As an outside observer, not exactly new to American history, but certainly well educated about it, it seems like the word Freedom means different things to different people depending on who is using it and who should theoretically have the rights to it in this country.
Jamaicans have not had the long history of slavery and white dominance that people in America have had to contend with. So while I am a black American person, I don’t have a shared history with the African American community in the way that many might assume.
Stepping into this culture, I’m seeing a number of Southern folks with confederate flags talking about how much they value their freedom, in a moment where we are all observing that black people in America have historically not been able to enjoy that right to Freedom. First because of slavery, then because of segregation, then because of the high rates of incarceration, and systemic issues like racial profiling and overpolicing. Also, being excluded from job opportunities simply because of the color of their skin.
With the Southerners on one side extolling their right to freedom, and black people on the other, still trying to establish theirs, the word itself starts to take on a new shade. Again, to me as an outsider, it seems like one of those dog whistles we keep hearing about.
They are free to promote what is in actuality racist iconography, while black people are vilified for simply pointing out that their lives matter. They are free to walk around openly with guns, loaded guns, while black children are killed for even playing with toy ones. They are free to use the quote-unquote justice system to call police on black people doing mundane, knowing full well it may end up in that person’s death. Although their families also deal with addiction, drunkenness and delinquency and welfare issues, this person is black so by default, they must also deal with those things, and while their families are simply burdened by these things as inconveniences, black people are somehow deserving of jail and murder by cop for the same very unfortunate afflictions.
It feels like the freedom that these Confederate flag, Confederate culture – loving individuals are clinging on to, is a freedom that they believe makes them better than the people they currently “otherize”. It’s a religious freedom that allows them to practice their Christian religions and discriminate based on their Christian religions, but should not allow others– non-Christians or even Christians with a different world view –to practice their own. It is a freedom that allows them to irresponsibly jeopardize the lives of others around them because they choose not to do something as simple as to put a piece of cloth over their face when they’re out in public. A short-term inconvenience, affecting them only as long as they’re out in public, perhaps a few hours a day, in the service of saving hundreds of thousands of lives is too much of an imposition on their “freedom” to be worth even considering.
It’s a freedom that allows them to dictate what women should do with their own bodies, and force women to have children that they can’t necessarily care for, because freedom, to them, applies only to their right to impose their beliefs on other people. In other words they are free to tell you, woman, what to do with your body, but you are not free to choose what you do with your body.
It is a freedom that says that although the greatness of this country comes from its democracy and its diversity and it’s freedom and liberty and justice for all, “all” actually refers to the kind of “all” from Animal Farm. If you didn’t read that book, the most powerful line comes toward the end of the book where the pigs take over the farm from the humans, and become drunk on the power they gained. So much so that they began subjugating the other animals the same way that the humans had. In the end they say yes, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
So even while we should be living in this great democracy, it’s the people who talk about freedom the most who strive the hardest to suppress the votes, to silence dissent, to ensure that every American’s vote on voice is not equal, to take power rather rather than to earn it by appointing leaders rather than respecting communities and allowing them to select their own. They want to stack the deck, and not allow Americans to select their leader based on one person one vote. Rather they are clinging to an arcane system that gives unbalanced power to a group of states who gained this power because wanted to hold on to slavery so that their freedom to oppress could not be fully challenged.
It is however that same freedom that has allowed people who have been oppressed to rise up in this moment. It is that freedom that allows me to live in this country supporting all good people of any race and every background while I’m here, and supporting the immigrants with whom I share heritage wherever they are in the world.
It is the aspiration toward that ubiquitous freedom, the freedom that we should all have to respect each other and ourselves, that makes us love this country.
I believe this is a moment for us all to learn about each other and from each other. For us in the Caribbean community to learn about African American history, and to learn about the Confederacy and the civil Rights movement and what our brothers and sisters from the African American community have had to live through. It is also a time for us all of every race to let go of the type of freedom for ourselves that ignores the right to freedom of others.
I don’t know that I have a conclusion in this particular stream of consciousness. Just a wish that we could all respect each other’s freedoms, and that we would choose to use that precious power of freedom in respect of each other and for the greater good of each other rather than to advance only our own objectives and tear each other down. That’s all.