“Like a lot of black women, I have always had to invent the power my freedom requires.” – June Jordan, Jamaican American poet, essayist, teacher, activist.
Every Fourth of July, I reflect and rededicate myself to the notion of freedom.
Some years, I recommit to fighting for racial justice by reading books by James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, or Angela Davis. Other years, I examine the meaning of freedom in my personal life by asking how my daily habits, thoughts, behaviors and relationships limit or expand my freedom.
Haunted last year by the spirits of my ancestors, I sought to liberate myself from their influence by contributing to a seaside altar and asking the ancestors to remain there. I wanted to give the ancestors a safe harbor so that their centuries-old fight for freedom and justice wouldn’t live in my body and hinder my daily activities.
Now, I’m co-directing a documentary and writing a book about learning to swim, dive, and map sunken slave ships to reconnect with my ancestors. That freedom exorcise didn’t work out quite as I planned it.
But what is freedom now?
What is freedom to the family and friends of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, or Elijah McClain? What is freedom to the barefoot white couple who stood outside their home pointing their guns at unarmed protesters?
What does freedom mean to people who equate wearing masks to tyranny? How does that freedom correlate to the freedom of someone who wears a mask to protect the health and safety of herself and family?
Freedom begins with movement – of breath and being – or nothing else matters.
Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while jogging. Treyvon Martin was fatally shot while walking home one night from the store. Breonna Taylor was killed while sleeping in her bed. We must be free to move in public and personal spaces, especially in our homes, without threat of violence or censure.
Freedom for my people looks like the uncensored braided twists of Black people in the workplace. It’s the tinkling laughter of Black children on the playground of a school that educates and affirms them.
Freedom rushes through the exhale of a Black woman who receives appropriate health care based on the medical evidence of her symptoms, not cultural assumptions about her habits. It cradles in the confident smile of a Black transwoman sitting in the sun loving their glorious self.
As my moral imagination expands, freedom encompasses divesting in the police; fully-funded, community-based behavioral health services; universal health care; affordable childcare; the free provision of healthy, nutritious meals; opportunity for those who travel across national borders to seek it; children no longer confined to cages; and national days of rest for single mothers.
My freedom is generous and life-affirming. It is expansive because freedom invites joy and repels selfishness. It assumes that there is enough for everyone because at its heart is love.
Every reputable liberation movement is grounded in freedom and love.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The love expressed between women is particular and powerful because we have had to love in order to live; love has been our survival.” — Audre Lorde
This is no coincidence.
When I love you, I don’t see us as separate, but equal. I don’t vault my personal comfort over our shared happiness and responsibility. I don’t ask, “How can me and mine get what’s ours?” I ask, “How can I worry less and give more?”
Also, freedom is not to be confused with consumerism or any specific political party. It also doesn’t mean I do whatever I want while endangering the health and safety of others. Such thoughts divide society more than any protest or assertion that Black lives matter.
Freedom united in love doesn’t seat me at the throne of existence. It places me in a responsible partnership with the universe. Nor do I perform freedom and love to appear righteous to others. I am free and loving because I am right within myself.
Freedom rooted in love serves as my moral compass during this time as I strive to meet the multifaceted challenges of the moment. Indeed, freedom and love have been the only things that have seen me through. Any definition of freedom that doesn’t include love is pure foolishness. And my mama didn’t raise no fool.