Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream

Earnest and compelling, Stakes Is High argues that the U.S. should acknowledge an ideology of oppression, abandon the fiction that its people are equally united, and take collective action for a better future.

Mychal Denzel Smith (Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching) presents what he sees as the delusions keeping the American Dream alive. He highlights a pattern of cherry-picking--how the country's "faults are not American, only the progress." Yet even its progress effects minimal change; milestones like abolishing slavery or letting women vote didn't reform the beliefs underlying those inequalities. It is, he maintains, "a society resistant to justice for all," where not all citizens "survive and thrive" but are policed--particularly those protesting their lack of basic American liberties. In conjunction, the retributive prison system offers no incentives for change, preventing accountability. "Nothing will be solved when Bill Cosby dies in prison," for example, because rape culture still prevails. This landscape of injustice, Smith argues, is excused by the American Dream--by the lie that America is innately good.

Smith's galvanizing rhetoric implores a commitment to honesty. Admitting that he was a "product of American thinking," Smith models a solution on Americans rejecting a national identity of exceptionalism and supporting revolution. Bolstering his argument are quotes from intellectuals like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Ella Baker, Gil Scott-Heron and Iceberg Slim. What emerges is an undeniable account of America's dangerous mythmaking. Smith is the passionate, guiding voice the U.S. desperately needs. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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