“All it ever took, was a down payment on a Lincoln Town Car.”
My parents were children of the baby-boomer generation. After the conclusion of the Second World War, the United States experienced an economic surplus that was spearheaded by the advancement of industry and education. Kids of those who came of age during this time grew up in an era that was marred by civil unrest, civic inequality and social injustice while also noted for the advancement of the individual based on one’s decision to pursue higher education. It was the impetus of the American Dream. Whether you were black, white or purple, finishing high school and going to college almost assured you an opportunity to live a fulfilling and fruitful life.
This was the reality that my folks came to accept as an everlasting truth. For as long as they continue to live, they will always uphold the narrative that the key to obtaining your self-actualizing moment – to gaining complete economic, social, and emotional freedom, however it pertains to you – can be had by working hard and dedicating oneself to acquiring an education. This is especially true for my father, whose decision to drop out of college as a young man will never cease to haunt him and will continue to be the driving force behind his unwavering belief in the American collegiate institution.
As the baby-boomer generation continues to pass on to the next life, it doesn’t take the most astute social scientist to admit how much things have changed since the “Golden Era of Industry.” Today, the chasm between the haves and have-nots is wider than it has ever been and shows no signs of slowing its momentum. The children of the baby-boomers, my parents included, would have us believe that a down economy and corrupt political system is most attributable to this downtrodden state of affairs.
This, of course, is not the reason why the rich have continued to get richer while everyone else struggles like never before. Rather, it is the age-old and generationally passed-down belief in the labored fruits that higher education promises us, juxtaposed with our collective inability to adapt to the modern era of technology, that has caused this great rift and rendered the American dream to nothing more than an antiquated relic of an ideal.
DO NOT allow the older generations to lure you into the false trap of believing that the economy is shot and that we’re still reeling from residual aspects of the recession. I repeat, DO NOT let these old folks and others of a similar mindset convince you that you are an unfortunate victim of the recession. If you’re meandering in a state of constant debt and mediocrity, trying to figure out how the hell you’re going to come from under it, do not relent in your struggle on account of such a fallacy.
The reason why the haves and have-nots are further apart than ever before is because we have allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of educational security while the world around us has performed an about-face on what it requires of us to make something of ourselves. As a result, we have lost sight of how to gain the courage to take control of our own lives and leverage our skills and god-given abilities in order to attain true freedom. We have failed the mantra of Carpe Diem. We have failed, as a generation, to seize the day, and this is why America finds itself in the predicament of the few haves, the many have-nots, and the seemingly insurmountable gap between the two.
This is what makes scenes like the above video from the film “Collateral” so profound. Aside from being an excellent, introspective look into the ability of the human mind to rationalize any behavior or action through the lens of interpersonal communication, it is also symbolic of our collective inability to seize the day and make a name for ourselves. It speaks to how we’ve lost sight of our ability to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and stake a claim for our individual legacies. When Vincent, played by Tom Cruise, scolds Max, played by Jamie Foxx, for not having the courage to start the limo company he’s always wanted or call the girl of his dreams, it stands as an allegory for what has precipitated the widening wealth gap in America.
Let’s face it, the majority of the world is filled with untapped potential and those whom will never make it. It’s an unfortunate and harsh truth. The law of averages dictates that those amongst the ranks of the successful will always be far fewer than those amongst the ranks of the average. For a micro glimpse of this, look at the landscape of professional sports. The amount of human beings who are blessed with the ability to play any sport on a professional level is minuscule compared to the rest of the human population. I don’t know the math off the top of my head, but by comparison, I doubt pro athletes represent even 5% of the human population. Extrapolate that and analyze it in regards to, say, the world’s top 30% and what those who fall into that bracket earn on average compared to the rest of the world population, and you see my point.
The numbers alone suggest that many of us will never make it, and yet we’ve fulfilled the prophecy of those numbers by falling into the trap of not seizing the day and believing that things will come to us naturally so long as we play the game that our forefathers told us to play. Many of those who will never make it did it the status quo way. They graduated high school, went to college and graduated with a degree, and some of them even went on to earn Master’s Degrees and PhDs in their related fields, all to keep the struggle alive while others with the balls to embrace carpe diem flourished, even during times of economic recession.
The world has changed around us. In the tech and digital age, those with coding, web development and various other skills in STEM applications have a natural leg-up. In essence, the need for them to adhere to the carpe diem ideal isn’t as necessary because the world has dictated a need for the services of their natural abilities. They merely need to show up to the party. Good for them! Trust and believe, however, that the world will change again, necessitating the need for a different skill-set that will require our STEM kings and queens to adapt the way the rest of us desperately need to learn to adapt in today’s age. As for those who’ve made it that don’t belong to the STEM community, they represent the few who decided to buck the conventional wisdom and take control of their own destinies.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a person who ascribes to the “college ain’t shit” logic that you routinely hear from chronic losers who use such weak reasoning to justify their abject failure in life. I am just a believer in the utility of college and other forms of higher education. I believe that it is important to know why you’re going. In an age where distinct skills are at an all-time premium, it is extremely important to know what you’re good at and the road that you should take in order to become a master over your natural talent. If college is the route to take for you to achieve such mastery, go for it. If it’s technical or trade school, have at that as well. But the ultimate failure that our generation has brought upon ourselves is the blind reliance on institutions like college to bring us the freedom that only a knowledge of and mastery over our relative domains can truly afford us.
Most of us have been lulled into this false sense of security while a very courageous few have decided to do it the right way. This is why the wealth gap continues to widen; because most of us, whether it is because of familial pressure – such as myself – societal expectations or the expectations of our respective cultures, have leaned on a conventional wisdom that went extinct the day YouTube went live. Those who have seen fit to prioritize either understanding what their god-given abilities are (we ALL have them) and master them, or become part of industries that are recession-proof (entertainment, food and service, etc), have flourished while the majority of the flock has floundered.
The irony in what has happened lies in the fact that higher education was meant to be the vehicle that we drove in order to get out of the zombie prism. The day-to-day rigamarole of minimum-wage jobs, the overworked and underpaid service industry and the dreaded 9 to 5 office position was supposed to be easily avoidable so long as we did our due diligence to acquire that coveted piece of paper. Now, higher education accelerates our placement into such confinements all the while we consume the various forms of escapism that the purveyors of carpe diem have proliferated because they were able to see the bigger picture.
Case and point: WorldStar Hip-Hop. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the online platform, think of World Star Hip-Hop as the hip-hop version of YouTube, complete with all manner of entertainment and foolishness, including music videos, video game and movie trailers, Vine & fight compilations, videos of breaking news stories, and any other piece of entertaining footage that manages to trend upward on the internet. While it has often found itself at the epicenter of a debate over the value of its suggestive content and the effect that it has on the African-American community, I have always admired WorldStar’s founder, Lee “Q” O’Denat, for the fact that he realized some time ago that in the modern era, digital content is king and if he can find a way to leverage various technologies to produce his own digital content, he could make a name and career for himself.
Well dammit, that’s what he did and that’s exactly what happened. The creation of WorldStar Hip-Hop is the very manifestation of seizing the day; of becoming self-aware and freeing oneself from the shackles of the so-called traditional pathways to success. You can say what you want about the good or lack thereof that WorldStar does as an online entity for black people, but what cannot be denied is the fact that it stands as the perfect representation for how to be knowledgeable, observant and courageous enough to blaze your own trail. Carpe Diem.
While I don’t advocate dropping out of high school as O’Denat did, what I am suggesting is that the type of awareness that he was fortunate to obtain in order to establish WorldStar Hip-Hop is the type of awareness that we have all lost and desperately need to reacquire. We need to carry that awareness with us when we plot our post high school moves, whatever they may be. O’Denat is a higher earner now. He’s on the other side of the ever-widening wealth gap, so who are the rest of the mediocre, struggling lot to criticize him for the work that he has done thus far?
I will admit that for me, much of this piece is rooted in my belief in individual agency. I have always been a firm believer in the idea that nothing and no one is responsible for my destiny but me. The most racist, ignorant, and incompetent President can be at the helm of this country and I will always believe that only I can mold the kind of life for myself that I’ve always envisioned. I’ve always refused to rely on or acknowledge politics, political officers and other service people whose supposed job it is to facilitate the ability of the people to do better for themselves.
At the end of the day, if I like and have a talent for photography, those people aren’t stopping me from working to earn enough money to buy a Cannon DSLR, honing my craft, putting together a good portfolio and website and showcasing my work to carve out a career for myself. If I have a natural propensity for cooking, the recession isn’t going to stop me from enrolling in culinary school and applying for financial aid to help pay my way through school while putting together a WordPress website to showcase my cooking. Barring insurmountable life circumstances, we all have the ability to jump the gap. We need only to make the realization and commit to the work that is required to do so.
When you read publications and watch news programs that touch on the state of the wealth gap in America, believe the hype. It’s huge. It’s bigger than it’s ever been and it’s only getting bigger. But do not allow them to trick you into believing that forces beyond your control are most attributable to why you haven’t made it across yet. The recession and/or a down economy are not what is holding you back. You are.
The world around us has changed. Because we have been steadily reliant on the archaic notion of blindly pursuing higher education and allowing ourselves to be hoodwinked by the big bad recession, the majority of us have failed to adapt and have allowed societal pressures to inhibit us from rising from the ashes. We are in the STEM and digital technology age. It is incumbent upon us to work hard to discover what our natural talents are and use our knowledge of the era in which we live as leverage to use our talents to make us wealthy. Such an approach to attaining freedom is recession-proof. We have to stop being scared and gather the gall to commit the down payment on the Lincoln Town Car. We have to seize the day. Vincent had it exactly right. Carpe Diem.
What do you contribute most to the widening wealth gap in America. Am I being naive by opting to be dismissive of the state of the economy and our approach to the pursuit of higher education, or do you agree that we are always and forever in control of our destiny? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Javis Ogden is a Miami native turned current Tallahassee transplant and the founder and chief contributor to Conscious Approach. He has worked as a creative content specialist since completing his graduate degree in Integrated Marketing at Florida State University, and he aspires to be a cultural critic, screenplay writer, ½ of the ESPN First Take debate panel, author, or whatever his short attention span will allow him to be inspired by at any given moment. When he isn’t pursuing freedom, you may be able to find him on an indoor basketball court. He is always in search of his muse. You can help him find it by following him on Twitter @JavisOgden, Instagram @JVWins, Facebook /JavisOgden, and snapchat JavisOgden.