The American Mirage
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The American Dream is a beautiful concept. It is the closest we can get to paradise in a broken world. Unfortunately, we are far from paradise.
This Dream is all about the individual, focusing on how anyone can achieve success in our society through hard work alone. However, it disregards the social and economic contexts that affect both the opportunities and barriers presented to each individual.
In recent articles, Branton Nestor claims that “there are no such things as insurmountably unequal starting points.” While it is true that nothing is completely impossible and hard work is important, this doesn’t mean that we all start on the same playing field.
Nestor argues for the American Dream on two fronts: education and the workforce. We will demonstrate that this dream is a mirage rather than a reality, based on the fact that racism and discrimination, both individuals and institutional, are thriving in our nation.
In response to Branton’s claim that minority students receive as much funding as white students, there are still wide educational disparities between predominantly white schools and low-income, minority schools.
One of the biggest differences is the quality of the teachers in these schools. Inner-city schools in places like Oakland offer almost $10,000 less for a starting teacher, much less than a wealthy, white, suburban school in a nearby area. Plus, these inner-city teachers usually have to spend their own money on classroom supplies and have to deal with larger class sizes.
These situations attract less-qualified teachers who often do not have a degree or license in the field they are teaching. According to a study conducted by Linda Darling-Hammond, a Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, teacher quality affects students’ achievement, and these disadvantaged students are thus less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. In addition, students are less likely to prioritize academic achievement and enjoy less family support in school.
Sadly, racism does not stop at the educational level, but continues into adulthood, despite Nestor’s denial of racism’s prevalence in the workforce.
A recent article published by the Huffington Post demonstrates that simply having a Hispanic-sounding name decreases one’s job prospects. José Zamora changed only one thing on his resume, his name, to become “Joe Zamora,” and saw an instant increase in job offerings. Thus, when his name signified that he was a person of color, he seemed to be less qualified than when his name suggested that he was a white man. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.
A more explicit example of how racism pervades in hiring practices is found in how white applicants are hired compared to black applicants. Several studies, including one from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, show that white applicants convicted of a felony are still more likely to be called back for a job interview than black applicants with no criminal history. If this isn’t a blatant example of racism, then what is?
While hard work is admirable, the American system still has barriers of inequality that greatly inhibit the achievement of success. Our tragic history creates a framework for lasting disparities that keep racial minorities at a disadvantage.
To say that there is no system of inequality regarding race, gender, ability, or sex contradicts the reality of marginalized individuals.
A 2011 study by Warren Waren compares this inequality to the game of Monopoly. Imagine that marginalized individuals have been passing “Go” for years, never being given their $200 while all other players have been collecting theirs. Once this inequality is recognized, and the marginalized begin collecting $200, they are still left behind those who have benefited from the rules of the game from the beginning.
If we can acknowledge the truth that racism is still alive in America, then we can begin to take one step closer to actualizing the American Dream.
As students going to a Christian college, we are called to recognize the diversity of the body of Christ. When we fail to recognize our brothers and sisters who are being excluded on the basis of race, social standing, physical ability, gender, or sexual orientation, we effectively sever them from the body of Christ. It’s not just a flesh wound.