As A Woman Of Color And 2nd-Gen Immigrant, I'm Tired Of Trying To Live Up To America's Version Of 'Success'

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WOC Painting

When you think about a successful person, who do you think about? What are they wearing? Where are they working? And most importantly, what race do you think they are?

Success in America has historically been defined by the American Dream, the idea of being able to own land and a home, a phrase originally coined in 1931 during the midst of the Great Depression. The American Dream was the hope and vision of upward economic mobility. 

After World War II, hopes of economic prosperity became alive again but Americans quickly realized that the American dream was actually a difficult thing to achieve, especially for racial minorities. 

Research shows that the racial wealth gap (the gap in wealth between white households and racial minorities) is the driving cause for people of color to be unable to achieve this American dream. 

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Being able to purchase a home is unlikely without a stable job and income. Usually, “good jobs” or jobs that pay family sustaining incomes, are overpopulated by white workers.  

Because of racial and economic inequality, the American dream is rigged and we should learn to do without it. 

Our society measures success in a very capitalistic and monetary way, and as a woman of color, I’m tired of it.  

We measure success based on how close we are to making lots of money and achieving the American dream.

This means that attending Ivy league schools that funnel people into high-paying jobs, or being employed in top-paying firms or companies means you are “successful”. But let's be real: a lot of that has to do with the resources you have from the very beginning. 

As the daughter of a Filipino immigrant and young woman of color from the poorest parts of New York City, "success" looked like being a lawyer or doctor, or having some type of profession that makes lots of money. 

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Growing up, I always felt pressured to be “successful” and wasn’t given the space to explore what made me happy. There were constant budget cuts in arts programs in schools, even though research had proven the benefits to having arts programs in schools. 

During my junior and senior year of high school, college was always what the teachers talked about. They would constantly tell us to go to college, yet there were no programs or classes that talked about trade schools or showed us how to open our own businesses. 

As a youth worker and teaching artist who teaches sex education, creative writing and financial literacy, I’m often looked at as odd for choosing to work with youth versus working at a large company. 

Why don't we value the activists on the ground that have been fighting for social change as successful? Why don't we value our local small business owners? What about personal fitness trainers that have helped people overcome serious health challenges? I can go on and on.

The way we measure success in society perpetuates capitalism and white supremacy and I’m sick of it.  

Whatever happened to just being happy (and this happiness is, of crouse, defined differently by different people)? 

Maybe being able to travel the world is what success looks like for someone. Maybe having a family. Maybe advocating for social justice. The list goes on. 

The idea of success should be defined by the individual person and we should value that. 

While capitalism does make it hard for us to be able to commit to a passion, it also shouldn’t be what defines success. 

Let’s get rid of the traditional narrative for success and move toward a narrative where people can just enjoy their lives and be happy. 

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Angelique Beluso is a sex educator and writer who covers feminism, pop culture and relationship topics. Follow her @AngeliqueBeluso.