The American Dream: Conditioned Ignorance
“When your child enters the world, you’re no longer the center of attention. Every subsequent action should be executed for your child’s best interests and with an understanding of socioeconomic influences.” @bluewolfpenman
Florence Watson (Sheryl Lee Ralph) to Rita Watson (Lauryn Hill) in Sister Act 2: “Singing does not put food on the table. Singing does not pay the bills.”
During an emotion-stirring conversation with several associates, I remembered the scene from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. I am disheartened every time I hear of parents crushing their children’s dreams. I too, know the resentment that emerges from having dreams snuffed out, and experiencing lack of support from loved ones. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I developed the courage to pursue some of the dreams, which aligned with my natural-born talents. By then, it no longer mattered whether I had the approval of those within my close circle of associations. The choices I had made prior to reaching that milestone left me with few options. Either I was going to continue traversing along the rocky and unyielding path I journeyed, or make a change. The adage, “doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity,” had never been truer in my life. Yet, I couldn’t shake off the belief that my growth had in some ways been stunted—that I was setback from accomplishing my goals by people who either didn’t believe in me, or confined me to a box.
This blog is dedicated to people, who were deterred from pursuing their dreams because family and friends didn’t value the talents and abilities they possessed. It may be hard to believe, but the character, Florence Watson, isn’t uncommon in parents. Authoritarian or unsupportive parents rather, aren’t openly discussed by their resentful offspring. Few people desire to demonize their parents, not to mention share their personal experiences, shuddering the idea of potential shame. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain the prevalence of these parental types.
As my associates and I conversed, it became apparent that our lives paralleled with regards to the absence of parental support and investment in our childhood dreams. Now we’re employed in professions that are neither our passion or reflective of our natural talents. Certainly it can be argued that our respective predicaments are the result of personal choices, but the counterargument is that child-rearing has a long-term impact on a personal growth and development. How many of you would agree that many of your decisions were influenced by family values instilled during your upbringing? Then one day, you realized that you spent a significant amount of time following a path you never intended. You also acknowledged that in the passage of time, you habituated and became complacent, found it difficult to alter course. You attribute loss and failure to specific situations and events of your past. In this void of self-discovery, resentment is given form. Meanwhile, your family, friends, and the surrounding world are oblivious to the inner voice that whispers you were meant for something more.
While my theories don’t encompass all scenarios, I propose that in many instances, parents don’t invest in their children for three main reasons: 1) they don’t know how to support their children; 2) their parents discouraged them from pursuing their dreams, and thus, they consciously or subconsciously extinguish their own children’s hopes; and/or 3) socioeconomic conditions have dissuaded them from endeavoring in non-academic and/or non-occupational achievements. Pertaining to the final assertion, many parents have taught their children that the highest career aspiration is to go to college and obtain sustainable employment. It is a perspective that when implemented, has yielded increasingly positive outcomes for different people.
As a disclaimer, I’m an advocate of both education and employment, as I hold two advance degrees myself. I understand that access to financial resources is crucial for survival. Pursuit of those degrees was largely motivated by my belief that advanced education was a key factor in an African-American man’s success. My perception was partially accurate, as the Department of Labor reported that in 2011, “African Americans represented 11.6 percent of the U.S. labor force” (“African-American Labor Force”, n. d.). According to 2010 Census data, “African-American men represented 6.2 percent of the workforce population between 18 and 64 years of age, and a mere 3 percent of scientists and engineers working in those fields” (Bidwell, 2015). I hadn’t evaluated the social context as it revolves within the workforce. A person can have multiple degrees, still be considered unmarketable, and realize little advancement in the context of employment. Everyone won’t become a doctor, nurse, dentist, engineer or lawyer. An even more dismal reality is that many people (especially minorities) will obtain blue-collar occupations, find themselves vying for lucrative employment opportunities higher on the career ladder, and beaten by the competition time and time again. While it might be said, “be grateful for a job,” the sad reality is that the wealthy continue to get rich as the poor inches closer to poverty.
Contrary to the scripted opinion of Florence Watson, I do not believe that God blessed each individual with special talents and abilities to struggle in this life. I do not believe that He equipped us with unique characteristics to remain dormant, never to be exercised. Furthermore, I do not believe that God intended for people to negatively exploit each other (see Matthew 20:26-28; 2 Cor. 9:11-12). Mankind’s quest for dominance, control and greed has created much of the strife that exists within our lives, even from a racial standpoint. We have been imbued with gifts and talents to be activated and put into service, for the purpose of edifying others as well as ourselves, so that all may prosper. Most businesses however, operate under a contrasting philosophy—contribute all of your knowledge, skills and talents for the benefit of the company. Meanwhile, we’ve lost sight of our true calling because we have been conditioned to invest in the aspirations of others at the expense of our own, namely, an employer with an established mission and vision that is preoccupied with generating profits.
In every company there’s only one CEO, a limited number of seats on the board of directors, and a varying amount of management positions based upon headcount. Unfortunately, hundreds, perhaps thousands of employees with degrees will never advance into management and executive positions while working within these environments. If they are African-American or identify with another race of the ethnic minority, or women, ascension along the career ladder is all the more arduous. Because of labor laws, employers are discouraged from blatantly discriminating against employees and applicants on the basis of any classification covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964. However, prejudice employers find other means to bar entrance and advancement of minorities, and justify their subtle actions under the guise of standard screening and selection practices. How can we allow ourselves to forget the $160 million lawsuit that Merrill Lynch agreed to settle after nearly 8 years of litigation in which the company was “accused of providing better opportunities, in addition to compensation to white employees” (Frumin, 2013)? Other companies that have settled similar lawsuits include, but are not limited to: “BMW, Walmart, General Electric, and Coca-Cola” (“11 Top Companies”, 2015). A visit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website informs us of the many corporate lawsuits and settlements that resulted from racial discrimination. Based upon this information, I am forced to ask minorities, why do we impress upon our children to work for racially discriminating companies instead of steering them towards entrepreneurship? If minorities never wake up and began to create opportunities for themselves, they will forever be at the disposal of unsympathetic employers.
The emphasis that African-Americans place on education likely originates from generational conditioning—the passage of philosophy and values. Our forefathers instilled that education, hard work and dedication would elevate African-Americans in society. In certain professional contexts this perspective is valid for all race groups. But I believe that our forefathers failed to warn future generations that racism and prejudice would remain socioeconomically embedded within our society. If they did, and we’re still hoping to receive our 40-acres and a mule, then we’ve been sleeping through the years. Consequently, African-Americans impressed upon their children the same values inculcated them by their parents. And like their parents, they executed the tradition without foresight and awareness of the subtle changes in systematic oppression. When children attempted to deviate from tradition, contention arose and they received lectures much similar to the harangue Rita received from Florence in the movie. Considering the number of mainstream and underground artists, singing is paying somebody’s bills.
African-Americans in particular, have historically been recognized for their exceptional talents in sports and the arts. Goodman (2016) notes that although “African-American males represent 6 percent of the United States’ population, they comprise nearly 70 percent of the players in the National Football League” (para. 1), and between 77 and 78 percent in the National Basketball Association (Lapchick, n. d.; para. 11). When it comes to music and dance, the soul of African-American culture has influenced forms of expression that many non-African-Americans have sought to imitate. Because of their natural-born abilities, many African-Americans were fortunate in that they were able to avoid being hindered or obstructed by the glass-ceiling effect, as exercised talents in the arts allowed them to circumnavigate the political environment of the workplace. There’s no doubt in my mind that while minorities may never defeat discrimination and racism, their talents can open doors that prejudice employers will never permit them to enter or pave way. And when they make it to the top, successful minorities should reach back to their communities and pull up the next generation instead of solely profiting from them. In this exchange, communities flourish and prosper. As it happened, the majority has yet to demonstrate an authentic interest in the advancement of minorities, namely, African-Americans. So, we are for the most part, left to our own devices to progressively achieve.
Under President Donald Trump’s administration, we are witnessing resurgence of blatant hateful and discriminatory rhetoric concerning various minority groups. In the midst of this social upheaval, we continue to protest against white-privilege, injustice and inequality. We have achieved progress, but we’ve also engaged in these activities for far too long without modifying our expectations. The unfortunate truth is that while law possesses the capacity to deter unconstitutional and illegal practices, it does not directly and automatically modify human behavior. Ignorance, hate, and prejudice are manifestations of the inner workings of a person’s heart and mind. If a prejudice employer endeavors to impede minority workers from seeking employment, it will implement measures to ensure the end result. Or, the employer will hire minorities for menial, service-oriented roles, and systematically hinder career advancement into the upper segments of the business hierarchy. In other words, it’s acceptable to employ minorities to “man the trenches”, someone has to do the job. But it’s unthinkable to entrust minorities with more esteemed job titles and responsibilities.
The historical prejudice that now circulates social media illumines that it, along with racism was never eradicated. Perhaps those (minorities included) fortunate to obtain a taste of upward-mobility experienced temporary amnesia until the lid was raised on a waste-filled latrine. But the oppressors vigilantly observe, maintaining silent and methodical control. In many ways, they expect the oppressed to respond in a redundant manner because their behavior has remained unchanged. When minorities begin to boycott some of the largest money-driving vehicles in this country, and increase participation in legislative processes, theoretically, some change may be witnessed. The question is how long will minorities be willing to sacrifice? If nothing else, the wealthy understands money. They have a lot of it, and can’t bear to lose a single penny, which is a vulnerability that can be exploited. It seems that African-Americans in particular, are still trying to connect the dots.
The United States’ social climate with regards to the rectification of racial injustice and discrimination may be best described as an impasse. Given the socioeconomic state, I submit that every minority child should be reared with a cognizance of the adversities that exist in this country, and an awareness of the potential challenges they may encounter as a consequence of their demographics. Indeed, it is important that children are taught the principles of hard work, consistency and stability. These concepts are instrumental to successful achievement. At the same time, they should be encouraged to hone their skills and talents to create their own future, whether such achievements are in academia or artistry. The reality is that every child won't be the next Beyonce, Floyd Mayweather, President of the United States, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, or Bill Gates. Just the same, not every child will be a world-renowned surgeon, physicist, engineer, doctor or lawyer. But it takes observation and engagement with children to understand their potential. In whatever they excel, invest. If they don't want to go to college, teach them about business planning and development, and/or expose them to the resources, which will enable them to be successful. It is an accurate statement, that only what you own, you can control. Minorities shouldn’t have to beg for employment, or be required to prove themselves more so than non-minorities. Furthermore, children shouldn’t be conditioned to adopt these behaviors. If an opportunity is nonexistent, then create one. Even for adults, use the talents that God has given you. Then reach back to the community to prepare the next generation.
Bidwell, A. (2015). African-American Men: The Other STEM Minority. Retrieved May 7, 2017 from https://www.usnews.com/news/stem-solutions/articles/2015/05/07/african-american-men-the-other-stem-minority.
Goodman, H. A. (2016). 70 Percent of NFL Players Are Black Men. Colin Kaepernick Should be Praised, Not Condemned. Retrieved April 24, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/70-of-nfl-players-are-black-men-colin-kaepernick_us_57c7b12be4b07addc4114047.
Lapchick, R. (n. d.). Money Speaks Louder Than Race. Retrieved April 24, 2017 from http://www.espn.com/espn/page2/story?page=lapchick/040510.
Lynch, M. (2013). Black Brokers Settle Racist Claim with Merrill Lynch. Retrieved April 24, 2017 from http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/black-brokers-settle-racist-claim.
11 Top Companies Hit with Employee Racial Discrimination Suits. (2015). Retrieved April 24, 2017 from http://www.bet.com/news/national/photos/2014/06/10-top-companies-hit-with-employee-racial-discrimination-suits.html.
The African-American Labor Force in the Recovery. (n. d.). Retrieved May 7, 2017 from https://www.dol.gov/_sec/media/reports/blacklaborforce/.