Is Freedom White? | Boston Review

My first impression on reading the title of this article, Is Freedom White, was puzzlement. How could a concept like freedom be associated with whiteness?

Intrigued, I read it and I urge you to read it, too. I learned that what I mean when I use the word “freedom” is subtly but significantly different from what some other people mean.

For me, at the simplest level, freedom is the ability to do what I want to do. But there’s a context that goes along with that: If I’m free to do something then all others are also free to do that thing, too. If I can do something that others aren’t allowed to do or are otherwise constrained from doing it then it’s my privilege, not my freedom.

Contrarywise, some people feel that if they can’t do something – even if it results in the oppression of other people – then their freedom is being denied and they are being oppressed.

This is where the “White” definition of freedom starts. It’s a sense of entitlement unconstrained by it’s deleterious effects on others. And, of course, this isn’t restricted to racialized oppression.

This has me wondering, though, if my definition of freedom isn’t more of a ideal. Maybe it’s a lofty though ultimately unattainable goal. Maybe we can’t have it in its purest form. We struggle toward freedom rather than reside in a state of freedom.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Attributed to Willa Watson (though she’s reluctant to accept sole credit for it)

I’m going to have to revisit this article occasionally.