Does The American Dream Apply To Me?

In case you missed my latest The Plug column article, here it is. Be sure to check out the magazine here, to find out whats hot and happening in South Africa's dynamic popular culture scene.


It’s been one full week [at the time of publishing] since I graduated with my Masters degree from one of the top 3 ranking design schools in the world. This being my third degree, I have almost attained every kind of degree you can, save for a PhD (I will get it, give me time), and am feeling pretty good about what I’m capable of. The job search has begun, and I’m not only faced with a lot of decisions to make about my future, but also a lot more questions. Should I stay in New York or move back to South Africa? What is the smart decision? Where is there the most opportunity for me to kick-start my career? How do I know if I’m making a financially sound decision? Does the American Dream apply to me?

America has a national ethos embodied in the moniker ‘land of the free’ and defined by a set of ideals in which being free means all men and women have an equal opportunity for prosperity, the pursuit of happiness and success. In essence, simply having access to upward social mobility achieved through one’s own perseverance and hard work, the quintessential American Dream. The first use of the phrase American Dream was by James Truslow Adams to characterize the ideal that every man should live a richer and fuller life than his ancestors based on opportunity according to ability or achievement.

The American Dream has been a core component of American ideology as a motivational cornerstone of American life. Whether an American citizen, immigrant, or a visitor, the American Dream holds meaning to anyone wanting to better him/herself; they want to have the good life, a life better than their preceding generations, a life that shows progression in upward mobility. The belief that hard work would be what determined how one could achieve the glory that was the American Dream was shoved forcefully down the throats of the masses. The harder an individual worked, the greater potential for him/her to afford the material possessions that reflected the inward success of the individual to the outward public.

Joan Huber and William H. Form (1973) found that while a majority of the population characterized the United States as the ‘land of opportunity,’ social position and experience affected the likelihood of belief in economic opportunity. Factors such as race, class and gender are social constructs that manifest politically and affect one’s ability to compete equally for opportunity. Consider people who are unable to afford tertiary education based on systemic oppression; or even those who had to take out student loans to be able to complete their degrees, now begin life on the back foot of debt. Black women are the demographic most likely to struggle on the quest for the American Dream, based purely on the fact that no one is lending a political hand.

As Karl Marx noted, ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’

So here’s me, young, black, foreign, female with little formal work experience in this country, but a 4.0 graduate level GPA and thanks to my parents, no debt. I received my first rejection letter a few days ago, and although I am over qualified for the position, the rejection cited ‘just not the right fit’ as the only con on my resume.

In South Africa, my mother fought from the ground up for my family’s socio-economic position, and using that as a starting off point makes upward mobility at home a far more achievable goal. But here in America, I am entirely on my own, operating in a system that is pretty much geared towards my failure. Here in America, there is no room for mistakes. So now I have to ask myself, what does opportunity mean for me? Where am I really free?