THE EVOLUTION OF THE ‘AFRICAN AMERICAN’ DREAM
Аспирант кафедры английского языкознания (германская филология) МГУ им.М.В.Ломоносова, г.Москва
THE EVOLUTION OF THE ‘AFRICAN AMERICAN’ DREAM
The aim of the present article is to study the way a new notion – The ‘African American’ Dream appeared and has developed through the history of African Americans; the way it has reflected their desires, strivings and self-esteem.
Its main goals are as follows:
- to reveal some prominent African Americans’ attitude to the American Dream;
- to illustrate the variety of approaches to the struggle for equal rights within the civil rights movement;
As far as practical relevance is concerned, one can use this article to understand what has been meant by such a notion as the ‘African American’ Dream, to focus on certain examples provided by outstanding African American politicians and to become aware of the different approaches to the struggle for equal rights by African Americans.
Key words: the American Dream, African Americans, the civil rights movement.
Ключевые слова: Американская мечта, афро-американцы, движение за гражданские права.
The notion of the American Dream is deeply rooted in the history, culture and identity of the American people.
The term was first used by James Truslow Adams in his book “The Epic of America,” which was written in 1931. He states that the American Dream is “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.” [1, pp.5-6] The Oxford Guide to English and American Culture suggests the following definition: it is “the belief of Americans that their country offers opportunities for a good and successful life. For minorities and people coming from abroad to live in America, the dream also includes freedom and equal rights.” [4, p.13] It is the opportunities for everyone and the idea of unity and equality that were crucially important for immigrants. For those who came from different countries and from many different social groups it is extremely significant to form a new nation: e pluribus unum. [5, p.10] One can reveal more and more characteristic features of the notion of the American Dream but its main constituent parts are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, in which it is proclaimed that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 
The Dream has evolved since the beginning of the American history. Long before ‘America’ became a country, it existed in the minds of human beings as a dream. Americawas a mythic El Doradofor the Pilgrims, where they could not only found their commonwealth but also find their religious freedom. The Dream was in their minds, they understood the very idea of it. The Pilgrims had already had the dream of a better life and liberty when they boarded the Mayflower – they wanted to create a kind of Utopia, in which the tyranny of the Old World would be replaced by liberty, brotherhood and equality.
It is not difficult to imagine what African Americans have been dreaming of during the two previous centuries. Whatever the components of the American Dream, the main idea of this notion for them is certainly freedom. They had no freedom till the XIX century. Until 1865, when slavery was abolished, they had had no protection in law. Only after 1865 newly freed African Americans started new lives in spite of the fact that the attitude to them was still negative. That is why there appeared one more component of their dream – the will to be treated equally to the white population of the country. “It took two generations after the end of the Civil War and participation in two World Wars, before segregation would cease; and that as much the result of the protest of the streets, of riots and civil disturbance, as from the decrees of the Supreme Court.” [5, p.25] African Americans dreamt of being able to make choices without the restriction of their race and skin colour.
Although times have changed, the American Dream is still there. In the XXI century everyone in America can presumably understand what is meant by this notion. It remains a major element in their national identity. Its notion gradually gains new shades of meaning; people may interpret it in different ways. This interpretation is greatly influenced by the historic events which take place in the country. For example, some years ago, because of the September 11 attacks and the War in Iraq people became so frightened and shocked that they questioned the Dream. They just wanted to feel safe and nothing more. However, as time goes by the American Dream has been revived. At present, “63% of Americans believe that they are living the American Dream. Moreover, 62% believe that it is achievable for most Americans. The American Dream means different things to different people. For most it means a good job and financial security. But, somewhat surprisingly, living in freedom came in second.”[3, p.6] It is quite natural because when people get something they wanted they stop dreaming about it and begin to dream of something else. And theUSAis a perfect example of such a phenomenon.
At present people pay special attention to poor public education and racial discrimination – the two facts that prevent the American nation from fulfilling their dreams.  Americans also begin to think not only about their social status but also about things that make them happy. “And, certainly one thing for most human beings is the ability to enjoy safe environment, safe home, to do things you like to do – in other words, have a lot of opportunities.” [1, p.44] Thus, the notion of the American Dream has been broadened and in the future more new shades of meaning might be superimposed on it in accordance with the events in American every-day life.
It is sensible to focus on the civil rights movement as a crucial stage of the development of the ‘African American’ Dream. Its understanding depends on the way African Americans identify themselves: are they purely Africans or still African Americans? The dilemma led to the division of African Americans into two groups: integrationists and nationalists. The members of the former group found it possible to “be both” by establishing close relations with the white Americans on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. They believed that the white Americans could treat them as their equals according to what is written in the political documents. Integrationists’ optimism about the blacks achieving full citizenship rights in America was in a way connected to Christianity. Black preachers would say that Jesus Christ died for all people – the whites and the blacks alike. That is why the idea of equality lies not only in the Declaration of Independence, but also in religion. This enabled the pastors to become outstanding leaders in the black struggle for equality. Among them one can name Martin Luther King, Sr., and Jr., William Holmes Borders, Vernon Johns, who spoke against segregation and racism in churches.
On the other hand, nationalist thinkers believed that only the African side of their identity is important. That is why they could not “be both”. They had experienced slavery for decades, then followed segregation, exploitation and other political and social restrictions. The only way for the blacks to stop it, according to nationalism, was to leave America and return to Africa or some other place. Only in this case they would have an opportunity to develop their culture being guided by their own history. Among the advocates of nationalism one can name David Walker, Martin Delany, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. Their main idea was that black people are not Americans – they are Africans. They lost their hope in America; there was no American Dream for them anymore – they created their own dream – the African dream. As far as the religious basis of nationalism is concerned, the Nation of Islam was the most important influence of those times. For Malcolm X it was as significant as the black church for Martin Luther King. Nationalists were desperate in their fury because they believed that the whites destroy their souls.
Whatever the means of achieving their aims, both movements were struggling for freedom and equality. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King reached an agreement that slavery inAmericawas unparalleled in terms of its cruelty and impact on the people. “It is true that the type of slavery that was practiced in America was never practiced in history by another country,” said Malcolm X. Martin Luther King agreed: “Nobody in the history of the world has suffered like the black man.” [2, p.317] That is why both of them understood that they needed to change the situation and lead their people to the promising future.
Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” is known all over the world. In it he stands up for the existence of the Dream in people’s hearts. Whereas, Malcolm X proclaims in “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech that he sees no Dream any more – only a Nightmare.
Taking into account the recent events, the present situation is not as radical as it used to be. Here Louis Farrakhan and Barack Obama come to the fore. As far as Louis Farrakhan’s attitude to the American Dream is concerned, for him it is the “perfect union”. It is a state when people forget about the characteristics that divide them and an integral part of this state is, certainly, freedom. The speaker explains to the public that “freedom can’t come from white folks”, nor can it come “from staying here and petitioning this great government.” The freedom problem has not yet been overcome in America, for the idea of white supremacy is still alive there.
Barack Obama’s victory has become a great breakthrough for African Americans since the civil rights movement. His life and career made it possible for them to feel equal to the white Americans and hope for a better future with doors of opportunity opened for them. For centuries African Americans were denied basic rights of citizenship including the right to vote for the person who would lead the country they lived in. However, they have always claimed that they, too, have been Americans. The victory of one of them has shown that racism is no longer a vital issue in America and individuals are judged, as Martin Luther King had dreamt, not “by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” 
In addition to his brilliant strategy and political message, Obama has a unique personal story, which is well known due to his bestselling books – “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope” – that helped to galvanize millions of American citizens to endorse him. It is also his rhetoric that produces an incredible effect on his listeners. He uses it for two reasons: to urge people to believe him and to tell his story, which has shown that the American Dream still lives in the hearts of the Americans and it can come true.
In fact, Obama himself has become an epitome of the American Dream: he being a black man managed to reach incredible heights of power and fame. He has raised the subject of the Dream a lot of times in the speeches and in his two books: “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope”. For him it has to do with what his parents dreamt of – the best possible upbringing and education for their children because they believed “that in America there are no barriers to success – no matter what colour you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter how much money you have.”  He underlines the fact that the Dream is one of the means that unites the Americans as they “want these dreams for more than [them]selves – [they] want them for each other.”  Thus, according to Obama, it is the idea of mutual help that forms the basis for the way of making the American Dream come true.
One of the constituent parts of this notion is an idea of change for the better and this is how Obama is going to dispel all the doubts “that America is a place where all things are possible.” The idea is conveyed both explicitly and implicitly throughout the victory speech. Obama promises that “this time must be different” and that “change has come to America.” He makes a remark, though, that the change was not possible without the people who supported him, voted for him and believed in him. Neither will it be possible to fully perform this change without them.
He has kept convincing people of this since his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which brought him to wider public notice:
“…there’s not a liberal America, and a conservative America – there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America, and white America, and Latino America, and Asian America – there’s the United States of America”. 
To conclude, the present research has revealed the speakers’ attitude to the key American notion – the American Dream. It can be summed up that all of them mention it in this or that way and all of them have their own vision of what people are dreaming about in their time. Though Malcolm X, denying the presence of the Dream in America, stands out in this respect, what he struggled for could also be called the Dream, the Dream as he saw it. So, the American Dream is always there. It cannot be excluded from the analysis of American rhetoric as it has become the key component of the American history, lifestyle and way of thinking.
- Баранова Л.Л. “Американская мечта: Учебно-методическое пособие”, МАКС Пресс, М., 2006;
- Baldwin L.V. and Amiri YaSin Al-Hadid “Between Cross and Crescent: Christian and Muslim Perspectives on Malcolm and Martin”, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2002
- Cullen J. “The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation”, Oxford University Press, New York, 2003
- Oxford Guide to English and American Culture, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001
- Wright E. “The American Dream: From Reconstruction to Reagan”, Blackwell Publishers Inc., Cambridge USA, 1996
- Barlett B. “American Dream Momentum”, National Review, 18.10.2004; http://www.nationalreview.com
- The Declaration of Independence; http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/
- Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream”, 1963; http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm
- Obama B., speech on the ‘American Dream’, 2007; http://articles.cnn.com/2007-12-21/politics/obama.trans.americandream_1_american-dream-food-stamps-home-state?_s=PM:POLITICS
- Obama B. The keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, 2004; http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/convention2004/barackobama2004dnc.htm
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