The Pursuit of Happiness

Upward social mobility, a theme that runs through American life, may emerge as the defining theme of this new Century. However, this theme is cached in survival tropes, as exemplified by such recent Hollywood movies as Twelve Years a Slave, and American Hustle, and others I am less familiar with. Also, the culture publication Slate recently published an article on researchers’ claims regarding the failure of some to ascend in American society.

One interesting question is the degree to which prejudice, in the guise of personal preference, inhibits upward mobility of Others. Let’s say, for example, you arrange a meeting with an influential businessman to discuss a project, and that businessman rejects the project proposal, not on merit, but on the grounds that the project could never get VC-funding (venture capital funding) were the project to be led by a person with your particular phenotype. This businessman, himself an ethnic and religious minority, may be correct. Afterall, his life is consumed with spreadsheets and data, big and small. The interesting thing is that he presumes that such data gives him the truth about you and whether you will succeed or fail.

Because he knows his numbers, dollars, and facts, he knows that your project will fail simply because, in this case, you are a person whose visual presentation is most often interpreted as belonging to a group that historically has been labeled as out-cast. There is simply too much evidence against such a person being successful in this particular venture, so the project never gets funded. The relationship between the successful businessman, a character who could also just as easily be a professor, or an art-gallery owner, ends.

The disgraced, yet undaunted, minority produces the project anyway, alone, isolated. Yet, the product is of a poorer quality, and never receives the level of exposure, the level of financial backing, that could take the finished product from obscurity to international recognition. Thus, providing stability and financial independence. This confirms to the world what the bigots have already suspected, that minority- produced -work is inferior.

The humiliated minority succeeds and fails again and again in this structure of systemic exclusion. Progress and ascent, health and financial security, are blocked for the humiliated minority in this American story.

This story is the same whether we are talking about work, or education, or marriage; systemic-institutional prejudice inhibits individual and group progress.

But is it important to ask: Is this about survival? Is this about resilience?


More importantly, it is important that we cultural theorists understand that this is one way that structural inequality works.

Structural disenfranchisement makes us less equal. Inequality inhibits the basic right to the pursuit of happiness.

Have you been turned down for a job, a promotion, or an educational opportunity based on your phenotype?

Has someone or some group with the power of authority stated that he/she/they would not work with you because of a stated, yet unwritten, policy of social and ethnic exclusion?

I would like to hear your story and how such an experience has impacted your pursuit of happiness.