The myth of “freedom of opportunity”

I grew up in an area that many people deem to be, quote, “ghetto as fuck.” My high school was right across the street from a park notorious for drug deals, my freshman class’ count was over 1,000 while less than 600 of us made it to graduation day, etc. I have always noted post-High School that I was lucky to have the teachers that I did have; while none of them said it out loud, it was quite clear that they were training us to succeed based on our hard work, talent and intelligence because, after all, very few of us had been born into any chances and even fewer would be able to get by on their looks.

While in high school, I was introduced to the idea of “freedom of opportunity.” Supposedly, this was an “American value,” the idea that everybody deserves the same chances in life, and that what they do with said chances determines their future success. In this way, the onus falls onto the government to provide the opportunity, and the people to use the opportunity.

It’s a lovely idea. And it’s bullshit.

I don’t claim that this is bullshit based on personal experience, which would be easy enough to qualify but does not carry enough weight. No, I’m calling bullshit based on facts and figures.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently published their findings regarding the amount of money an American makes over their lifetime from their employment. The following is a chart detailing pay gap:

From http://kaysteiger.com/

The obvious implications are that, as we have known, men make more than women. While this obviously makes my feminist heart sink, it is the rest of the study that makes me even more angry.

According to these findings, “[African Americans and Latinos] make close to a million dollars less [than Whites]” over their lifetime, even when working the same amount of time and the same position as their white counterpart.

These charts show the results of people from all walks of education, from those who never completed high school to those who have completed post-doctoral, professional degrees. Even those women and people of any other race or ethnicity than “Caucasian” who reached the top are earning far less than their white, cis-gendered male counterparts.

This doesn’t even take into account this simple fact: while women have, technically, surpassed men in numbers of recent college graduates, people of color are statistically less likely to reach a higher education level than a high school diploma. While being Caucasian at my high school technically put me into a racial/ethnic minority within that pool of students, there were far more Caucasian teachers and staff at my high school than there were teachers and staff of color. The reason why “freedom of opportunity” can never be a reality is because, for many cultures, family trumps education. Statistically, many families of color cannot afford to send a son or daughter to college when the family needs money at that moment. Many high-school students, graduated or not, find it much easier to take over the family trade and help their parents rather than to make the immediately-“selfish” decision to further their education. And the trend continues.

Perhaps we should call it what it is: we don’t have “freedom of opportunity,” we have “freedom of white people to make themselves feel better by pretending that offering specialized scholarship opportunities is the same thing as making a culture in which everyone has the same opportunity to succeed.”

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