Yesterday, I got to thinking about the idea of “average” and “mainstream” and the massive mythos that has been built up about the American. The definition of the American Dream as written by James Truslow Adams in 1931 posited that “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. That sounds reasonable enough, right? And yet, the dream has morphed continuously. Have you ever read the whole of Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again?” Not just the first few lines or stanzas. Read it all, aloud. I’ll wait.
As you see, depending on who is dreaming for us, what we want is to be The Best. We are supposed to be Made Great. O, Pioneers, we are meant to go forth and conquer. We are supposed to want to be captains of industry, while many of us want to just have a decent house and a garden and maybe a couple of kids or a weasel (same thing, really, as my friend Liz might tell me ☺). And yet, the cross-section of most people you know and I know, the true average mainstream want simpler truths, that change, that level place to stand and be, for them and theirs. As Langston Hughes said,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
musings of the mainstream
o, beauteous, this spacious sky
belongs to all who live hereby
to all who strive on this earth’s curve
to freely live, and love to serve.
And let us take up Langston’s vow
& though we know not when – or how –
let’s live in hope the dream is true
and no mere “greatness” thus pursue…
for who the dreamer? whose, the dream?
& which America a gleam of graft and rot in rheumy eye
& which the land where you (& I)
the masses yearning to breathe free
can safely plant a family tree?
a genuine and human heart is unconcerned with being great
but looks instead to love and serve, and has no need to compensate.
With apologies to Langston Hughes, and Emma Lazarus, and everyone who winces at poetic doggerel.