5 Lies You Were Told About the American Dream

(Header picture: Person holding protest sign that reads “The American Dream is Over”)

The United States of America, the greatest country in the world, the place where people come to from all over to create better lives and achieve the goals they have for themselves and their families.

This idea is not completely untrue. Comparatively, American people are afforded more freedoms and opportunities than people in other places in the world. However, America has been selling a dream for centuries. This dream is the very thing that entices people living elsewhere and makes some citizens “Proud to be an American”.

Throughout its history, America has been the place where people come to escape persecution and enjoy the liberties that all people deserve. Over time, those liberties were reserved for a certain few. To this day, opportunities for advancement are withheld from people who do not meet certain criteria. Amongst those people excluded from these privileges are women, people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people, working-class people, and more.

What exactly is this dream that America has been peddling? Below are five ideas that we are taught to believe about what is possible for people in this country. While these possibilities are true from some, they come with some fine print that everyone should be clear about.

5 Lies You Were Told About the American Dream



(Viola Davis speech excerpt: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”)

Everyone has the same opportunities.

Equal opportunity is a myth. Unless you are a white, cisgender, heterosexual male, there are many instances where opportunities are held out of reach or flat out denied. This is because of structural oppression, policies put in place specifically to help certain groups of people and hurt others.



(Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde saying “What, like, it’s hard?”)

A college education will set you on track for success.

Research shows that people of color who have attended college still earn significantly less than white people who attended college and white people who did not. So…who exactly is on track for success?



(Oprah Winfrey: “Success is the best revenge.”)

Success stories prove that anything is possible.

Success stories of a non-white person who “made it” typically feature a person who still benefit from some sort of privilege (e.g. maleness, class, language, etc.) If the story doesn’t pander to some aspect of normative culture, you probably won’t hear about it.



(Roseanne Barr in Roseanne sitcom episode: “Well, middle class was fun.”)

Strive for the middle class, a “normal” life

The image of the middle class is just that – an image. The house with the picket fence in the idyllic suburban neighborhood is not a possibility for a vast majority of marginalized people based on institutions built to protect certain privileges for certain people.



(State Farm commercial. Gray-haired man dangles money on fishing hook in front of a woman shopping. When the woman goes to grab the money, the man yanks the money way saying “You almost had it. Got to be quicker than that!”)

Poor people just aren’t trying hard enough.

The ideas propagated against people who have not reached a certain class or income-bracket are false. These ideas can make you believe that if you have not attained a certain social class or level of success, it’s your own fault. These ideas do not take into account the structures in place that prevent people from doing just that.


As harsh as it may seem, the truth is we’ve all been lied to. Someone misinformed us about the game being played here. That’s not to say that victory despite systematic obstacles is impossible, but it’s like everyone was invited to play a sport and only a select few were told that the game was baseball. The rest of us might be quite knowledgeable about the sport but were not given the opportunity to attain the same equipment and practice hours as those who were let in on the secret. We’ve been taught that we’re playing a fair game where everyone has a chance to win, when in reality, the rules were written in favor of a very specific group of people, to the detriment of the rest of us.

So what do we do? Keep trying to win this elusive game? Create a new game? Quit altogether?


Share your thoughts!


by Anika Tene Rich

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