America likes to envision itself as a society in which personal empowerment and self-advancement is limitless. It presents itself as a meritocratic society where there is a direct correlation between working hard and achievement. However, in the lived reality of most individuals personal experience, this is seldom the case. Examples abound of people who are working hard (working two part-time jobs, for example, or working full time and going to school full time at an inexpensive school, where they can afford tuition) who are unable to use these efforts as a platform of success.
While it is true that some minority groups — Italians, Jews, and Asians — have achieved material success, these groups have not suffered the same barriers as African-Americans, who faced legal sanctions for many years on their rights to vote, to literacy, and to self-empowerment. There has been an almost seamless shift from de facto and de jure Jim Crow in America to an insistence that race does not matter.
Indeed, many of the former advocates of Jim Crow that are still alive vehemently oppose affirmative action in the name of American color-blindness, misapplying Martin Luther King Jr.s famous “I have a dream speech.”
Social support networks — access to better job training, access to student loans, and access to other means to advance and empower historically-discriminated-against groups — are necessary to truly create an equal America. These are not hand outs but rather helping hands to truly enable individuals, once marginalized, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The idea that “you can be anything that you want to be” is empty unless that desire is fulfilled with access to decent and affordable places to live and to seek an.