In microeconomics, there is a theory called “opportunity cost”. It is simply defined as what one will potentially lose when choosing one option over an alternative option. This can be illustrated in several scenarios: getting married and having children vs. remaining single; going to college vs. going to the military or trade school; choosing to rent an apartment vs. buying a home; becoming an entrepreneur vs. continuing to work in the traditional workforce.
One is presented with several options but ultimately can only choose one. But often, there is this incessant pressure to make the right choice and achieve a life of success, wealth, and status. There is no greater scenario that this rings true for the relationship between the American Dream and the African American community.
Scholars and economists have presented puzzling research that the current millennial and generation Z generation are predicted to be less “well off” than the generation X and baby boomer generations before them. Journalists ranging from Courtney Martin to Harrison Scott Key have spoken about it; Financial gurus ranging from Suzan Orman to Dave Ramsey have become popular culture icons in terms of their principles on monetary value; there has even been a literal political war campaign for the upcoming 2020 election on student debt.
It is fair to say that the American Dream is in bankruptcy.
Unpack this concept of the American Dream. What is the American Dream? Who decided what the American Dream is and who decides if one has achieved it?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “the American Dream” as, “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful.” This idea that the American dream is attainable by anyone, regardless of race, gender, and class. Of course, our nation’s history and even recent events have proved this to be a large contradiction.
Beyond generation wealth, the American Dream, and the African American community, one question holds true: how does a group of people achieve a dream that was not meant for them?
Why do seldom few African American achieve the American Dream? Because the American Dream was not meant for them.
Remember, African Americans were historically considered property and/or three-fifths of a person. Reference the Three-Fifths Compromise. Yet they are told to subscribe to an idea that they can achieve this dream of success and wealth if they just work hard when they had been working hard against their will for centuries and received nothing.
Now, in the twenty-first century, this rhetoric still haunts the African American community, often reincarnated in popular terms, “keeping up with the Joneses” and “the haves and the have nots”. Success is measured by things: houses, cars, jewelry, vacations, etc. Status. What has that lead to? Once again perpetuating this false ideology of the American Dream being for African Americans.
To a certain degree, African Americans do have to work harder than their white counterparts. But what continues to be a failing metric is if they reach the status of their white counterparts, they have “made it.”
What role does opportunity cost play in this?
Understanding that every choice one makes has a price, but for a group of people who had been largely excluded from the American Dream, is it realistic to believe that if an African American makes the right choice, they will achieve success, wealth, and status?