By Ruth Sybil May
The United States is proudly touted as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Anyone living here who has a strong work ethic and a great deal of determination is sure to become successful, achieving the American Dream. That dream includes: being free, having one’s own nuclear family, and especially acquiring financial stability. At least, that’s what American nationalism and patriotic culture tells us.
But frankly, this supposed pathway to personal and financial success, rooted in a person’s work ethic and goal orientation, is a fabrication of deceit from our highly capitalistic and individualistic Western culture. The ideology of the American Dream is designed to give the oppressed underclass false hope about their own personal power to dig themselves out of poverty. It simultaneously gives class privileged people the false notion that they somehow have earned or deserve everything they possess (despite the fact most class privileged people were ascribed this status at birth). This way, the American middle to upper class’ disproportionate hoarding of wealth is justified by assuming that they must have just worked harder than everyone else to gain all of that money and power.
But the reality is that the American Dream is nothing more than an unattainable myth for the people of the underclass who have to bust their butts, day in and day out, just to garner enough earnings to scrape by, whether the work be through legal or illegal means. The enticing mirage of the American Dream only serves to set us up for bitter disappointment. Not to mention, a lot of people face barriers to employment and discrimination based on age, race, gender identity, gender expression, sexual identity, class, ethnicity, immigrant status, religion, disability, and mental health. And people who live outside of the United States, who live in “Third World” nations, whose countries may have been colonized, proselytized (see definition here), capitalized, and/or industrialized, play an integral role in making the American Dream possible for people in the “First World” United States. (Note that I have put the terms “First World” and “Third World” in quotations to signify my uneasiness of using such inherently hierarchizing language, but I use these terms for a lack of better terminology that I’m aware of.) These people perform manually intensive, exploitative, hazardous labor while meagerly earning slave wages that force them into a life of poverty and distress so that the United States can further the income gap between a grotesquely greedy “First World” nation and their “Third World” counterparts, and further expand capitalism’s insatiable drive for profit, no matter the human cost.
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So this begs the question, whose American Dream is it? Why the young, rich, white, cisgender, straight-identified, middle to upper class, native born, Western, Christian, able-bodied man, of course! His perspective serves as the proxy for all human experience and existence. And why shouldn’t it? It’s not like this totalizing tactic erases the narratives and voices of millions of people. Why take accountability for the failure to factor in an intersectional framework (See Link) that would best capture the diversity and complexity of real human’s lives when you reign supreme in the status quo of hegemonic culture? To do so would involve realizing that the American Dream is deeply rooted in a multitude of interlocking systems of oppression and imperialism that impact not only the lives of Americans, but the lives of people from all around the globe. This could cause even the most privileged of people to consider how they participate in the fierce oppression of their fellow human beings and feel empathy for them! And that would just be too Un-American.
Ruth is a third year undergraduate student at St. Cloud state, studying Women’s Studies and Human Relations. Andy is a transgender non-binary femme person from a working class background with a passion for social justice, fashion, and their dearest cat.