Narrow definition of success prevents political action
Opinion Column: Mangoes and Revolution
From the time we can walk, we start to learn what success is.
Success wears Western business attire. Success has “skin-color” foundation. Success boasts flawless makeup every day. Success wears pearls and matching earrings. Matching everything, actually. Success uses dainty shoes and fitted coats. Success has perfect hair — the kind that’s straight or has manipulated soft curls. Success can afford a car for one or a cab. Success goes to fancy parties, expensive dates. Success goes to the gym, maybe even has a personal trainer. Success eats delicious food, the kind that’s organic and keeps Success healthy. Success has a six-digit paycheck and donates to charity. Success can travel and has great (heterosexual monogamous nuclear) family time. Everybody wants to be Success.
Success: the achievement or attainment of something desired, planned or attempted.
The United States does a great job at dividing those who can attempt to be successful and those who can’t: I have encountered far too many (non-white) students who had high school counselors who told them they would never make it. This country needs people to work jobs it brands menial — although we can count on undocumented immigrants working the slave-labor jobs — and to fill up its highly profitable prison complexes.
Instead we choose to come to college because it will afford us a better future. If we come from working-class backgrounds, a better life for ourselves and also for our families. If we come from upper-class backgrounds, it simply seems natural that we would reproduce our class standing.
Many students do not come to college for an education.
Instead, we come to college for a privately expensive piece of paper that says that we came to college.
This piece of paper means that we somehow “made it,” and became better than the people who don’t have that piece of paper. But not only did we go through the motions, attended class, studied and took exams for four years of our lives. We also attend highly problematic institutions and do not question the class divide that we are actively contributing toward.
In Audre Lorde’s words, the personal is political, and "your silence will not protect you."
In this system, attending college is astronomically expensive. Teachers, parents, professors, mentors, employees, administration and all kinds of people in positions of authority tell us that that’s fine. When we go out into the real world we’ll get an awesome job that will allow us to pay off our loans.
Meanwhile, in college, we’re supposed to be living in this dream world of parties, drugs, sex, friends and no sleep. Never mind that this is so far from the truth for most people. The people who can afford that kind of life are the ones with parents to support that lifestyle — potentially the ones dropping money in the alumni donations. Then there are the people who have to work 10, 15 and 20+ hours a week to even attempt to offset their debt.
All the time, we, as students, invest in having nothing to lose, while the problems nationally and internationally increase. The time we spend in the classroom or doing other college things, trying to build that star resume that no sane employer could turn away, is time we are not in the streets revolting.
Maybe your cause is a different manifestation of patriarchy and sexism: police brutality, mass incarceration, systemic racism or environmental issues. Perhaps it is all of them, because after all, they do interconnect and overlap. Whatever the case may be, people need to start paying attention, and acting, because the ballot will not save us.
As the saying goes, “We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrowed it from our children.”
So many people in college have the notion that they’ll start to live in real world once they’re actually adulting adults in the real world. The real world seems to be something far away, where we’ll have responsibilities and have to do real stuff. As if college were four bonus years, a utopian void in our youth, devoid of true meaning and impact for ourselves and the rest of our lives. Waiting for the real world is an ironic concept when college is at the same time so transformative and shaping for so many people.
The idea of having to wait to be in the real world and having a steady job is also flawed. There will always be obstacles, problems, bills to pay, hours to sleep, plans to make. New opportunities and unexpected set-backs, and there will always be more chores and errands. Precisely the fact that we are in a world that is very real while having a lot of freedom to think and act means that we are in a unique position to defy everything — including traditional and imposed notions of capitalist-imperialist success.
Not only is the personal political, but also our education is political. The real problem is worrying more about that number on a screen more than about the context where that number on that screen matters. And so long as we do not revolutionize our minds and revolt in the classroom and in the streets, that context will stay the same, and we will all find ourselves either submitting to or being Success in the Western suit.
Becky Ratero is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in women's gender studies and history. Her column, "Mangoes and Revolution," runs monthly on Thursdays.