The Truth Behind the American Dream

What it all means. 

In his famous quote, Kenneth Burke speaks of how culture is formed in times of uncertainty and chaos, “And in this staggering disproportion between man and no man, there is no place for purely human boasts of grandeur, or for forgetting that men build their cultures by huddling together, nervously loquacious, at the edge of an abyss” (Burke). Burke's quote provides a basic summary as to why 'race'  was invented in the first place. Racism, slavery and discrimination were formed as a way to keep white culture dominant so that no other rulers, countries or ideologies could take over. If not for fear of being over powered, the early colonial Europeans would not have created a system of beliefs to justify their 'natural and inherent' superiority. By positioning themselves as naturally superior, opposing parties and people were less inclined to rise up and challenge their beliefs if they believed, or if the majority believed, that there were physical, genetical and justified reasons for why they occupy this position of power. 

Bourke-White's photo serves to illustrate the deception behind Americas' reputation as an equal opportunity and accepting nation of immigrants. Understanding the history of race, slavery and racism uncovers the real message of racial hierarchy and white superiority that the billboard projects. Additionally, the photo as a whole points out binary oppositions, whose ideologies justify discrimination, and how the billboard is acting as a form of commodity racism. Bourke-White's photo displays the ways mass media, TV, newspapers, billboards, etc, are used to convey national ideologies, in this case white superiority and racial hierarchy, that help to create a sense of national unity and an imagined community.  By erecting billboards such as the one in Bourke-White's photo, viewers, and members of the nation, can see what it means to be an American, how 'real' Americans should look, and even the social status they should occupy. More specifically, the photograph displays what members of the imagined community, and those excluded from the community, should look like. 

All in all, Bourke-White's photograph presents itself as a powerful representation of the deception behind the values of the American dream, which proclaim that we are a nation of blending, acceptance and equal opportunity. The history of racism allows us to see why discrimination and racial ideologies are so commonplace in our society, and ultimately why these ideologies and stereotypes are so challenging to over come. Understanding the history, reasoning and founding values of why race was invented does not by any means justify its existence, but it allows one to understand how it originated and in turn develop ways to combat these ideologies.