The question of American identity has historically been both complex and contested. What’s more, it often yields mythic notions rooted in exceptionalist dogmas like election, commission, moral regeneracy, sacred land, and innocent past.
Embedded in religious American exceptionalism is the American Dream: if an individual works hard, perseveres, and is a good citizen, there is no limit to how far she can advance.
Time was when we had a neutral commons where those of us who wanted to say something could say it, try to earn people’s attention, and choose whether to give them our own. I’m speaking of course of the internet—a long decade ago, before social media swallowed it whole.
Before there was Barack Obama, the first black president, or Hillary Clinton, the first female nominee for president from a major party, there was Shirley Chisholm—the first black person and the first woman to run for president and the first African-American congresswoman. She announced her run for the presidency in 1972 with the slogan “Unbought and unbossed.” Although her candidacy was short-lived and she is largely forgotten, younger generations of African-American politicians consider her an icon. Chisholm also started the Congressional Black Caucus. “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” was Chisholm’s philosophy. She died in 2005 at the age of 80 (BBC).