Friday, March 07, 2008

Chasing the American Dream, Becoming a Loser

When I was a kid living in a two bedroom house with five adults and two siblings I did not realize that I didn’t’ have any privacy. Having this overly cherished preference and American commodity was not important to me because I wanted to be in the middle of things anyway. I was one of those kids who always had to say or do something to get some level of attention. At times that attention was not welcomed by me because it was given with a belt or that dreaded switch. But, I must admit despite the unnecessarily earned whippings I received, sharing a terribly uncomfortable sofa bed with my grandmother was a treat. This way, I was always coddled by grandma since she was the one who encouraged me to relentlessly chat and show my behind. She enjoyed my displays of foolishness because she needed something to laugh about. I was her joy!

The house on Small Street was full. Really full. Nevertheless, that box for a house was our home. It was something we were proud to own. We cleaned it religiously every Saturday morning prior to the airing of Soul Train. Spotless is what that house was. So fresh and so clean! After the lengthy cleaning session we, my brother and sister, were permitted to escape from the confines of that box. We were permitted to roam the neighborhoods freely until the street lights came on. That was something we could count on: Illumination of the Hood. For a few families down the street this was the only powered light they would experience sometimes considering their lights, and ours here and there, would be turned off by Duke Power, the notorious utility company – but turning off our electricity was of no consequence for us. We still lived. Life did not stop because we still had our home. It was ours. No one could take it. Not even those banks that people from my neighborhood did not trust. For us our money was safer in a shoe box or under a cheap mattress; and there was no way in hell our house was going to be seized because of a bank foreclosure.

Part of the American Dream is to be a home owner: Marriage, kids, then a home with a white picket fence. This is what was drilled into my head while in elementary, middle, and high school. Even in college, this dream was reinforced. The dream permeates our culture. It is so powerfully persuasive that many of us feel like losers if we never acquire something we can call home sweet home. That structure that has us saying, ‘I have to pay my mortgage this week’; instead of saying ‘I have to pay my RENT this week’.

I can honestly say what motivated me to purchase property was the fact that my friends and colleagues were buying condos and houses to live in. There was simply not a drive for me to own a home at the time – but the feelings of being left out and inadequate encouraged me to ‘follow behind’ my friends, so I became a homeowner. It is evident many of the homeowners today did what I did: Succumbed to peer pressure. The only difference with me was I, thankfully, was able to afford the overpriced condo I selected.

It is estimated that thirty percent of Americans will be financially upside down with their mortgage loans by the end of 2008. That’s a staggering 15 million people! These people will lose what the American Dream describes as success. They are now among the fold who listened to our government: ‘Invest in a home. Become a home owner.’ But, they soon will become filers of bankruptcy. Something, in many ways, our thoughtful government touted as an “option” for individuals who would remain financial stable when Chapter 13 was filed. Now, we have the average Joe on a sinking ship, and feeling the pinch. A pinch that many say could have been prevented if only Mr. and Mrs. Joe would have made a sensible decision: Continued to rent until they REALLY could afford a home.

In retrospect, perhaps paying rent was the smart option. Expecting people, from all walks of life by the way, not to cave after being told repeatedly by Uncle Sam to buy a house - and later preyed upon by un-federally regulated loan companies was a failed financial recipe for a market that has literally tanked. And, now our government leaders are claiming that they are concerned. Even the President is involved. With this level of ‘concern’ from the highest authorities on earth, there are well-to-do pundits and every day judgmental citizens who are placing all the blame on the facing-foreclosure homeowners. Homeowners who were only chasing the American Dream. A dream that some of us have acquired or trying to attain. All these ARM (adjustable rate mortgage) takers wanted was what I had on Small Street: A Home.

Who is responsible for the current mortgage crisis? Should the government bail the Mr. and Mrs. Joe out?

Written by Muata. Inspired by black, brown, and white people on the verge of becoming homeless.


Muata said...

Reader Response:

Owning a home is the 1st step to building wealth. Every one has to have shelter, so why not buy? Why pay rent to fund some one else's mortgage and get no tax breaks or equity? Yes it is bad right now for a lot of homeowners. But it is still the foundation of financial success. Your home on average will double its value every 10 years. Needless to say we have seen much faster growth recently, but still makes sense to own something affordable. And lets focus on equity, I would venture to guess the majority of homeowners 'upside-down' in their home have taken out equity loans. Our consumption is at the root of the problem.


Muata said...

Reader Responses:

SHUT UP!!!! You just took me down memory lane with the Saturday Cleaning before Soul Train comes on!!! This is a GREAT Commentary Muata!!


I love this piece! If I have room, may I use it in the “Op-Ed” section? Do I have permission to reprint the picture? I need permission if you can contact these people.


Muata said...

Reader Response:

I enjoy reading your pieces of information. You do so well to remember your roots and how your humble beginnings have molded you into a fine young man.