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The Baltimore Sun
Editorial section, page 15A
Wednesday, January 13, 1993

Inventing America:
We're All in It Together

By Howard Fast

Gerald Early is the director of African and Afro-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis. In the December issue of Harpers magazine there appeared a wise and to my way of thinking extraordinary article on the cult of Malcolm X and the situation of blacks in America today. Let me quote from his piece:
"But it always must be remembered that our blood is here, our names are here, our fate is here in a land we helped to invent. By that I have in mind much more than the fact that blacks gave America free labor; other groups have helped to build this and other countries for no or nominal wages. We have given America something far more valuable: we have given her particular identity, an identity as a country dedicated to diversity, a nation of different peoples living together as one. And no black person should care what the whites want or don't want in the realm of integration. The whites simply must learn to live as committed equals with their former slaves."
The whole article is well worth reading, but what took my fancy was Mr. Early's use of the word "invent." Of course, he is absolutely right. The United States of America is above all things an invention, the most significant social invention in history.
It was not invented by the Pilgrim fathers or the other early colonists or by the framers of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution; it was invented over the 200 years of its history by the great masses of people who came together to inhabit it. And its invention came out of their hopes, struggles and beliefs. There was no guide, blueprint or precedent. It is like no other country on the face of the earth, and it is still struggling to define itself.
Its imperfections are enormous; it is filled with dissent, anger and, in many places, rage. It contains enormous populations that are at odds with each other, and it practically worships a cult of violence. For all of that, it is the one area on Earth where 260 million live in peace with each other, maintain the democratic process and speak a common language. All of this is in the process of invention; the question as to what is being invented is still unanswered.
One thing, however, is clear. We are no longer the lineal descendants of the 13 colonies that joined together in 1776. From them we inherited certain priceless things, above all else, the idea that a national community could live by a set of laws that defined a basic degree of equality.
The holes and gaps in this concept do not negate it. In the largest sense, the concept is accepted by all the disparate populations of the United States; but the general sense of philosophical agreement that marked New England of the 19th century is gone forever, as is the omnivorous melting pot that ushered in the 20th century.
We are becoming something else. To put it in other terms, we who in the very beginning were an invention are being reinvented, and that process of reinvention will go on and on into the future.
The first settlers who came here from Europe had no desire to recreate the places they had come from. For the most part they had fled from those places because life there was intolerable. Their genius lay in the fact that they could imagine a different kind of social structure, and that they had the intelligence and determination to create what they imagined.
This is a problem that faces us today. A great migration of blacks, Asians and His panics into American has taken place during the post-World War II period.
I use the term Hispanic because it is common usage today, but as a matter of origin, those whom we call Hispanic are mostly native American out of Mexico, Central America and the islands or a mixture of native American and black. They are here to stay, to be a part of the future of this country, insofar as we can know the future; and the great problem that faces these new populations and the older population of the mostly white America is to reinvent the country and to do it together.
There is no other way. Racial hatred, anger, ghettos, barriers of any kind only inhibit the process and set us back, and every setback means additional pain and suffering. We are a new kind of country, a new process of human society, and what is good about our way of life outweighs the bad .
Howard Fast is an author, playwright and screenwriter. He wrote this commentary for the Greenwich (Conn.) Time.