If the American Dream means anything, it’s this: The circumstances of a person’s birth ought not limit what he or she can become in life.
Everyone should have the same opportunities to achieve, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender or income class.
Differentials in life outcomes should be predicated solely on individual choices, drive and luck. Should be.
But while each of those individual factors certainly does play a role, the data are compelling that major societal constructs and policy systems have had and continue to have a disproportionate negative impact along racial, ethnic, gender and class lines that cannot be explained by mere individual choices alone.
Given how polarized our nation has become, it will be a challenge to implement the comprehensive reforms needed to eliminate the many biases that impact access to opportunity, whether woven into the fabric of American society or embedded in major policy systems.
But if recent events — like President Trump’s suggestion via Twitter that four minority Congresswomen should go back to the country they came from, or the racially charged allegations Democratic Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez raised against fellow Democratic Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi — are indicative of anything, it’s that America will find it most difficult to redress inequities along racial lines. The reasons for this are two-fold.
First, a not-insignificant segment of America’s white population still harbors racist sentiments against non-white people generally and black people specifically.
This is why all too often politicians who resort to racial demagoguery, whether overt or coded, have found success at the polls.
Examples abound. In addition to President Trump’s various tweets or support of the “birther” conspiracy against former President Barack Obama, there’s plenty of historical instances to choose from, like former President Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which played on racial biases in the Deep South to move voters from their traditional support of Democrats over to the Republican party.
Second, some politicians who are unequivocally committed to eliminating racism in public systems actually make the goal harder to attain by imposing ideological “purity tests” on legislative initiatives or their colleagues in government.
The current tiff between two Democratic Congresswomen, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, an avowed anti-racist, and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of House, illustrates how.
Ocasio-Cortez is part of a four-member group of freshmen in Congress — known as the “Squad.” The Squad, comprised entirely of women of color, is aggressively promoting a very left-leaning agenda.
Because of this agenda, they’ve frequently clashed with Pelosi, who as Speaker has to work with more moderate and conservative Democrats to build consensus.
This has created great friction between the Squad and Pelosi over everything from committee assignments to aiding immigrants at the border.
After Pelosi chastised the Squad for being obstreperous, Ocasio-Cortez accused the Speaker of being “disrespectful” to “newly elected women of color.” Which to many commentators was tantamount to playing the race card.
Speaker Pelosi is a lot of things, but her well-established track record shows “racist” is not among them. As clearly committed to pushing an aggressive social agenda as Ocasio-Cortez is, she — and others in her camp — have to realize America’s diversity isn’t just along racial lines, but also ideological lines.
And simply disagreeing with an initiative backed by someone who is working to eliminate racism does not in and of itself make a person racist.
Indeed, actually passing the comprehensive policy reforms needed to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed in America by eliminating structural racism in systems where the data show it clearly exists — like public education — will require broad support across ideological lines.
Using a racial attack in this instance was not only inapposite, but marginalizes real racism.
The bottom line: American society today does not comport with the American Dream for far too many non-white people generally, and black people specifically, precisely because of their race or ethnicity.
That’s wrong and has to end. As does race-based demagoguery from either the right or left, which is counter-productive to making the American Dream become reality.