Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Three unalienable rights in the United States that are distinguishable from the rest. But unlike life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness is an unconscious commodity to the point that it has only been available to individuals in dominant social groups.
But in what ways am I defining the pursuit of happiness as a commodity?
Today, most people think of the concept of the pursuit of happiness as the right to freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy, as long as you do not commit anything illegal or violate the rights of others. But in reality, it’s a right only available to dominant social groups: white, wealthy, and heterosexual men. Categorized as a commodity in the way that it is deemed a good/service available to certain individuals of privilege; aimed at individuals who are deemed more valuable to society, who are able to contribute a skill or represent the ideology of the American Dream.
Since the foundation of the Declaration of Independence, minority groups were not considered part of this notion to pursue happiness. In no way was pursuing happiness made available to Native Americans, who were considered separate from American society; to women, even with the urging of prominent female figures like Abigail Adams for women’s rights nor to blacks or any other race that was not white—as seen through the ⅗ Compromise towards black slaves.
Rich, white, heterosexual men have always been the ones to benefit from this misconception that the pursuit of happiness is available to everyone, a concept that still continues today.
One might object that the pursuit of happiness is not guaranteed, that the meaning of the pursuit of happiness lies in its literal meaning: that individuals have the right to pursue their own form of happiness. Or that it’s true that minorities still face discrimination, it has gotten better through civil rights movements such as giving them the right to vote; the right to be represented. However, these two points are invalid in justifying the explicit commodity of happiness displayed through privilege. Yes, minority groups have been given rights, but it should have been there since the beginning.
But in what way is this a personal issue for me?
As a first-generation college student, with immigrant parents that came here for a better life for their children more than themselves, I am affected in the unfairness of how the pursuit of happiness has been commodified through privilege. Immigrants, like my parents, are urged to come to the United States for the American Dream— to pursue an education, better jobs, and a life filled with prosperity, or at least the promise of it.
But with the past and present xenophobia in the United States, in no way were immigrants given the chance to pursue the American Dream; to pursue their own form of their pursuit of happiness. Since they do not fit into the white, wealthy, heterosexual social group that is idealized by the United States, they have instantly been seen as low class and undeserving of any right or privilege.
The pursuit of Happiness is aimed at people that can actively contribute to society and in no way helps those that do not fit the idealized, dominant social group of our society. Instead, they promulgate the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right available to everyone, when in fact it is a commodity aimed at the privileged class.