The American Dream: An Increasingly Dangerous Ideology

It is a harsh reality that America, the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave,” is built largely on the exploitation and degradation of minority groups. In encouraging a lie regarding the ideal of individual success and opportunity that has been promoted as a fundamental part of American society, we choose to ignore the systematic oppression of minority groups that has been woven into the fabric of American society. We cannot truly believe that we are the best nation without addressing the needs of every citizen and acknowledging the horrific things that this country has ignored. We must confront the uncomfortable truths of our past and present in order to build a more just and equitable future for all.

The concept of Asian exploitation encompasses a variety of events throughout American history. The Opium War with China allowed American-based drugs to be sold to the largest market in the world, resulting in significant successes for the industrial revolution. America’s most prestigious universities were founded using illegal money generated from the opium trade. In another instance of exploitation, native pacific islanders were used as guinea pigs for testing in order to advance America’s war efforts. The effects of radiation from the nuclear bomb explosions on the natives of Bikini island were drastic, harming not only those directly exposed but also causing future generations a guaranteed abundance life-threatening and impairing conditions. As these innocent people were experimented on by willing American government officials in power and treated as far less than human, the benefits for the United States were rendered palpable in the face of inhumane devastation to this Asian minority group. In addition, tainted images of China were imposed upon Americans, fueling hatred that remains today and establishing an imagined American dominance through propaganda and misinformation. The communist paranoia during the red scare resulted in dozens of heavily restrictive immigration laws, while the Miner’s Tax exploited Chinese railroad and miner workers into laboring for very little money.
Mass incarceration is a manifestation of racial segregation that enables police brutality, removes minorities from functional society, and permits those in power to dehumanize Black Americans. This has resulted in the highest incarceration rate in the world, as politicians in positions of power have used fear and thinly veiled racial rhetoric to push for punitive policies, such as President Nixon’s “war on drugs.” Loophole laws, starting with the thirteenth Amendment, have allowed for the continuation of minority oppression as a punishment for a crime. The CCA organization, a product of this oppression, requires prisons to be filled, even with innocent people. This has encouraged policies like the Three Strikes Law and increased minimum sentences, designed to keep people incarcerated. Inmates are often forced to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit to avoid extremely long mandatory minimum sentences. Laws like SB1070 have given police the power to stop anyone who looks like an immigrant, contributing directly to the profit of the CCA. Detention facilities for immigrants have become, in essence, prisons. Additionally, the government exploits prisoners for labor as corporations profit from punishment. We, as a nation, have decided to not only punish individuals for their crimes but also to strip them of their rights and dehumanize them for life. Felony charges are increasingly placed on people of color, limiting their ability to exercise their rights as citizens of the United States. Mass incarceration is a cycle of systematic oppression that has been utilized since slavery. As a society, we must remain vigilant to prevent the next iteration of oppression and become aware of the inequities in which this nation is built upon.
As America proclaimed itself an affluent society, the perception that economic problems were no longer a concern strengthened. The country’s focus shifted from necessity to luxury and quality of life. However, between 40 to 50 million Americans continue to live in poverty, lacking basic necessities such as housing, education, healthcare, and nutrition. These individuals are often socially invisible and ignored by the more privileged members of society. Poverty is hidden and romanticized in the media, while the rich increasingly segregate themselves from the poor through tactics like suburban living and redlining. Despite the benefits of mass production, many Americans still suffer from hunger and lack of access to basic resources. The poorest individuals in society are often politically invisible, unable to advocate for themselves. This is a cruel irony of an advanced nation, as we have created an emotional and existential ignorance of poverty while simultaneously teaching our children that America is superior to other nations. The American Dream promotes individual success and opportunities, but can this be possible when a significant portion of our population lacks the resources necessary for success? In order to progress, we must recognize the reality of inequality and end the ignorance that assumes equality and opportunity for all.

As a nation, we have a history of exploiting minority groups and failing to provide for those in need. The issues of Asian exploitation, mass incarceration, and poverty are all interconnected symptoms of this systemic oppression. We must recognize the reality of inequality and take action to address these issues, rather than ignoring or romanticizing them. Only by acknowledging and dismantling the systems of oppression can we hope to create a more just and equitable society for all. It is time to move beyond rhetoric and take meaningful action towards a more equitable future.