lawyers and paralegals studying hard to make themselves good providers one day. Not us though, our mamas told us to keep our heads in the books and the boys will be there when we finish. Or if you just so happen to find yourself attracted to someone make sure he’s the head of the debate team, SGA president or the founder of the groups that take our youth back to the motherland. The reality is, it doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes, the one that catches your eye is an art major and his dream is to make a living from his God given talent. But anything outside of the rich, a Black woman is told we don't have time for because we’re already behind. The sad shit is, they may just be absolutely correct. But systemic racism didn't factor in the possibilities of an actual life outside of work.
In the 80's and 90's, young women used to come home from college already married and by the time they were 25 , they had a home of their own and were working diligently on child #2. Right now in 2020, as a 30 year old black woman bringing a child into this world is almost as terrifying as going out in the world yourself. There are almost no ways to shield our child from the generational disparities that we have been subjected to ourselves. My mother has been married and divorced twice before the age of 50, and she raised three children by herself. It was the hardest thing to watch and it evidently made me turn my nose up at marriage and things similar to it.
A Black , college educated woman on the chase for the “dream” has no room for marriage,children or any of the other components of the successful vision looming over our heads everyday. In 2016, 29% of Blacks were married compared to 48% of all Americans. The average age for marriage increased from 21 to 27 for women and from 23 to 29.5 for men between 1965 and 2017 according to 2017 Census Bureau data. 29% of Black people said the #1 reason Black millennials especially are delaying the nuptials is that they aren't financially stable. 26% say they haven't found the right one and the other 26% say they just aren't ready to settle down. We all know what that means right? It means they’re still running after success, so they’ve locked away the desire for community and companionship. For most of us self sufficiency is the goal.
But, what the hell does that really mean?
It occurred to me one day that maybe there's a different dream for the Black American. Maybe we have to set our sights on getting the degree and then getting out of debt before we can even consider a down payment on a home. It's been rumored that a lot of time white people gift their children the down payments and closing costs upon graduating. That's a 400 year start that they have on us , trying to catch up has consistently left us in the dark. Going to college isn't a right of passage as much as it seems to be in our communities. Don't mistake me, it's great if you have the opportunity to utilize it properly, but it doesn't determine your rate of success. We are born with innate talents, skills and gifts that we are taught should be overcasted by the necessity of education. Speaking from the perspective of a college graduate, I appreciate my degree, however, coming out unprepared and without any tangible experience has me crawling behind those that came after me.
I didn't become this person or even get the opportunity to put my foot in rooms until I took a leap of faith and left home with just my knowledge and my dreams. I got my job at iHeart Radio in 2019 and thought I had made it. It wasn't until the Corona virus pandemic hit and I got sucked up in the flood of “furloughs” that it hit me how hard I was working just because of what I THOUGHT having this on my resume would do for my career. It didn't matter that even with this job, I wasn't being paid a livable wage; forcing me to have to acquire a second income just to afford to take care of myself. It didn't matter that I had been a part time employee the entire time I was working there with no sight of advancement, I felt I had to keep it because this is what I went to school for. I was riding the theory of “starting from the bottom”. 5 years into my new home , I've taken my talents to the very powerful internet and in the midst of learning to believe my dreams could feed me I've launched this site and started to outsource my voice to reputable publications.
We’ve been quarantined for 5 months at this point and every job worth working is now remote capable. In addition to that, after the tragic murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more police brutality has gone rampant and a lot of the country is being rebuilt at the hands of my people enforcing change on an America that didn't see us before. I feel crazy working hard to be a part of someone else's dream when I have enough time, motivation and anger to live out my own. I'm right in the middle of being petrified to leave my home and feeling like a superhero for surviving these crazy times where my degree, my accolades or my experience doesn't matter to anyone, including me.
This illustrious dream that's beat into the head of the black masses, does anybody ever wake up?