This is the text of a speech delivered at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, in early November of 2014, days before grand juries in Missouri and New York refused to indict the killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.
When I was growing up, in the long-ago time of 1990s, I believed a number of things about how the world worked.
These ideas were held by everybody I met, echoed in the media, and by figures of authority in our society – everybody from politicians to college professors. Even critical and dissident voices basically accepted certain underlying premises of how our world worked, and how the future was going to shape up.
Allow me to present you with a snapshot of American ideology from ten or twenty years ago:
The world works like this: You go to college, earn a degree, and get a middle class job. You make $40,000 a year starting out, and earn more every year after that. You work 40 hours a week every year until you retire, just like your parents did. You will have kids of your own, and they will grow up to work 40 hours a week, as will their children, and so on and so forth.
The political system alternates between Democrats and Republicans, but these are mainly cosmetic differences, and don’t have lasting impacts on a fundamentally strong economy (the greatest in the world!) which will deliver more and more people into ever-broadening circles of prosperity. Sure, some bad things had happened in the past (slavery, Jim Crow, women’s oppression) but that was a very long time ago, and that sort of thing doesn’t happen any more (at least in America).