We’re Not Really Free Until We’re Free

On New Year’s 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the most influential executive order in American history, the Emancipation Proclamation. While this arrangement of 1,754 words are some of the most recognizable, most quoted, and referenced in American parlance, the Proclamation alone did not free the slaves. The North still needed to win the Civil War to assure the Proclamation would be obeyed by the South. Texas, in particular, held on to the bitter end. On June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers arrived to Galveston, Texas and spread the news that the War was over. Despite it being issued two and a half years prior, there were not enough Union soldiers in Texas to enforce the Proclamation, so black people remained enslaved. With the arrival of Major General Gordon Granger and his regiment of soldiers, there were finally enough numbers to overcome the Rebels and make the Proclamation a reality for black Texans.

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery, but the brutal truth is slavery isn’t really over in America. It has taken on other forms. Not only does slavery still exist through the prison-industrial complex, it lives on through hyper-capitalism. At its core, capitalism is about the accumulation of money, material goods, and resources. The foundation of capitalism, especially as it manifests today, is greed. Jesus himself said, “The love of money is the root of all evil” because the love of money enslaves. MLK said the three evils of society are militarism, poverty, and racism. All three of these institutional ills are fed by the love of money and enslave us in body, mind, and spirit.

Friday’s acquittal of the murderer of Philando Castile is a striking reminder of our lack of freedom. Castile’s mother said as much in her reaction to the decision. The fact that both Alton Sterling and Castile were murdered the same week as America’s Independence Day demonstrates that while America may have won its independence from British colonialism, we still have not gained our independence from neo-colonialism.

Juneteenth teaches us that freedom is not going to be given to us. We must take it for ourselves. The Texan slave owners kept their slaves ignorant of Lincoln’s Proclamation because they could. There were not enough numbers to stop them. And even the slaves that knew about the Proclamation couldn’t do anything about it except try to escape to the North. It was the same dynamic that existed pre-Civil War. Those who are in possession of oppressive power aren’t going to just give it up because their conscience is pricked. Towards the end of his life, MLK started realizing this. You can’t guilt someone who is too invested, too greedy, to give up their claim to supremacy over someone else. Not when they love money too much.

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To truly be free, I believe, we must create. Creating is adapting, and adapting is growing stronger.

This Juneteenth I’m asking myself how can we truly be free in a capitalistic society enshrouded by the big three evils? Previously I would have said “pursuing an education” and left it at that. But there’s more to it. To truly be free, I believe, we must create. Creating is adapting, and adapting is growing stronger. Of the many things I find inspiring about black history, what inspires me the most is how black people have created ways to survive despite racism’s attempt to wipe us out.

I’ve mentioned before how my tattoos are more than just body art for me. I look to adinkra symbols to remember how creative the black diaspora is. One symbol that is particularly pertinent today is the fawohodie, which translates as “independence” and is the symbol of freedom and emancipation. The Akan proverb accompanying this adinkra is “fawodhodie ene obre na enam” meaning, “Independence comes with its responsibilities.” Assata Shakur’s famous words are the epitome of fawodhodie: “It’s our duty to fight for our freedom. It’s our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Freedom isn’t something that is gained all at once. American history is proof of this. Freedom has to be fought for, inch by inch, without ceasing. And sometimes in the process of fighting for freedom we gain an inch yet lose a foot. Through my education, I’ve come to gradually comprehend how much more freedom there is to gain. I see how poverty, militarism, and racism decimates my community, and I aim to fight with everything I have and all that I am to free my people. My writing is just one part of it. I write to create. I write to be free. I write to pursue freedom because I don’t think I’m truly free yet. And I know my people aren’t truly free.

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