To Ask About Freedom

You’re asking ME about freedom? I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole lot more about what freedom isn’t, than about what it is. ‘Cause I’ve never been free. I can only share my vision with you, about what freedom is.

-Assata Shakur

“So Mr. Wilson, we’re free now. Because of what they (insert Assata, Angela, Fannie Lou, Malcolm, Kathleen Cleaver, Baldwin, Essex, et al) did right?” –many a student of mine

I never knew how to answer. I wanted to acknowledge the work of our ancestors, our parents, our contemporaries and us. But I felt that I might be giving an incomplete or polyannic answer, if I were to say that we are free. I wanted to smile and say yes and tell them that we had at least become more free…i the margins. However, I could not say that. I had long promised my students I would speak with the truths of my convictions–coupled with context, history and data–and spare no realities, my job stability be damned. Part of me wanted to scream and explain that we will never be free, as long as our minds are captive to a warden’s ideology. I wanted to impart that we live in a system of interest convergences and even our notions of freedom are corrupted to mirror/yearn for that which our oppressors have—power to oppress, as opposed to power to thrive, collectively and individually, simultaneously. But deep within my heart, I had always felt that freedom was a lover I only dreamt of and have never known. But how could I say that to my children? I had not the words…not even for myself. Assata speaks where my tongue is lame.

So for me, to ask about freedom–not speaking of children–but to be asked about freedom from folks with considerable power…particularly when they assert the freedoms I have as an “American”…is a violent experience that paralyzes the tongue and enrages and engages the soul.

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