Many times a question like this is answered philosphically especially among Africans in America. I will try to avoid articulating any philosophy in my response. I agree that there are various ways to view the concept and reality of freedom. Some speak of physical freedom -- to move about without inhibition. Others speak about mental freedom and enslavement, based upon how they think and what shapes their world view. Then, there are those who pose a hypothetical freedom that imposes no constraints whatsoever -- everyone simply does whatever they imagine.
I am an advocate of what I call practical freedom -- the ability to choose one's direction and actions within the constraints that exist. That is because we all live within some constraints -- real and imangined.
So, my answer to the question is "YES, I am free." I describe myself as an independent "thinker, seeker, learner." I constantly strive to avoid being defined by popular culture. The only defining description I accept without argument is that I am an African in America. I borrowed that from W.E.B. Du Bois, and I am comfortable with the African American version. It is obvious to all that I am Black, so that requires no definition. I am able to make that decision because I am free, without the need for further discussion.
Secondly, I am free because I make decisions based on MY best judgment. I am confident in my intellect, and I have overcome the self-esteem issues of my youth. I am not a joiner, nor am I easily influenced by movements, political parties, organizations, or pundits. The organization I am most supportive of that is always at the top of my priority list is my family -- me and my wife, my two children, and grandchildren, two brothers, one sister, and those related to us by blood. I support other organizations, to the degree that I benefit from participation. I am not directed nor defined by any organization. I determine the terms of my affiliation -- to the extent that I can accept their mission and goals.
Third, I am free because I am a learner. I am infected with a contagious enthusiasm for learning. My worldview is informed by the culture I grew up with, and shaped by everything I have learned as an adult. I am grounded by certain values learned from my parents and the nurturing environment of my youth (which I shall not enumerate here). Everything that guides my actions is a result of my values juxtaposed to, and integrated with what I have learned.
Finally I am free because "I AM." I often answer the question, "How are you?" with "I AM!" I don't perceive any lack of freedom, even though I constantly encounter prejudice, discrimination, exclusion, and "structural inequalities" that seem to limit the potential that I have. These are obstacles to be sure, but I am no less free. They only serve to empower me to reach deeper into my reservoir of options -- relationships, knowledge, faith, strength, and ability -- to achieve all that I am capable of. Like every human on earth, all my dreams don't come true. But I am free to reach for the stars nonetheless.
I have not always been free. I recall many years ago when my wife and I traveled out of the country for the first time, we observed certain children who approached us with questions and confidence that seemed to belie their age. We looked at each other and asked, "How is that possible?" We observed that they were still children, not wise beyond any other children we knew, but they seemed so uninhibited in their exploration of things new and different. We were new and different to them. We were not "free" to venture into places unkown to us, as the children we had encountered. It was then that we experienced an epiphany -- the children we encountered were "free" and we were not. We perceived limitations on our freedom based on the experiences of our youth in the South of America. And even when we were not constrained by the real limitations on our freedom, we acted as if we were.
At that moment, we vowed never to be bound or constrained by imagined limitations ever again. We declared our freedom and we have lived unconstrained since. No imaginary chains on us. Certainly, there were no physical chains. I can confidently proclaim that this freedom has brought peace, and unconstrained pursuit of happiness for us.
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