I remember that, when I first heard that Donald Trump was running for president, I laughed. Sure, the Terminator had had a successful run as Governor of California, but this was different. This time, the person in question was running to be the President of the United States. Even before the truth of his racism and misogyny came to light, a man with several failed business ventures didn't seem like a candidate fit to be president. But, on Tuesday night, Trump became the president-elect — after the truth of his racism and misogyny came to light. The concept of the American Dream may seem outdated in modern society, a phrase that hasn't been bandied with as much passion as in the days of Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. But the American Dream is a daily reality for me as a Jamaican-American immigrant, and the promise of the American dream was apparently what led many of Trump's supporters to vote him into office. The thing is, Donald Trump does not represent the American dream. He dismantles it.
"The American dream is big enough for everyone. For people of all races and religions. For men and women. For immigrants, for LGBT people, for people with disabilities. For everyone," Hillary Clinton said during her concession speech Wednesday morning. However, President-Elect Donald Trump's American Dream is not, in fact, big enough for everyone. He has spoken out against Mexicans and Muslims. He has bragged about his freedom to mistreat and assault women. He has said he plans to deport immigrants, stood against gay marriage, and mocked our military veterans. Trump's American Dream is not for everyone. His American Dream is for him, and for people who look like him: entitled white men. Not entitled white people. Entitled white men.
In a 2009 Vanity Fair article titled "Rethinking the American Dream," the phrase is defined by writer David Kamp as the idea that,
"Life in the United States offered personal liberties and opportunities to a degree unmatched by any other country in history — a circumstance that remains true today, some ill-considered clampdowns in the name of Homeland Security notwithstanding. This invigorating sense of possibility, though it is too often taken for granted, is the great gift of Americanness."
This definition was based on the writings of James Truslow Adams, whose book, The Epic of America, popularized the term in the first place. But, while a 2014 CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans consider the American Dream "unachievable," it's the promise of that dream that draws millions of immigrants to the United States every year.
When I ask her about how my family came to the U.S., my mother describes the story of how we came to live in this country for 11 years as one that started with possibility. "There were more opportunities here," she says simply. So she took an exam for a program to send nurses to America, and then she worked hard — alone and relentless and determined — to make enough money to bring me and my father here to live with her.
America was far from perfect. I was mocked and bullied into losing my Jamaican accent. I was criticized for being too foreign and for sounding too white. I found very few role models who looked like me on and off screen. I went to schools and held jobs where I was the only black person in the room. But every country has their problems, and America provided me with so much to love.
It provided me with the hope that even I, a black girl from Jamaica, could belong here and matter here. It provided me with the hope that I could achieve whatever I set my mind to, no matter how long and hard I had to work to get there. It provided me with the comfort that my voice matters more than the color of my skin or where I come from.
And yet, in the 2016 election, the voice that emerged carried a message of hate all the way to the White House. That voice said that me, and immigrants like me, did not deserve to be in this country and had no right to the American Dream. That voice said that being a woman makes me a sexual object unworthy of respect. And, despite saying all of that, that voice is now the voice of the future President of the United States. I can understand why the American Dream feels more unachievable than ever. I can understand why immigrants might feel scared, hopeless, depressed, and lost.
But this is not the end for us.
This is not America's legacy. Not anymore. There is a reason that the office of POTUS is not one of unchecked power, and there's a reason that the democratic system exists. To give in to fear and despair now is understandable, but we can, and must, move forward. This election has brought to light the very real issues that we, as a country, have to work on. The promises and rhetoric upon which Trump based his campaign merely reflected what people of color have always known: racism is still alive and well in America. The fact that the promises and rhetoric upon which Trump based his campaign made him president-elect means that we have so much work to do that we can't languish in our fear, our disillusion, or our despair for long.
For every child who has just been taught by the results of this election that their dreams are not valid, be that dream to become a female president of the United States or simply to live in a world where a man with multiple sexual assault allegations against him cannot become President of the United States. For every woman who has just been taught that the basic respect is a luxury and not a right they are owed by everyone, let alone a presidential candidate. For every immigrant who has just been taught that America is not the land of the free and the home of the brave, with arms wide open and waiting to welcome them to shore. For people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, for people with disabilities, for everyone, we can build a better American Dream.
They went low, so now, we can go high. We can speak out and we can protest. We can make it clear that racism and sexism are not what we stand for, despite all evidence to the contrary, and prove that in our actions rather than our words. We can come together as a group united in the belief that every American has a right to be heard and to belong, and every aspiring American has a right to find a safe home within our borders.
We will not be afraid. We will not cry. We will not be silent. We will redefine the American Dream one more time, even and especially when all hope seems lost. Because America is still a place where love trumps hate, and it's in remembering that fact that we can begin to rebuild and reclaim the concept of the American Dream.
Images: Kadeen Griffiths/Bustle (2)