Leaving your African country for “the American dream”- The land of the free?

“The American Dream” is a national ethos of the United States with  a set of ideals ; democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality.  With the American Dream, freedom includes the opportunity for success and an improved societal position for one’s family and children. With minimal barriers, this dream is attained through hard work.  References to the American dream can be attributed to people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds who are able to flee their countries and survive a robust economic climate for a piece of the “American pie.” We hear the “American dream” notion inferred in songs, movies, and during interviews. It is regarded as the apex of every success story. It has also become something Africans thrive to achieve. As it stands, one in five potential migrants want to move to America. This is attributed to conflict, famine, natural disasters, and unemployment driving people from countries such as Sudan and Congo to migrate to America.

Known as “the land of the free” as described by Scott Key in 1814, historically, the United States was known to be the bearer of the world’s largest democracy, until India gained its independence. The U.S is also known to have the world’s largest economy by nominal GDP, with an economy that is largely post-industrial, characterized by the dominance of services and knowledge-based activities. It comes as no surprise that it is the most sought after home for immigrants, and therefore has a high influx of foreign nationals, which its president, Donald Trump, believes impede on the growth and safety of its citizens.  With the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s inexorable desire to build and therefore acquire funding for his long-sought after Mexican border wall by invoking national emergency powers, this has sparked conversation. Not only is this controversial within the parameters of what message Trump is  sending to immigrants and states about the possibility of good relations with Americans.  It has also been a concern for Americans in that Trump seeking to secure billions of dollars to build this wall has led to one of the biggest government shutdowns in American history, due to the Senate not agreeing to add this $5billion wall request.

It is perhaps necessary to revisit why immigrants have a great desire to be residents in the United States. Given figures regarding the economic conditions, which are favourable for any resident of the United States of America, it is without question that this would be a sought after domicile.

However, with Africa having its own challenges and its people fleeing to get their piece of the American dream, there is a deafening silence on what it means to be successful in Africa, and if the socio economic standards are anything to go by, no “one should strive to live the African dream.” Conditions in Africa have remained abhorrent in many parts. In South Africa for example, according to statistics SA, 12 million people are living in extreme poverty, and South Africa is fast becoming the global capital for the “triple challenge” namely poverty, inequality, and unemployment. This is a reality that exist, and even though Africa is regarded as home to minerals and other resources. It comes as no surprise that according to Gallup, South African youth aged 24 and under are increasingly likely to prefer a life overseas. This means South Africa would lose 16% of its skilled workers if citizens could pick and choose where they lived.

On the other hand, entertainers in Africa have come out guns blazing to get their piece and perpetuated the idea of seeking global success at the American price tag standard. Entertainers have sought their piece of the American pie, by reaching the global network, specifically America, to achieve what is deemed as the “ultimate level of success” as America is a home for Entertainment success. The likes of Trevor Noah, who recently won the much coveted Emmy, is said to be earning an estimated $4 million for his work at the Daily Show, which is an estimated R53 million. Furthermore, there are undeniable discrepancies in terms of what certain figures mean on the South African scale versus the America scale. A platinum selling artist in America is one who has sold 2 million copies. However, in South Africa, the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) regards a platinum selling artist, as one who has sold only 30 000 copies.

Such discrepancies remind us of how much more profitable it is to chase the “American dream”.

However, if everyone, and specifically every artist is in pursuit of making it globally and furthermore attributing success to being acknowledged within the American market, were does that leave Africa as a progressive force within the entertainment industry? Will we ever establish the right infrastructure to educate, teach, and enrich our industry so that it becomes lucrative for more artists to attribute success to being a top selling artist or an industry leader in a fraternity such as science within the African context? Is there enough being done to make our market profitable and attractive, or will our reference point of success always lead back to having our piece of the American pie?  Does this call for a revision of what it means to be successful within the African context?

If we do not patent our work, our culture, and own our stories, enculturation is bound to occur due to lack of reference within our continent and more specifically our African countries. We will fight a two-tier battle of success which is that of race, and that of enculturation through adopting American standards to regard ourselves as successful and validate whatever success means to us.


Featured image | American flag | Mike Mozart | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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