America (meaning the USA) has long held the attitude that we are the greatest nation on earth. This idea has incited emotions ranging from anger and shame to pride and patriotism.
As we celebrated our Independence Day yesterday, the debate has been strong on whether we are still the Greatest Nation, and whether we have ever been.
I don't know the answer, but I do know this...
The American Dream is being redefined
James Truslow Adams apparently coined the phrase in his book, The Epic of America. He defined The American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
Though it wasn't coined until 1931, this dream has existed from the founding of our country. In our Declaration of Independence are the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
From 1776 to 1931, the dream was the same. In America, anyone had the opportunity elevate themselves out of the social standing he (or she) was born into.
An Old Paradigm
Let's try to put on historical glasses for a moment.
In England, if you were born poor, you lived poor, and nothing was in place to change that. If you were a woman, you couldn't marry "above your station." The American Dream, flawed though many say it was in 1800's, changed all that. If you were a man, you could potentially work hard and ascend the social ladder. A woman could marry anyone regardless of how much the man made.
Yes, I know I'm only talking about a certain section of Americans. I'll get to that.
The New American Dream
I don't know when it happened, but somehow the meaning of The American Dream changed. People seemed to believe it meant that they were entitled to a house, car, and family. Somehow the "hard work" and "opportunity to pursue happiness" were thrown out of the picture.
Later The American Dream became an entitlement of a mortgage, health care, and college education. NO! That's not what it's about at all!
In fact, as Keli Goff pointed out in The Daily Beast, Mr. Adams actually wrote, "It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Some are More Equal Than Others
Last year, when I heard a dark-skinned 5th grader sitting next to her fair-skinned "Best Friend Forever" ask what racism was, I thought, "We've arrived!"
This girl had been taught that her skin color didn't keep her from achieving her dreams and life goals. And she was appalled to learn how that wasn't always the case. She turned to her friend, "You mean we couldn't be best friends? Or even go to the same school?"
At the time, I celebrated how far American society had come.
But later I learned that I was watching an exception, not an example of the norm.
Because that's the REAL American Dream.
Racism rears its ugly head anytime one American is favored over another based upon which box they check under "Race" on the paperwork. It rears its head when the skin color plays a part in a contest or scholarship. When minority status is considered over merit. When fair skin is automatically judged as more intelligent, more hard-working, and more superior.
I don't care what color your skin is, I'll bet you've been prejudiced against because of it.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
We can achieve The American Dream.
America's 'Can Be' Attitude
I don't know if we are The Greatest Nation. I was born here, and have nothing to compare it to. But I know that here in America (USA) there is a national hope that being The Greatest Nation is possible, and we are trying to achieve it.
And that's something worth pledging allegiance to.
What is great about your country? Let me know in the comments!
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)