“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
As a black man with some semblance of awareness, standing in the face of innumerable social forces, systematic racial oppression, mass incarceration and economic despair, I find myself often preoccupied with the idea of freedom. It’s an important concept for me, one that in face of recent events, is constantly in flux. I know my race, my community and culture had its roots in slavery, and I can see its effects echoing all throughout my community and also within myself. But I know, my story and the Black American story is so much more than that. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors, my grandparents and my mother. I am very aware of the plights they have faced in their lives, so now in the modern day, in this supposed “Post Racial” America, I feel I have an obligation to live as free as I possibly can in the finite life. People died, and fought and endured so I could do everything, from put on suit and stroll into my office job to something as fundamental as read.
The balancing act becomes how do I acknowledge the past? How to endure the greatness, the cruelty and weight of that legacy and also maintain my own humanity, my own faith in decency, my own fractured belief in the most fundamental of American principles—that if I work hard I’m free to pursue my own idea of happiness? How does one do this when one’s very existence is steeped in such a legacy? How can I be truly free? But as I grow older and wonder, now understanding the weight of the past, contemplating the recent violence against Black Americans, how does a Black person really attain or even live up to American ideal of freedom?
Is it even for me and people who look like me? How can we as a society continued to excuse the recent violence against Black American by police officer who are supposed to protect them—even in the face of damning videos? And when I pose these questions, it isn’t an attack on our police officers. Any logical member of our society understands the vital role they play in our communities—nor am I disputing the real danger they face on a daily basis. Or moreover, condemning them as a whole—but just like I, a person of reasonable thought, can extend them the benefit of the doubt, where is mine? If video evidence, if protesting, if complying with hands up isn’t enough to hear the voice and plight of Black Americans, what is?
And with all this questions weighing heavy on me, it all goes back to freedom. How free can I be if my heart skips a beat when a police car drives pass me as I’m walking? How free can I be if I earnest conversation with my friends, telling what picture to use if I end up killed? How can I be freed if I’m deemed a criminal on sight? How free am I if worry about become this week’s trending hashtag?
What can I do when these questions pressed down on me?
I could choose to let them harden me, cause me to become caustic and cynical, or I could use them as source of strength. I can look to the past as undeniable evidence that Black Americans have survived. We have maintained our dignity, our bravery, our lives. We have bucked against institutions that sought out to destroy us and devalue us. Every day that I get up and love, laugh, dream or cry is an act of freedom. I strive for greatness and hope for those who died recently and those who have died in the past for me to stand here. I have to press on.
Every day I strive to speak up when I need to, to become a more whole, more descent person to honor those in the past. And it ain’t easy. Some days it takes herculean efforts to just get out of bed. Some days I’m angry. Some days I have no answer for all these questions. Some days I’m deep saddened. I am human, after all.
And to all of those feeling low—we are still here. I am still here. You are still here. You are no longer property. You are longer three-fifth of man. You, like every American, are a person of value. A person that matters.
“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” James Baldwin
SB Gamble is an author, playwright, and a semi-retired party boy. He has written several plays and short stories. His plays have been performed on stage and on local radio in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He won awards as a playwright with NAACP’s ACT-SO competition and Kalamazoo’s Black Arts and Cultural Center. He currently lives and works in Chicago. He is driven to write works that underline his wild belief that people are all equal and have more commonalities than differences.
His first novel The Last Party is set to be released in August 2016. Please take a chance to learn more about this extraordinary man and his art here.