You know what I love?
The American Dream.
Maybe that’s a surprising thing to hear me say, as I so often use this blog as a platform to criticize our current system and express deep cynicism about many aspects of American life. But nah, man! I adore that shit. Devoid of the context of its shortcomings, stripped of its more recent associations with a generic sort of upward mobility, in its pure and original form, the American Dream is actually one of my very favorite things.
James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “the American Dream” in his book The Epic of America. He describes it as…
“… That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”– James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America
Freedom, liberty, independence, opportunity: that hopey changey stuff. I believe all the star-spangled buzzwords so often used to describe the national character of America are attempts to capture the light reflected by the glittering facets of this idea: that America is a place where everyone can rise to become their best selves, and that those best selves have equal value despite their differing contributions.
Like I said, I love and treasure this idea. And it’s because of that love that I taste such bitter disappointment in its failure. Nothing stings like seeing something fail when you really, truly believe in its inherent goodness. In the famous words of Tyra Banks: “I have never in my life yelled at [an idea] like this. When my mother yells like this, it’s because she loves me. I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you. How dare you?!”
… Yeah. That’s how I feel about the American Dream in practice.
It’d take a galling amount of ignorance to fail to see the major cultural, political, and socioeconomic realities that make the American Dream more attainable for some than others. In this context, you can talk about the struggles of any number of marginalized groups—women, people with disabilities, queer folks, immigrants, minorities, and “out groups” of all kinds. But today we’re talking about race.
There are many systemic, structural, institutional impediments to black excellence. Today we’re looking at an itty bitty pie slice of history that serves as an example of how white people have used terrorism to destroy black wealth. You know—a lighthearted topic, best served at lunch, with tea and cucumber sandwiches!
We’re going to talk about the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. For the sake of readers who may be sensitive to this topic, let me clarify that our focus today is specifically on the economic impacts of violence. That necessitates acknowledging the existence of slavery, segregation, lynching, false sexual assault allegations, and other upsetting topics. But I see absolutely no reason to repeat racist language or include detailed descriptions of physical violence to meet that goal. Gonna go ahead and miss y’all with that.
Also, we’re gonna keep this history lesson fast and shallow, because I ain’t any kinda damn historian! (Plus if I send Piggy another 5,000 word article for editing, she will divorce me.) We’re going to leave a lot of interesting stuff out, and sum up historical context with our signature house laziness. Slake any remaining thirst on the additional reading links provided at the end!
(You may have heard in the news that Donald Trump selected Tulsa, Oklahoma as the site of his first campaign rally of 2020—on Juneteenth no less! If you aren’t familiar with why this pissed so many people off, get excited! This article is about to shellack you in fresh knowledge like rejuvenating dewdrops on the morning flower!)