What is Freedom to an America(n)?

In 1852 Black Abolitionist Fredrick Douglas posed the question “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July”? He answers his own question by articulating ” a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality” (1852). Today i pose a similar question what does it mean to have freedom in an America that still functions through violence and exploration?

Now i have been thinking about this question for a while. Most recently, i brought it up in a group chat the other day. i like Douglas began to answer my own question with texting “people like the idea of freedom ideologically and symbolically but no one actually wants freedom ontologically. i say this because i heard Nina Simone once said “freedom means no fear” this is to say freedom is uncomfortable and it is inherently lonely. No one wants to be lonely, no one wants to be uncomfortable. Everyone wants to be comfortable and secure. Freedom is courage. Freedom is saying fuck it. Freedom is having conviction and a true knowledge of self. A knowledge of self that births true life and the opportunity to live outside orthodoxical conventions and see the true humanity of others. Freedom requires empathy and sensitivity”. Reflecting and reading this text back to myself i recognize that this answer may not be so clear especially the ending. However, i what really mean is that today we live in a world with strict and rigid boundaries and if you step out of these boundaries you are often marginalized and ridiculed. These boundaries are the orthodoxical conventions. These orthodoxical conventions utilize stereotypes and fears to establish expectations on who you are supposed to be. But, to defy these conventions of control is freedom. To explain this further i have written an acrostic poem defining freedom. This definition can be used to define freedom for the individual but it is also capable of guiding how America can live up to its promise of freedom. What is crucial about the definition is that it frames freedom not as something that is static but rather presents freedom as a pursuit as an ideal to someday achieve. So what is freedom?

Forgive

Release

Educate

Empathy

Dream

Optimism

Manifest

With this definition, the first step to achieving freedom as individuals is to forgive. In order to achieve freedom, we must forgive ourselves. This is to say we might not always like certain qualities about ourselves, we might have insecurities, and we might not like our past. However, it is crucial that we forgive ourselves for these things that we might not be proud of because they are us. We must put our pride aside, and make peace with ourselves, so that we may ultimately forgive ourselves. The act of forgiving ourselves is an act of loving ourselves. Love is the foundation of freedom. Conversely, we must also learn to forgive others. Holding on to grudges and pain and having hate takes so much energy. In moving towards freedom we cannot waste energy. Remember this, it is hard to hate it is easy to love.

After we begin to forgive we must have the release. The things that we should release is obviously that hate, but it is also the biases or prejudices we hold. We can also release any preconceived baseless knowledge. The release is the preparation for education. It is important that we have this release because we should enter education as individuals who are prepared to absorb knowledge like a sponge. We should enter education with the Socratic mindset of “Know that I know nothing”. However, we must not release the knowledge of ourselves we have.

Education is interesting today. Often we are told what to think and how to think. Broadly our education system functions as what Brazilian Philosopher Paulo Friere calls a Banking model where in which knowledge is just deposited into children not leaving room for them to question this knowledge. Therefore, in the pursuit of freedom education must become a vehicle for us to question the world around us. Moreover, we must realize that education does not just happen in the classroom, but we are constantly learning by just living. It is through this experiential learning that we come to understand that we already have knowledge and this is the knowledge of self. The knowledge of self is our existence and our humanity. With the knowledge of self, we know that we are powerful beyond measure and we have the ability to define ourselves. While we have knowledge of self it is important that we gain knowledge of others. Not just know others on the surface level but really get to know them in the way we know ourselves.  In getting to know others we recognize that we are not only powerful but others are just as powerful. This recognition is the essence of freedom.

Empathy is a word that gets thrown around a lot. However, empathy may be my favorite word in the English language. Empathy and sympathy are used sometimes interchangeably but they are NOT the same word and they do not have the same meaning. The word empathy comes from the Greek word empatheia. So let’s break down empatheia.  “em” means in and “path” stems from “pathos” which means to feel. Therefore, empathy means an inward feeling. Thus to have empathy it is to share in a feeling with one another. This is to say empathy gives the ability to genuinely feel and share others’ pain, despair, joy, happiness, etc. Empathy allows for us to connect with one another and bond with one another. Connections and bonds present us with the opportunity to live harmoniously with others. And harmony grants freedom because we no longer are controlled by the forces which craft unharmonious conditions wherein which we are not permitted to live as ourselves with others. 

The American dream of freedom has been deferred to the American people. Langston Hughes questioned “What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat?  Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load?  Or does it explode? i do not think the dream rots away nor do i think it drys up. Rather, i think we conceal the dream. We hide the dream because the dream may seem crazy or inconceivable. We all have dreams but often we do not always believe in our dreams because it defies these orthodoxical conventions. Therefore, we do not pursue these dreams because these conventional ideas have made these dreams seem damn near impossible. Similarly, the dreams of freedom too seem impossible for many. However, i am writing today to say freedom is possible because I’M POSSIBLE. Meaning, that freedom begins with the individual who forgives, who releases their hatred and prejudices, who educates themselves about themselves and others, and who works to be empathic. While freedom begins with the individual it does not end with the individual. Freedom is a pursuit. Freedom is a journey. To have freedom we must go through life. Just like how life is not easy obtaining freedom is not easy. Chasing freedom is an endeavor that is designed to be difficult because a person with freedom is the biggest threat to the establishment. Therefore, on the quest to freedom you are going to be discouraged, you will want to give up, but you mustn’t quit. It is imperative that you continue to dream of freedom. It is the dream that will keep you going. The dream is the shield that keeps us alive. Dream on! Dream on! Dream on!

The road to freedom is  “long. With many a winding turn. That leads us to who knows where”. It is the uncertainty that may have us pessimistic. This daunting journey may have us living in fear. This road may have signs on the shoulder that read “turn around”, “you do not want to go further”, or “drive at your own risk”. Chasing freedom is about taking risks. In order to travel towards freedom, you are going to have to take risks along the way. Which can be frightening and by taking risks you are going to fail or run into obstacles. Failing and being pit-stopped you may lose hope but you can’t lose all hope. In order to reach your destination of freedom you must become delusionally optimistic that you will get there. You have to be unwaveringly confident because if you are not every sign will have you believe that freedom is not possible. 

Therefore to achieve freedom and to have it you must manifest it. The word manifest i feel has been increasingly popular over the past 5 years or so. We hear people all the time say “ Look I manifested all of this”. i believe when we hear these sentiments we sometimes make the assumptions that the person just dreamed and success just came their way. Those assumptions are not entirely true. This is not to say that the dream is not a part of the manifestations. In fact the dream is the foundation of the manifestations. But what makes the manifestation possible is the work that you do to support your dream. So, if you want to see your dream come true you must do the work while dreaming unconditionally. Therefore, to achieve freedom you must do the work! This means you must forgive yourself, and make peace with yourself, while also forgiving others in order to preserve your energy for the long journey that is ahead of you. Next, you must release all the negativity in your life that is holding you back. After you release this negative energy you must build new knowledge by educating yourself on yourself, the world around you, and others so that you can become empathic. It is empathy that you can use to create connections and bonds so that you may see the humanity of others which leads to a world of harmony. However, there will not always be harmony so you must continue to dream for freedom because that dream is what will keep you alive. If you do this work you will be on your journey towards manifesting freedom and that is what freedom is. Freedom is the journey towards living in harmony with yourself and the world around you through actively learning about yourself and others while more importantly loving yourself and everyone and everything in this world. The journey towards this type of love is the ultimate sense of F.R.E.E.D.O.M.



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