America - I'm still proud of my passport

Icons - Bonnie Greer on the America of Toni Morrison, Michael Moore and Dan Rather: a people always

Being an American expat has nev- er been harder. The minute you open your mouth you become, by default, a convenient dumping ground for all those opposed to your native land's stance in the world. Americans are lumped together. No matter that you have lived away from the United States for decades, have sworn allegiance to a foreign power, and have stated over and over again that you oppose much of the way the US operates on the planet - you're a Yank and always will be.

Which, frankly, suits me just fine.

What people who have never lived in the United States or had a close relationship with an American fail to appreciate is the simple fact that no one, and I mean no one, can criticise America quite like an American. It's in our DNA. I have seen bumper stickers in Illinois, in the heart of the heartland, where I was born and raised, bearing the slogan "US Out of North America". There are Americans who pray every day that the heavens will open up and blow the US away. In practically every American household, there is at least one critic of some facet of life in the US.

America is, for every American, a personal, visceral thing, ours to make and shape as we see fit. We speak our minds and like to think that we allow others to do so, too. And so, in that spirit, but in no particular order, here are those people who, despite everything, make me still treasure that passport with the eagle on the cover.

The first is that very personification of the term "prophet without honour", Noam Chomsky. He is barely published in the US, but nothing stops his relentless critique, his condemnation of the powers that be who fail to live up to the promise of our great country.

Toni Morrison is another. She has given voice to an entire generation of writers, male and female, who refract the story of our common humanity through the lens of their particular ethnicity. This is an authentically American act. Morrison has even caused to come into being a counter- tendency: those who rail against "political correctness", the "feminisation" of lit-erature - in short, everything that leaves "the old dispensation" out of the loop of power and influence.

Michael Stipe, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Bruce Springsteen, all of their showbiz ilk make me proud, too. And that includes the "governator". Where else could an immigrant with a thick accent rise to become the leader of a province whose economy rivals that of many nations? Like him or loathe him, Arnold Schwarzenegger personifies that elusive state of grace: the American dream.

If you think that the word "subtlety" and the creator of Farenheit 9/11 don't go together, think again. Michael Moore talks "guy culture" fluently. Those who criticise his latest film don't understand that he does not make his appeal to the academy. Moore is talking straight to the "Jackass: the movie" crowd; to the ones who consider the Farrelly Brothers the greatest film directors in movie history, Simon Cowell to be on a par with Socrates, Fox News as the sine qua non of impartiality, and an evening at McDonald's as a Michelin three-star experience.

Moore knows that they are the sort of Americans who are suffering and dying in Iraq and he goes straight at them. Anyway, it is American not to care what the "experts" think. Real Americans never trust their elected officials. No matter what the reality, power is seen to be bottom-up in the States. It comes from the people and the people guard its use jealously. Well, that's the narrative we tell ourselves - and as myths go, it's not a bad one.

Mel Brooks is another reason that I love America. Only an American could make a smash-hit musical out of the Third Reich and offend just about everybody into the bargain. You can say the unsayable in the States. It's one of our inalienable rights, after all.

A former president, Jimmy Carter, is the very model of the American statesman. Not the greatest of presidents, he has since become much more: a man who lives by his conscience, who tries to make the world a bit of a better place.

The anchorman Dan Rather, America's equivalent of Trevor McDonald, David Dimbleby, Jeremy Paxman and Jon Snow all rolled into one, is another one. Forged by "Watergate", honed on the whetstone of the Reagan era, Rather's nightly newscast has become a "Way of the Cross".

As well, there are the whistle-blowers of Enron; the black mother who sued the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama in 1984 and put it out of business; those mothers and fathers who have gone to the battlefields of Iraq to see for themselves what's going on; the doctors and nurses at abortion clinics who, often in fear for their lives, enforce the right to freedom of choice for women; people of religion, those in the police and fire services, teachers and all those who work to maintain a land where all people can be free and equal; those gay men and lesbians who know that they, too, are children of God and deserve to be married in his eyes; the citizens of New York City, that foreign country attached to the US mainland, who continue to push and pull at the boundaries of taste, respectability, art and the notions of citizenship.

And if I can include, rather immodestly, us Americans who choose to live abroad and who, no matter what side of the political spectrum we are on, never cease to say loud and clear to all who will hear us: America is not only a country, it is a state of being, a people constantly in the process of becoming free.

Bonnie Greer is a playwright, author, and the Chancellor of Kingston University.

This article first appeared in the 25 October 2004 issue of the New Statesman, America - God, gays and guns