Reniqua Allen: “It Was All A Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America”
Where: The Half King
505 W. 23rd St.
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In the eighties and nineties, everything seemed possible to RENIQUA ALLEN. People constantly told her that she could be anything she wanted to be, do anything she wanted to do—and she had reason to believe them. Her grandparents had “moved on up” from the South in the second wave of the Great Migration, and her mother held a graduate degree and owned her own home. Oprah Winfrey was on the television, shattering all kinds of glass ceilings. Biggie was on the radio, spouting raps about dreams realized.
But, as Reniqua would soon come to realize, America is quick to crush its people’s dreams—particularly the dreams of young Black kids like herself.
In IT WAS ALL A DREAM, Reniqua—an Eisner Fellow at the Nation Institute who has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, and Teen Vogue, among others—explores one of the most enduring myths in the United States: The American Dream. Through deeply reported, compassionate profiles of Black millennials, she shows how this generation is confronting a new, but all too familiar, set of racist policies in their fight for an America where their dreams are not just encouraged, but actualized.
The Dream—the idea that anyone can succeed and enjoy a prosperous life through hard work—has existed since America’s founding. And even though it only actually applies to a limited number of people, Americans never seem to tire of the concept. In fact, a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center shows that if anything, the popularity and belief in the American Dream is growing, not shrinking—46 percent of Americans believe they are on their way to achieving it, and 36 percent think they already have. And, more curiously, Black and Latinx communities often believe in the Dream with more fervor than their White counterparts. That same study found that 62 percent of Blacks and 51 percent of Latinxs said they were on their way to achieving the dream. In comparison, only 42 percent of Whites said they were on their way to achieving it, meaning that those who are most likely to be left out of the Dream are also the ones who believe in it the most.
Reniqua shows that it only superficially seems like Black millennials are succeeding: Yes, Black Panther broke all of the Box Office records. Yes, Donald Glover, Lena Waithe, and Issa Rae each oversee critically-acclaimed television shows. Yes, new activists and policymakers are running for offices. Yes, Beyoncé is everything. But these are exceptions to the rule. Black millennials are still misunderstood—their bodies taken advantage of, their voices silenced, and their struggles ignored.
Still, this is not a story purely of downward mobility—a scenario that Reniqua envisioned when she first began writing IT WAS ALL A DREAM. Instead, Reniqua has found that young Black people are choosing to redefine success for their own generation. The American Dream of yore was an exclusive ideal, unattainable to many. And so some Black millennials are flipping the script, rejecting White America’s standards, and forging a new path toward fulfillment.
To fully tell this generation’s story, Reniqua interviewed over seventy-five Black millennials in cities and towns across the country. She traveled to New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Tampa; New Orleans; Bluefield, West Virginia; and Raeford, North Carolina; among others. Readers meet a former college athlete burdened with mounting student debt; a Black professional who struggles with daily macroaggressions at work; and an ambitious actor bypassing an exclusive industry. Together, the lives and reflections in IT WAS ALL A DREAM capture a generation building their own futures and fighting to make their dreams a reality.Buy tickets/get more info now