Dreams are meant for everyone….except black people….or at least that’s the way that it seems. Do you think when black parents tell their children, “You can do anything you put your mind to” they really believe it? I don’t…let me explain why…
When I was a little girl I had dreams of being a number of things. I wanted to be a judge, a writer, a college professor and president of the United States. Up until I was seven years old my parents feed me the cliché, “You can do anything you put your mind to” talking point. However, that all changed when my father heard me declare my desire to one day be president of the United States.
Though he didn’t directly say it to me, I heard him tell my mama that there was no way in hell I would ever be president of the United States, and in so many words she should stop humoring me. I heard mama tell him to fuck off. He didn’t know what the future held and if I wanted to be president of the United States who was he to tell me I couldn’t do it?
Consequently, this was also the year I repeated the second grade because I struggled to learn how to read. Maybe this was the reason my dad dismissed (and crushed) my dream. I don’t know for sure, but I’m more of the belief that he simply could not see a black woman (or a black person period) ever being president of the United States.
This was the first time I realized, or at least suspected, that my parents really didn’t mean “You can do anything you put your mind to.” It would take a few more years, and the onset of racial consciousness for me to understand why they felt this way.
What my parents meant to say, and what most black parents mean to say to their children is, “You can be whatever you want to be…as long as it’s within certain limitations. You know…like a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or even a well-known athlete, but don’t get your hopes up for something beyond a safe professional white-collar field. You’re black….you likely won’t make it that far.”
What my parents stopped themselves from saying (because I was a child, and well parents are supposed to encourage a child to dream even if they know it is bullshit) “You can do anything you want to do…kinda….sorta….but not really.”
God forbid if a black child wants to be president of the nation, a world-renowned writer, an artist, television producer, an US senator etc. The few of us who make it in theses fields are outliers….to be respected, but not really emulated. These are “white” fields….not to be pursued by black folks unless we want to starve to death.
And what about Barack Obama?
He became president. He’s also half-white….something most black people in this country don’t share with him. He grew up solidly middle class, was raised by whites, attended an Ivy league school, and generally doesn’t share the average reality of most black people in this country. He shouldn’t be used as the litmus test.
Can you imagine the devastation a black child must feel when he or she realizes they are not allowed to dream of being great at whatever they want to do simply because he or she is black?
It is for this reason that I believe so many black children fail in school. They become hopeless. They see hopelessness in their communities. They see hopelessness in their parents’ faces. They realize they really can’t be what they would like to be because the world tells them they are black, different, and inferior.
It happens early in life.
Black children are told both overtly and covertly by the world, the media, our parents, and our community we can’t afford to dream, we shouldn’t dream, how dare we dream, and all the bad things that could happen if we follow our dreams.
If I had to guess it happened with many of my peers when we were still in middle school. For me, I think it happened when I turned 30 and settled into a comfortable job. At that point I think my mindframe shifted to well this might be the best you’ll ever get whereas it used to be I want more than this shit.
I think this “fall” (I’m not sure what else to call it) is more devastating for educated blacks who did all the right things, defied all the stereotypes, overcame all the obstacles only to find themselves underemployed, unemployed, heavily in debt from student loans, and stuck in the rat race fighting for scraps just hoping someone….anyone…will give them a chance. I’m sure many of these folks wished they’d followed their dreams instead of choosing the so-called “safe” path. They could have been underemployed and unemployed as a writer or an artist rather than as an attorney.
Either way we, the black community, end up with a group of people who seem beat down and sometimes angry at the world because they were never truly allowed to be or even to dream of being great.