Until fairly recently, I didn’t think much about how easily and freely I moved in this country.
I took for granted the dozens — no, hundreds of interactions and experiences that I had over the course of any given week where I could just be, without worry, fear, accusation or confrontation. I have been able to work and live and love and play and move without really recognizing that these were freedoms, rather than just part of my daily life as an American. I took all of this for granted because America, the country that I love dearly, is “the land of the free, home of the brave.”I have been able to work and live and love and play and move without really recognizing that these were freedoms, rather than just part of my daily life as an American.
And while I’ve known that injustice and unfairness exist, I didn’t really know it. Not down to my bones. I didn’t really see that if we are not all free, then none of us are free. And now that I see that fact, I can’t un-see it.
The freedom to:
Walk through a store in ripped jeans and a hoodie without someone following or stopping me, concerned that I might be a thief.
Walk or stand on a corner or sidewalk or street in any city or town, regardless of the hour, and without worry that I will be targeted as a thug or a criminal.
Play loud music in my car or in my home or on the beach.
Not worry that my 18-year-old, 170-pound son will be called a menace or thug or worse, simply for being a young man.
Be viewed as a kid when I was 12 and as a teenager when I was 15 and a young adult at 25.
Swim in a pool or a lake, or even pool-hop. ‘Cuz that’s good, clean American (white) teenage fun.
Put my hands in my pockets when it’s cold and not be reported for “suspicious” behavior.
Ride a bike and not be questioned about whether or not it’s really mine.
Drive a car through the town in which I live and not be pulled over and asked what I’m up to.
Get a taxi in any city and be taken to wherever I want to go.
Buy a house in any neighborhood I choose — with a market-rate mortgage.
Be unemployed and have children and own a phone and not be called lazy or be told I’m taking from others.
Sit in a park in the middle of the day and not be asked why I’m not in school or at work.
Challenge a police officer for his reasons for stopping me without fearing arrest. Or a beating. Or a stranglehold. Or death.
March and protest against injustice and not be labeled as part of a mob.
Be outspoken and angry about our country’s systemic racism and not be accused of starting a race war.
Have my skin tone not need mention, not needing an adjective or modifier in front of “CEO,” “manager,” “actor,” “hero,” “author,” or “activist.”
See and challenge gender inequities in work and politics and academia and media and film and everywhere else – and not see race.
Write this piece and have white America read it.
But while my perspective on freedom has changed, I hold onto hope. As many gather across the country in prayer and vigil, I struggle to find my own voice and place in the healing. My first reaction has been to eschew the silent vigils organized in the predominantly white communities that surround me because I don’t want to be silent. I am grateful and in awe of the voices that are challenging South Carolina to finally take down that flag. Voices that are challenging all of us to not only look more deeply at ourselves but to speak up and act. I too want to act, to speak out, to stand in solidarity with people who may not look like me but share a desire to be heard, to care for family, for community, for country, for personal and collective future.
But as my anger is replaced by a deep sorrow, I’ve also taken a step back, mindful that my “freedom” to step out of a white community is a freedom that others don’t have. And my presence, no matter how well-intentioned, might be a burden to or an assault on others in their grieving. So in that light, I will respectfully seek out like-minded people who want to act and change and live in the we, not in the us and the them.
And I will not stay silent. I will work to change minds and hearts, and I will not rest. Until we are all free.