Escaping the American Dream: How (Mis)Perceptions of Opportunity Derail Black Politics*
*Working title, manuscript in progress
As racial disparities between Black and white Americans stagnate (and in some areas, worsen) the American Dream myth lives on. In addition to facing structural barriers, Black Americans are disproportionately targeted for predatory inclusion in for-profit education programs, risky investments in digital currencies, and other schemes that promise Black people a shortcut to the American Dream. The false promises of hustle culture promoted by financial institutions, celebrities, and politicians alike have convinced many Black Americans that they can correct institutional harms by making small changes to their own lives. In reality, whites have nearly 8 times as much wealth as Blacks and the gap between Blacks and whites continues to grow. In the face of growing evidence to the contrary, why do so many Black Americans hold on to the American Dream myth? And what are the political consequences of remaining committed to this myth as racial inequality deepens?
My book will examine Black Americans’ complicated relationship with systemic racism and opportunity in the United States from the Great Migration to the present day. The book will draw on historical evidence, survey data, and interviews to identify the mismatch between the reality of America's racially stratified opportunity structure and the perception of colorblindness and racial equality that media and politicians promote. The book will also highlight who has historically had access to the American Dream and why. I show that, despite the ideology undergirding the American Dream, government policies from slavery to the New Deal, directly intervened to create economic opportunities for white people and deny opportunities to Black people. The book will conclude by calling on policymakers to shift away from personal responsibility as a model of policymaking and shift towards collective responsibility. A comprehensive infusion of economic support through all levels of society targeted at Black Americans (a Black New Deal) is the starting point for securing true racial equality. Without such a vision, patchwork, and band-aid policies to address racial inequality will continue to fail the vast majority of Black people and foster anti-Black attitudes.