Jewish World Review July 8, 2002 / 28 Tamuz, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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U.S. is better than founders ever dreamed | There is no more difficult job and no greater identity than that of being an American, especially now. But to understand what we are, we have to face what we have been.

The country has had bad policies, has been a slaveholding republic, has been quite racist and has upheld racism, while holding back women and frequently exhibiting xenophobia. The broken treaties and the stains left from fresh blood cover the pages of our Indian policy. Our dark side would give the Statue of Liberty a heck of a shiner.

Yet that is only part of a long story. The Declaration of Independence starts off with a proclamation of equality and inalienable rights that might now sound romantic, but that vision of equality and fundamental rights has taken the world over, so much so that even those who have claimed to hate us are often wandering through their sleep as Americans.

All of those dreamers in foreign lands know that what America really represents is not so much the home of the brave and the land of the free in any total sense. It represents a greater opportunity to become what your talent allows. America promises something closer and closer to a fair shot, which is different from a fair beginning. That is to say that you might come from a family that has suffered many shortcomings, yet rise through your troubles to a condition of success within the parameters of your ambition.

Any woman in some of the Arab states or China or black Africa who dreams of becoming as influential within the context of her nation as has national security adviser Condoleezza Rice is dreaming of being an American woman.

Any man born of immigrant parents who dreams of rising to the very top of his country's military, turning his back on becoming the leader of his country, then functioning a few years later as its commander of foreign relations, as has Secretary of State Powell, is dreaming of being an American.

In essence, that is what the fuss has been about since 1776 - getting a fair shot and having a say about the way things are done. Sure, the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence - Thomas Jefferson - and those who signed it subscribed to visions of life that were about white men only. Some of them owned slaves, others thought it impertinent to even discuss women's rights and more than a few had no serious thoughts about Native Americans and would have said little about what Indian policy would someday become.

Even Benjamin Franklin, for whatever other great qualities he may have had, was an anti-Semite who thought that allowing Jews to immigrate here would be destructive to the country.

So those Founding Fathers were no band of angels coming down from the clouds to create a nation based on the dictates of heaven. They did not have to be. Jefferson and his fellow Founders planted the seeds of liberty, and those seeds have been so well watered with blood, labor, grief and optimism that those men would not recognize the America that now exists.

They might be pretty proud, though, to have given us not a perfect beginning, but one upon which we could build this inarguably great nation, this ongoing work in progress that is the envy of the world.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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