Don’t Blame America. Blame The American Dream.

You’re aware of the American dream as hopeful, wanting, optimistic. But the dream you’re unaware of is running from your feelings. They are feelings of fear, feelings of the fear of otherness. In light of the recent South Carolina church massacre, Jason Dias ponders a perverted, racist version of The American Dream.

aNewDomainjason-dias-anewdomain — I came here, to Colorado Springs, at the end of 1991. My Dad was an American, a staunch one. He brought me. He thought he’d retire here. I thought I could live with him, work locally, make something of myself in due time.

He died of preventable and curable cancer. He didn’t want to endure the treatments. So he gave up. He looked at the future and all he saw there was suffering. The best predictor of the future, generally, is the past, and he had trouble seeing the good times. Also, there’s too much suicide in my family. Oh, it looks like cancer sometimes, or maybe a drug overdose, but it’s suicide.

Because of him, I’m a voluntary American. Not an immigrant, not exactly. Let’s just say my citizenship was like an unmeasured electron: It held two states at once. Until it was measured, I was English and American at the same time. 

When we came here and I applied for my first Social Security card, my citizenship collapsed into a known state.

I was too young to make a choice like that. I chose mainly on affiliation. I could come here with Dad or stay there with Mum in England. I made what seemed like the best choice. Generally, it seems that was the case. And I love America. Americans are the most generous people in the world. Americans are giving, loving, friendly, open.

And then there’s that American Dream.When things like the recent South Carolina church massacre come up, a shooting for which one suspect is now arrested, it’s hard not to wonder what has come of it.

Live and let live: the American Dream

Part of our culture is the so-called American Dream. Life, liberty, happiness. Live and let live. Be whatever you want. Make yourself. Get the things you need, the material signs of success and prosperity that are as much symbol as substance: a home, a car, a family dog.

american 2I thought I could do all that. I thought my natural smarts and talents would matter. Always did before. But it wasn’t easy to get a job, even something entry-level. I struggled, bummed around, failed for a while. Dad said he’d pay for me to go to school but I didn’t want him to do that. I wanted to do it myself. 

I went off to join the Air Force. He died while I was in tech school.

In the service, I discovered politics. 

Everybody doesn’t have the same vision, you know. Some people have more power, more rank, and sometimes that’s arbitrary. The person with the best ability isn’t always the one calling the shots. 

Privilege matters. And officers are mostly cut from the same kind of cloth – because of differential admissions at colleges and military academies, differential ability to afford college, faster promotions for guys who look the part.

Sometimes my vision came into conflict with the operations officer’s vision. 

I lost every time, automatically, just because he had a gold leaf on his collar and I just had a couple stripes on my arm. My vision would have saved us millions of dollars, simplified operations, his kept enough officers on his billet to justify his rank.

Here’s the thing: We don’t all dream the same dreams.

A young man walks into a church. He’s white. The congregation is black. The church is at the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement, going back to the 1880s. His dreams all come true. 

In a single minute, he has fulfilled his own perverted American dream. 

Blame guns. Blame politics. Blame Fox News, maybe. It does enough to inculcate their viewers with racist dogma to shoulder some blame. Blame the suspect himself.

But there you have it.

Blame America?

blame americaEnglish people are racist too, and we’re just starting to think about coming to grips with it. We tried to call the Irish and Scots different races, exported hundreds of thousands of Irish as slaves into the new world, got involved with colonialism, Empire, worse. Black women and men in England are much more likely to be hassled by police than their white counterparts. We have people from everywhere, a consequence of Empire, and sometimes behave resentfully about it – that means all the corner-shopkeepers, all the foreign food, all the same complaints as Americans.

But we come here, stay just a minute and conclude: Wow, this place is racist.

You think you’re being coy about it, or covert. But for all of America’s generosity and friendliness, this is a place of deep, abiding, unhealed racial tension. For too many, American dreams aren’t of success and family picnics. They’re of white supremacy.

What are dreams, anyway?

Dreams take place in the unconscious mind. Eighty percent of dreams turn out to have negative emotional valence. In other words, children dream of running from monsters or animals, adults dream generally of awkward or difficult social situations. We practice them in our sleep so when we get to the live event, we already have practiced in the holodecks of our minds.

You’re aware of the American dream as hopeful, wanting, optimistic. But the dream you’re unaware of is running from your feelings. They’re feelings of fear, the fear of otherness. 

And the guilt and shame you think those others want you to feel when they ask for equal protection under the law.

I have to go to school now. I have to teach a chapter about diversity. What is it? How do we know about it?  What is it good for?  

But my job tonight isn’t just to convey the information. 

When things happen like this church shooting, my job is to open the dialogue, find out how people understand the information they’ve been given, sort through the feelings. We can’t have a discussion about anything else, not an honest one, while holding back our feelings about these tragedies. In other words, I have to be there for people. I have to be there a lot these days. At least once a term there’s an event like this, serious enough to intrude on our work, demand attention, deserve recognition.

I can’t be there for the families who have lost today. For the people whose American dreams, already dead or dying, took seven more bullet-wounds this morning. For all the people who go to Black churches who have never been able to feel safe, knowing they have been justified all this time looking over their shoulders.

And I won’t have time to mourn my own American dreams. They’re gone, lost in rampant capitalism, government corruption, systematic racism, for-profit medicine and news and, it seems like, everything.

The American Dream needs revision. America needs to go to therapy, learn about what her subconscious is trying to say. We need to make our racism more explicit because otherwise we have no hope of even wanting to do better. Until we can see what we really want, we can’t decide to want something better.

We’re all dying of preventable causes and refusing the treatments. Dad at least admitted he had cancer, admitted he saw no hope for the future. The rest of us? We’re looking with rosy optimism at a future that has no bright side. What is this undying faith, this American Dream?

American Dream Blame America?

It isn’t and never has been send us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses (with apologies to Lazarus). It has always been Guns n’ Roses: You can have anything you want but you better not take it from me. Or better yet, Rage Against the Machine. Here are the lyrics. Find the YouTube video below that.

Rage Against the Machine

Come on!
Yes I know my enemies
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American dreams (8 times)
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams

Video: New And Old Guns N Roses Stuff YouTube channel

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.

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About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He's a senior columnist at aNewDomain.