The American Dream Myth
Since it’s Super Sunday, I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on football, race, and life. And especially my thoughts on this idea of the American Dream myth. Last year at this time, the Richard Sherman story was one of the most heralded narratives in the mass media. Here we have this kid from Compton who ended up at Stanford and is now living out his childhood dream. Sounds great right? We naively look at this and tell our youth, “see all you have to do is work hard and you will get what you want.” Not so fast. This story is not about how hard work is the key to success for all. This story, if you boil it down, is about the ways in which Black men are allowed to succeed in a system of perpetual hegemonic rule. If you do work hard in sports you will be afforded the opportunities to succeed as a Black male. This hard work pays off ethic is not true for all endeavors. What about those Black males who are not athletically inclined nor particularly interested in sports? Does this same hard-working “American Dream” hold true? Unfortunately, I would say no.
The Richard Sherman story is a great one indeed but we also have to keep in mind how some of these narratives extend our ideas of popular knowledge. The Black male as “the brute” is one that has detrimental psychological consequences on many of our Black youth. Pushing Black males into sports because they are “naturals” does nothing for the majority of Black boys. On the contrary, it simply maintains the status quo by implying that if you are Black and a male you should pursue sports, because if you work hard there you will be rewarded. That same meritocratic paradigm does not lend itself to other avenues of life. I rarely see Black boys being pushed into academics like science, math, politics and so on. This Sherman story lends itself to the theme that “to succeed in the United States, an individual only has to work hard” and also that “one can realize their dreams in the United States if they are willing to work hard and pull themselves up by the bootstrap”. While this might be true for some people, it is not true for all. For Black people, especially Black males, there are only marginalized contexts in which this is true – sports being one of them. So while you continuously hear these broadcasters and journalist talk about how Richard Sherman is such a great example for kids, keep in mind how closed the context really is and what these people are really saying (or not saying) about Black masculinity and culture.
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