On stars, stripes, and dreams

I'm Uncle Sam, That's Who I Am
Photo by Chicago Man on Flickr

[Note: This post has been sitting in my drafts since June, but I figured it needed to be posted, so I finished it up today]

I recently read an article (on Yahoo! News of all places) about the American dream being a myth. I feel that this is undoubtedly true, but perhaps not in the way most people would expect. A myth is a grand narrative; it’s something that people structure their actions around and hope to replicate in their own lives. We’ve all heard variations of the American dream, and all of them basically boil down to this: If you work hard, you can make it to the top.

If we want to talk about the American dream being a myth – about the Dream being a grand narrative that many of us structure our lives around – then yes, this is extremely true. We’re reminded in the way President Obama speaks about America:

And we thought about how far we had come, and the fact that our lives were a testament to that fundamental American ideal that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, America is a place where you can make it if you try. America is a place where you can make it if you try. [source]

But perhaps it’s time to realize the systems that are stacked against us. From the color of our skin to our income bracket to where we grew up… so much of our success can only be attributed to luck and being in the right place at the right time. It’s at that point that we realize that the myth, that the grand narrative isn’t a one-size fits all deal.

I’m not saying not to dream. I’m saying that the myth is so beautiful and we find it hard to see anything else.

This idea of dreaming big, of being able to go from rags to riches – it permeates our media. Look at all of the talent competitions that are currently on the air. Look at the wide eyes of the contestants who hope that they will be the next ones to make it big. And it’s great, and you want to root for them, you want them to move out of their one-bedroom apartment and sell out arenas because they’ve worked so hard, you know?

The same can be said for students who enter higher education.

What happens when you put your all into a system that doesn’t truly look out for everyone’s well-being? What happens when some have access to more resources than others?

Maybe it’s time to rewrite the narrative.


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