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The American Dream


“…Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each, according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.” James Trulow, 1831 What was Mr Trulow doing when he spoke those words? He was declaring the promise that ‘The American Dream’ was making to all Americans, of all classes, especially the poor. Opportunity for all, or, the certainty of the ‘rise from rags to riches’ through determination, honesty and hard work. It is an attractive vision for struggling people.{{more}}

I am sure that we Vincentians admire the promise that the American Dream makes and aspire to embrace it and make it our own.

On the other hand, 50 years ago, (140+ years after Trulow), another American cried out passionately in a militant mood these memorable words:

“I have a dream that my four children will one day be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The Rev Martin Luther King Jr in 1963, was claiming the dream of fullness for his American children, who were Black through ‘circumstances of birth’. The American Dream, 50 years ago, in Dr King’s calculation, was not for them. They had the wrong skin colour.

The American Dream for American Blacks

Today, we can name some black Americans whom the media and their own efforts have positioned them near the top of the ladder in American affairs. Some came from working class and poor homes and circumstances. They have climbed in the fields of sport and entertainment, education and scholarship, the military and politics — those high profile sectors where they work, but do not own, manage or design the enterprises. Perhaps we can just look at one or two cases that throw some light on this matter of the American Dream in black. In the field of politics, President Barack Obama is an obvious achiever; General Colin Powell is also there, perhaps as a near achiever. Of the last six or so Presidents of the USA, none like Obama has had to battle to be an effective President. Even his name was a stumbling block for those who didn’t like him. Power is denied him. It is as simple as that. Black achievers collide with power the closer they get to the power centres. The General Colin Powell retreated; he backed away from the presidential contest as a strategic military move, making room for George Bush, and then later, they assassinated him politically. Black and with consummate political power! That is not on the agenda of the American Dream and President Obama has experienced it. There may be room in the middle of the dream for African Americans, but to be in fullest enjoyment of their potential, comprehensively contributing to the transformation of American life? Not yet. Not ever, until Black America comes to do more work within itself. To dream its own dream and build its own plural unity and identity.

Fragments of a Dream

There is an impressive roll call or honour roll of African American dream makers and dreams in the history of the American people. We recognize fragments and experiments and initiatives yearning to be held caringly in hand and moulded into a road map or a tapestry for contemplation In the 20th century alone, Marcus Garvey with WEB Du Bois, El Shabazz/ Malcolm X with Martin Luther King Jr. The Black Church and the Black Panthers, and Black lives Matter constitute a cultural-historical= political curriculum. A Black American pedagogy can excavate the history and unearth a dream worthy of the triumph and tribulation of this pilgrim people in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And Black America is not alone. A peculiar people, born of pillage and chattel, extortion, dishonour and resistance can never be alone. Fashion the dream and the community spreads.