I waited anxiously on the phone line for a representative of Direct Loans to tell me how much in loans I had accumulated for three semesters of graduate school. I had an idea, but I wanted to hear how much I paid to obtain this fairy-tale of a myth that we call The American Dream.
America has been called the land of opportunity for centuries. It is where immigrants from far away lands migrate to work hard, save money, achieve success, and create a better life for their families. No one bothered to tell them about the ugly truths of this country—racism, oppression, sexism, homophobia, poverty and injustice. A few succeed in obtaining that American Dream by eventually starting their own businesses, gaining a profit, purchasing their first home, and living well. The majority, however, work sun-up to sun-down for someone else for the rest of their lives, finally realizing that this land isn’t as sweet as the dream they were sold.
For those of us born on this soil that was stolen from the Native Americans, we are also taught the power of The American Dream. Early on, education is instilled in us as the key to the golden gate to opportunity. Our parents truly bought the hype. Deep in their souls they believed that if you obtained your college degree, you were automatically qualified for decent paying jobs, you would climb the corporate ladder, set-up a nice retirement plan, all the while being able to support yourself.
What our parents, and the people we trusted for guidance, failed to mention are the struggles one faces with degree(s) in hand—landing jobs that pay us comparable salaries based on experience and education. Now, two and three degrees later, we are learning the hefty price we’ve paid in an attempt to obtain something that wasn’t necessarily designed for us.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment is currently at 9.6%. If you take into account underemployment, the numbers are significantly higher. The unemployment rate for Blacks is 15.7%, and 12.6% for Latinos. This comes as no surprise to those of us born Black and brown. Any time the American public suffers from anything—disease, loss of jobs, recession—Blacks suffer ten times worse. “White folks catch a cold, Black folks catch the flu.” More like pneumonia.
The rate of unemployment for college graduates is 5%, but that doesn’t take into account unemployed Black college graduates, or underemployment.
Hunter College Professor, Courtney E. Martin, wrote an article three years ago, prior to the recession, sharing similar sentiments about the delusion of the American Dream.
“But knowing the statistics on social mobility and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, I just can’t stomach this “happily ever after” scenario. It is too clean.
Part of me wants to cringe, lecture them about how one success story is dangled in front of a struggling public so they won’t get angry enough to revolt against an unfair system. How oppression can so easily be mistaken for personal failure. How many employers won’t even look at their resumes if they don’t see an Ivy League college at the top. But another part of me wants to keep my white, upper-middle-class mouth shut.”
She continues on, expressing how she does not want to crumble their dream of making it big.
“As long as they are distracted by their own dedication, they won’t stop to question why the richest people in this country pay far less in taxes, proportionally, than the middle class. They won’t have the time to organize against elitist candidates because they will be too busy working dead-end jobs.”
Add to the recipe a dash of nepotism where meritocracy is as mythic as “justice for all.” No one calculates that into the American Dream where people who are less credentialed, about as smart as Sarah Palin, will land a dream job straight out of college because daddy made a phone call to one of his golf buddies.
The American Dream was in fact designed to make the rich richer while the poor remain poor.
Owing thousands of dollars in debt for the sake of adding a few letters behind your name, despite the fact your salary may never match what you’ve invested in your education, is not what I consider a beautiful dream. Sounds more like a nightmare. Blacks go to school, accrue an astronomical amount of debt sometimes taking up to 25 years to pay off, only to work for someone else’s company; sometimes never owning a home until the age of 40, still paying off debt and not really fulfilled with their career choice.
The Black middle class is depleting, many households living paycheck to paycheck. If you ask them, though, of course it was all worth it. They have been conditioned, trained, to think it is the only way.
I will always value education, which is why I went to college and then graduate school; but not at the expense of being indebted for half your life to the American government. It is our responsibility to tell the next generation the whole story. Not just the romanticized one. Just like the prison industrial complex, debt is a form of modern day slavery. We work hard for companies that don’t really value us, and then have nothing to leave to our children. No land. No homes. No assets. No money. No businesses. Just the lies of The American Dream.