Tapestry

Black millennials contend with the broken promises of the American dream, says writer

Reniqua Allen says once segregation ended as official US policy, black Americans started believing they too could benefit from the promise of economic freedom and upward mobility. Decades later, she says, the failure of that promise is driving young black Americans to burnout.
Reniqua Allen is the author of 'It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America' (Nina Subin)
Listen30:54

Reniqua Allen was working as a journalist in New York City when she noticed a disparaging disparity.

Struggling and exhausted, she said she realized her peers of colour, particularly young African-Americans, didn't seem to have it as easy as others.

"What was going on was something different than what was happening with my white peers who kind of talked about how they were getting ahead by just kind of being in the right place at the right time," Allen told Tapestry's Mary Hynes.

"Their dreams felt a little bit more attainable than mine did, because of their different place in society," she said.

It felt like America had failed me.- Reniqua Allen

Allen, the author of It Was All A Dream: How A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise of America, said the kind of burnout black millennials feel has a different quality to it.

"I think that a lot of the burnout that is talked about is economic burnout. It is a burnout that so many young millennials of all colours and races feel. They're tired of having to deal with a job situation that is far more precarious than our parents' generation [...] There's an exhaustion among this generation," Allen said.

But, she added, "the thing is that for millennials of colour and particularly black millennials, we're also dealing with having to prove our humanity every day."

The broken promise of America

Much of this burnout is driven by the feeling of a broken promise, Allen told Tapestry.

"We came of age when segregation, or at least legal segregation, was a thing of the past," she said. "We were told that we could be all we wanted to be."

That American dream, she added, turned out to be a false bill of goods.

"We were told this narrative that if you worked hard or if you went to school, that you would be successful […] and seeing that not happen, I think that's hard for us."

Allen said she experienced the failed promises of upward mobility firsthand, when she bought a home for the first time at the age of 25.

"It felt like progress. It felt like economic progress. It felt like racial progress," she said. "And I was doing this all on my own."

But then, some years later, she received a letter that she said killed all of that optimism.

For all the talk of progress, we are also still very far behind.- Reniqua Allen

The letter asked if she wanted to be a part of a class-action lawsuit. She was told she may have been the target of predatory lending.

"I thought that maybe I had been discriminated on the basis of class. I didn't have a lot of money at the time," Allen said. "But I had been the [target of] predatory lending because of my race."

"It was like just a knife to my heart," Allen said.

"It made me realize that the success that I thought I had  this tremendous accomplishment, it felt like it wasn't anything at all… It felt like America had failed me."

A demonstrator with Black Lives Matter holds up a sign during a protest in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2016. (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS)

'A story of black America'

For Allen, this discrimination is emblematic of a much larger issue.

"White privilege is real. And even though I think there are plenty of white folks who are poor and are marginalized […] there is a very real privilege of being white in America," she said.

There's a real need to tell the stories of black millennials, and to make sure their voices don't get lost in larger conversations about the generation as a whole, Allen added.

"I set out to report on a story that really felt like a story of my generation, of my era, and really came to the realization that it's not just about millennials. This is a story of black America," she said.

"For all the talk of progress, we are also still very far behind."


Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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