Friday, September 30, 2011
"Occupy Wall Street": The Real "American Dream"
just this morning, i was talking to a family member about the current "Occupy Wall Street" movement. i haven't been able to get down there yet, though i live in the Bronx; it only takes 2 train rides to get there. still, between my gig, my kids, and my other gig, i have yet to check it out live and in person. on top of that, i'm counting my dollars. sure. a train ride there and back only costs about $5. but my most well-paying gig chose not to pay us for the first 2 weeks of work, after we'd worked for 4 weeks. instead of a double check, they gave us pay for 2 weeks, promising to hit us up with what they owe at the end of the semester. word. that's in december. we were all banking on that double pay check, too. but nah. not happening. anyway, that means less duckets in the account. and that also means a little more nickel and diming it. for a single mom with two kids, that means negotiating increased food prices, piano lessons, constant utilities and rent, and transportation for three. the $5 for the train ride to Wall Street could be $5 to get my youngest daughter to her piano lesson. in fact, that's exactly what that $5 will be put toward. what does this have to do with"Occupy Wall Street"? well, it is EXACTLY what the movement is about. and i can't even get there, 'cause the folk holding the state's purse strings owe me for two weeks of work. ain't that trippy? oh. i'm an educator, by the way. go figure.
anyway, i was talking to this family member about how i've been feeling the boot of the wealthy 1% on my neck for the past 16 years and how it's curious that only after the staunchly middle class folk of this country start to feel the pain does any momentum pick up behind the "power to the people-ain't no more American Dream" movement. and we also noted that most of the protesters seem to be white folk - i'm sorry; i can't hold the post racial line. i could say that most of the people down there are of a skin complexion lighter than brown, but that just skirts the truth in a silly way. anyway, that realization (Aha!) led to a conversation about how classism has weakened solidarity within the black community, and we troubled how that all began, leading us to a debate about integration. and many of us already know that debate well. it's formed by this question: did integration strengthen our community, giving us all greater access to equality with white people and creating a less racialized existence? and there is no clear answer. it seems that on the surface, integration led to a more democratic citizenship for us all. we can eat at the same places. we can go to school and live in the same places. we can apply for the same jobs. on paper. but when you study the stats, it's clear that we still tend to forge community based on similarity. and there are still disparities between how black folk live in mass numbers when compared to white folk. and of course, it's more than black and white. we've got many ethnicities populating this nation. but let's be real: the blacker the berries the more likely the oppression, institutionalized and smack up in your face, tazed, maced, cuffed, and problematic.
still, we can all try reaching that proverbial American Dream, which means ... we all have the same chance at getting rich. never mind only a few of us will get there. at least we can all try. and this means that we are now equally able to fail at it, just like white folks. and we should be happy about that. sweet liberty, if you can catch it.
recently, i got into a Facebook debate with another black friend of mine. he happens to be economically privileged. and he said that we are all capitalists, and that means it's "dog eat dog." get what you can for you and yours, never mind the lives of the majority of the population. if you got it, flaunt it. and hold on tight. he didn't say, "if you got it, share it." and his blackness did not cause him to consider the poverty of so many in his community in any heart-felt way. he's holding onto the Dream, and hoping to build into it for the benefit of his children. and that's his right in this country. his blackness does not prevent that, at least it doesn't until it does. and it always can. but he's further removed and running to get even more distance. "don't hate the hustle; learn from it." that's what many say. but for those of us straining against the capitalist beast's boots, there's only vapors left to catch. toxic vapors.
that means that this friend is less a part of my community than a white woman who is also struggling to make ends meet. she can't make it to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, either. she's simply trying to feed her kids. sure, our realities bear some mark of difference in terms of our individual likelihood of being sucked into the trials of institutionalized racism. but still, our communities are drawn closer together by class similarities, though we have to work hard to remove the veil that our ethnic differences enforce. that doesn't mean loosening ties to cultural solidarity. but that does mean that capitalism, even in its failure, creates interest groups along class lines that have such powerful numbers that we should believe that we cannot fail. we simply have to act on it. integration means that we all have equal opportunity to struggle together; we're already doing it.
and i will be making my way to "Occupy Wall Street," just as soon as i get my next pay check. i suggest all black, brown, yellow, red, white, and blue folk do the same. perhaps that is the true solidarity possible in the American Dream.