It’s hardly news that people of color are continually harassed, but what’s been making the news lately is the frequency with which upwardly mobile, middle-class people of color are being targeted. From the two black men waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks, to a black Yale graduate student napping in her dorm’s common room, to three black women facing down seven cop cars and a helicopter as they checked out out of an Airbnb house they were renting, the victims’ faces on the news are not just the hoodied street thugs that white America expects and can then dismiss. And, while we can be thankful that none of them were killed, there is an overlooked long-lasting collateral damage to the black community’s faith in the promise of the American dream and the sinister effect on their children that is much worse than that single assault.
The American dream pledges that every person in America, regardless of their ethnic, religious, or economic background, will have an equal opportunity to achieve success. There may be obstacles, but they won’t be deliberately aimed at anyone based on the circumstances of birth or belief. That ideal is America’s moral core as well as its most famous public relations branding abroad: a better life awaits all. People in this country – whether natural born or immigrants – work hard to achieve that dream, for themselves and for their families. Once you’re successful, the expectation is financial security, a certain respect, and an elevated degree of personal safety. And that’s exactly what you get – if you’re white. But if you’re a person of color, your skin color is still seen by some as a gang color, the shade a reflection of the darkness in your soul.