Is freedom just another word

…for nothing left to lose? If that’s the case, what does independence mean? If having nothing left to lose means you’re free, how come those who have the least resources also seem to have the least freedom? As this pandemic has proven, the rich beyond comprehension folks who literally can buy anything they want won in the Pandemic Games 2020, while the most vulnerable, those who rely upon schools for meals and ERs for health care, were the big losers. Again. What is this country really about?

Months of isolation in the midst of important protests has provided a convergence of time and exposure causing me to spend a lot of time thinking about the state of this country, one I am newly hesitant to call “our,” much less “my,” and my role in it. I grew up feeling a bit detached from the history of here. My parent wasn’t American and she wasn’t particularly proud of the history of her own country, Germany. That kind of left me with a sense of not necessarily belonging to either country or their histories.

All the American history I learned, was taught in schools. My mother didn’t have any background or context for the facts and dates I was learning in the curriculum of NYS public schools in the 70s and 80s. I have strong memories of American History in 4th grade, the bicentennial year notably, and 8th grade and again as a high school junior, but learned nothing about the important role of people of color beyond their physical labor. Blacks worked farms, Chinese worked the railroads and mines, Mexicans worked orchards. No explanation was offered as to how this came to be the designated roles of POC in this country, it just was.

Awareness of the institutionalized racism this country is constructed upon came to me late. I really didn’t see it. I heard the arguments about bootstraps and pulling them up and knew there were often opportunities available that went unused. As someone who had grown up with many disadvantages like poverty, lack of stable housing, and a struggling single parent, I had done it. Why couldn’t “they?”

I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just about that, about stuff and things that might make life more comfortable. No, it was about how this entire country promotes the belief that White is superior, that White is the definition, that White is the yardstick on which all must be measured. Somehow, without a parent to indoctrinate me or a historical connection to this country, I internalized that message.

As Melanie Sumrow’s The Inside Battle, which I recently read stated:
 
Have you ever been given the stink-eye or followed around when you walk into a store because of the color of your skin? Have you ever feared for your life when you see a police officer because you can’t know what judgments he’s already made because of the way you look?
No. Not even once. Never.
 
These days, I find myself shaking my head so very often. I consider actions, of my own and those I’ve witnessed, and can see where my ignorance manifested itself and it makes me sad and angry and regretful. I’m processing things differently, constantly questioning myself, and it’s exhausting. But, I can’t imagine it compares to the bone tired weariness of generations of POC who built this country with their forced labor, yet who do not have a fair share of the wealth they helped to create.
 
I remember this quote, probably taught to me one February month (why the shortest month of the year??), spoken by Mother (sometimes referenced as Sister) Pollard, a 72 year old participant in the March on Selma:
 
My feets is tired but my soul is rested.
I have to wonder how Mother Pollard would feel now, today. Even if her soul was rested for having gained access to the vote, how would her heart be holding up? Do you think she’d feel free at last?
 
I believe it’s the responsibility of every person in a position of privilege, be it White, rich, or power, needs to do their job to help make America a country that provides liberty and justice to all. Until the day when POC and Whites are treated the same, Independence hasn’t truly been declared. It’s just something that been asserted by Whites and denied to POC. 

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