What does the American Dream mean? It’s a question that strikes people in vastly different ways and sparked a spirited debate from our panelists on the first episode of “Real Talk, Real Change,” a special edition of The Carlos Watson Show sponsored by Chevrolet. We’re having the hard conversations about racial justice and opportunity that America needs right now. I truly believe that the 2020s will be the new 1960s, when we will finally grapple with long glossed-over questions about race, love, gender, loneliness, capitalism and more. I’m thrilled to get those debates started with this exciting discussion, which you can watch in full here, and find some of the most compelling moments below.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich found parallels in the sense of hopelessness and despair other panelists spoke about in the Black community to what he hears from struggling white people. “There’s some commonality with people who are frustrated and think they can’t get somewhere,” Kasich says. But Princeton University professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. believes that comparison misses the mark when you look at history, and how poor whites resent the government “taking their hard-earned money away from them and giving it to undeserving, lazy Black and brown people.”
NBA star-turned-commentator Jalen Rose speaks about the lack of opportunity he saw growing up, meaning the American Dream essentially didn’t exist for him. The two available paths to success in inner-city Detroit, he recalls, were the same as what the Notorious B.I.G. once rapped about Brooklyn: selling drugs or playing basketball. “And I was too scared to sell drugs, so I decided to work on my crooked jump shot,” Rose says.
The prevalence of drugs — particularly during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s — was a common theme among the panelists. Comedian Aida Rodriguez, who had a tumultuous childhood, recalls: “I’m 8 years old, people showing me how to make crack, telling me you’re going to have to learn how to figure something out because these are the options for you.” Actor and trans activist Jasmine Davis, a Chicago native, said: “I was one of three females, well, girls that they allowed on the block to sell drugs because they were like: The police were not going to bother us.”
Author and cultural critic Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has long taken aim at American myths in his writing for The Atlantic and elsewhere, questions the entire basis of the conversation. When asked what he hears when he hears the term “American Dream,” Coates replies: “Carlos, I don’t hear anything.”
During the Black Lives Matter protests, Rose said he had plenty of “fair-minded white guys” have discussions with him about issues around racial justice. But he kept close watch over which of them would say the same publicly on their social media accounts. “I framed those that didn’t speak up as part of the problem,” Rose says. “It made me start using the term: ‘White silence is violence.’”
But talk can only go so far. Psychologist Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, says making change happen in communities afflicted by hopelessness is not about just another pep talk, but real policy change that produces tangible results. “For about 40 years, we’ve known in psychology: This feeling of optimism, this feeling that tomorrow could be better, that I could make something of my life if I tried — it’s actually founded on a few basic principles,” Duckworth says. “But the most important one is that you’ve actually experienced some success.”