The ‘American Dream’ vs. The ‘American Reality’: The Fight for Civil Rights – Black Lives Matter

The American Reality

23rd June 2020

Author's own artwork

The US presents a national ethos of the ‘American Dream’; an ideological illusion that presents freedom and boundless opportunities for all citizens. Yet, a country riddled with social injustice reveals itself as the true ‘American Reality’, with this unjustness continuously manifesting.


Axiomatic acts of discrimination are evidenced through authorities, such as the government and the police force projecting implicit biases through promoting discriminatory legislation and brutality, consequentially regressing equality within society. 


Before the unnerving presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, the future of America seemed optimistic during Obama’s eight years in office. His administration presented efforts to repeal prejudiced bills and actively implement social policies to advance the conception of equal rights, whilst under Trump’s leadership the country witnessed a not-so shocking retrogression in social equality.


This series titled The ‘American Dream’ vs ‘American Reality’ will follow the fight for Civil Rights battled by minority communities in attaining fundamental human rights. The Declaration of Independence suggests “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” economic prosperity and success; for each individual to thrive in their education, employment and familial life. However, this dream is a mere dream for minority communities, unfairly disadvantaged due to their race, sexual orientation or ethnicity. 


We need to recognise the daily injustices faced by the Black, LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities in America by engaging in discussions to eradicate micro-aggressive behaviour stemming from inherent racism in society and proactively participating in movements of change. 


The first issue discussed in this series is the racial disparities omnipresent in American society. 


Black Lives Matter


Martin Luther King Jr.’s influential “I Have a Dream” speech alluded to The American Dream, suggesting the stark racial gap between the dream and reality. This became a symbol of change and hope as he preached that his “dream [is] deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed…I have a dream”. Fifty-seven years later, the oppression of the Black community is ever-present in society, with the actuality of racial profiling and systemic racism widening the gap between the reality and dream MLK aspired for.  


The engendering of modern racism has been ingrained in America through years of oppression and racially charged legislation. This reality is present through a history of redlining, over-criminalisation, racial profiling and bounded opportunities. Black homeownership is 42% compared to White homeownership of 72%.  Black graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed. Black-sounding names are 50% less likely to be offered job interviews. The actuality of The American Dream is an infrastructure infested with racial biases, racist leaders and racist social policies. 


June 19, 1865, marked the freedom of slaves in Texas. Juneteenth is a day of celebrating the emancipation of Black slaves and the extirpation of slavery. However, 155 years later, we still witness racist boundaries, lynching and prejudicial behaviour towards the Black community. This year, Juneteenth was marked by the continuation of protests as part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, where the Black community are forced to justify that their lives matter, and protest to simply stay alive rather than embrace the liberation of their ancestors. 


The genesis of modern day racism and slavery is apparent through the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution ‘abolishing’ slavery – “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”


The end of the Civil War emancipated four million Black slaves, who were a crucial component of the economy, leaving leaders to exploit a ‘loophole’ in the 13th Amendment to modernise slavery legally, in the form of criminal punishment. Legislative powers of American leaders made this possible. 


The tragic murder of innocent George Floyd followed by the murders of Breonna Taylor, Treyvon Martin, Sandra Bland and countless other innocent Black lives by the police has sparked a monumental movement and uncovered an appalling racist history established by legislation. 


Nixon’s 1968 campaign of the war against drugs heavily criminalised petty crimes. The Reagan Anti-Drug Abuse Act 1986 established mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession and changed the system from a rehabilitative to punitive system. The Clinton Crime Bill 1994 increased the number and severity of criminal laws, while expanding police funding which was dedicated to disciplinary rather than restorative measures.


“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities…Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” – John Ehrlichman (Nixon’s aide). 


The admission of a racist intent for legislation by former presidents of the US illustrates the root of institutional racism and implicit racial biases. White superiority complexes prominent through various American presidents highlights the fact that the Black community was never viewed as equal. Therefore, these bills were designed as a means of targeting Black lives, disguising their clear purpose of reinstating slavery though labelling it as a ‘war on drugs’. 


This mass incarceration of Black individuals for minor crimes such as marijuana possession led to the prison population tripling in the twenty years preceding the 1994 Act. This was paralleled with police brutality in arresting Black people on minor crimes, or even suspicions, proceeding into 2020 where  the Black community face a higher likelihood (three times as likely) of being killed by police than the White community.


Though the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation were apparently expelled byways of The Civil Rights Act 1964, the disproportionate imprisonment of 40.2% of Black people (making up 6.5% of the population) reveals the mere reformation of the laws. The disenfranchisement of convicted felons mirrors the Jim Crow laws, stripping individuals of their fundamental rights. The tactical use of statutory instruments to criminalise Black individuals intertwined systems of justice, housing, voting, employment and education, resulting in the Black community being disadvantaged by nearly every aspect of life – the antithesis of the ideals presented by The American Dream.


The worldwide protests occurring in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have reinforced the extremity of racism, significantly portrayed by police brutality. The paradox of violent policing methods in approaching protests against police brutality strongly demonstrates the deep entrenched prejudices amongst authorities against Black lives. Peaceful protesters have been met with arrests, the use of tear gas, pepper spray, batons and fists. The first two weeks of protesting resulted in at least 19 deaths (a majority being Black). Ironically, two weeks prior, individuals risked spreading coronavirus and filled the streets in condemning lockdown measures – met with no police brutality. The dichotomy between protesting to stay alive and to simply get a haircut reinforces the distressing nature of racism in America. 


The death toll of innocent Black individuals/advocates is innumerable. Yet, some people are angrier about the destruction of material objects, the disfigurement of racist statues, the redaction of blackface entertainment and the concern of ‘preserving’ a racially filled history. The overwhelming presence of White privilege in society has unfolded, wherein privilege acts as a mask to the existence and extremity of this problem. The value of Black lives supersedes the value of entertainment and material goods. 


Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” has still not solidified; the American Reality is a system suffused with racism. The emancipation of enslaved Black individuals has not altered the perception of equality amongst the races. Inherent biases prevail in leaders and the community, surviving over time and resulting in the existence of implicit racial prejudice today. 


The uprising of millions of protesters advocating for Black lives has resulted in positive change – the arrest of murderous police officers, reformation of the policing infrastructure and changes in laws. Black lives DO matter, and the movement will not stop until this seemingly obvious statement is appreciated worldwide.


It is not enough to simply not be racist; we need to be actively anti-racist to emerge from the silence and use it as a catalyst for change to fulfil The American Dream.


Make a difference: 

Sign the Petitions: 

Black Lives Matter

Justice for Breonna Taylor

Justice for George Floyd


Watch and Read:

When They See Us (2019), Netflix

13th (2016), Netflix 

Seven Seconds (2018), Netflix 

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (2019)

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad (2020)

White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018)



The author has decided to capitalise the word ‘Black’ out of respect to the Black community. Recently, the Associated Press have made the decision to capitalise ‘Black’ in line with ‘Latino, Asian, American’ to be inclusive of African diaspora, identity, culture and history. “The lowercase black is a colour, not a person” and “eight million Americans are entitled to a capital letter,” reflects the decision of the author.
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