Patricia J. Williams — The American Dream

I believe in the American dream as collective prayer for global refuge.

Patricia J. Williams — The American Dream

Back in 2009 at Bill Moyers Journal we asked all our guests to share with us their vision of the future of the American Dream. We’ve followed up with some of those guests and they’ve shared their thoughts with us on where the American Dream stands today. Tell us what your vision for the American Dream is on Facebook, Twitter, email or at (347) 974-4181.


I believe in the American Dream as collective prayer for global refuge, an imagined shelter founded — and still foundering — upon the residue of diasporic trauma. It is desire born of territorial dislocation, a collective state of homesickness.

America, as dreamed, is a patchwork of upended pasts, imperfectly reconstituted. At best, it is the mending of multiple histories of displacement, an interior yearning for home whose outward expression is performed through pluralistically conceded claims upon conceptual space. In playing forward the losses of our forebears, however, we have, from time to consequential time, lost sight of America as always — already occupied — as dependent upon broad invitation and ever-challenging generosities of public accommodation. 

At this oddly corrupted moment of seemingly unforeseen political purchase, I do worry we have become blind to the local, to the factual, as well as to the practical interpellations required to bridge the dream of yet-America with all that is not-dream.


I think that the American Dream has become too closely aligned with easy clichés. So it’s almost like a Coke commercial that we are the world or we can cure world hunger. And if we say it, it will become so. And I say this only two days after the 2008 presidential election, in which when I went to vote there were lines around the block; in which my 93-year-old mother got up with her walker and went to vote; in which my very young students went and helped push people to the polls, in which people used every bit of technology and manned phone banks.

And so I hope that the American Dream becomes a new kind of civic engagement rather than simply the espousal of easy ideals, and that this kind of engagement that we saw in the election of 2008 becomes a reconnection of a set of demands of government and a determination — a practical on-the-ground determination — to see government respond to the requests and the needs of people in constructive ways, to make those ideals come true.

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Patricia J. Williams

Patricia J. Williams is a professor of law at Columbia University. She was a fellow in the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College and has been an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School Law School and its department of women’s studies. Williams also worked as a consumer advocate in the office of the City Attorney in Los Angeles. A member of the State Bar of California and the Federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Williams has served on the advisory council for the Medgar Evers Center for Law and Social Justice of the City University of New York and on the board of governors for the Society of American Law Teachers, among others. Her books include The Alchemy of Race and Rights; The Rooster's Egg and Seeing a ColorBlind Future: The Paradox of Race. A MacArthur fellow, Williams has also been a columnist for The Nation.