What are your four freedoms?
Last week, I celebrated Juneteenth with my husband. We did what we normally do: enjoy a traditional Black American meal (or one from the diaspora), listen to music by Black artists we love, and take the time to reflect on the triumphs, joys, and pains of our ancestors - the ones that came before us and who guide our path today.
I also take this time think about what freedom really is -- both in my own life and for my community. In a world where immigrants seeking asylum are placed in camps at the border and Black people are assaulted and killed at the hands of law enforcement and neighborhood vigilantes, freedom feels so elusive. Chattel slavery ended in 1865, but so many of us still held captive by systemic oppression and racist institutions.
Equality is a good start, but my vision for all women and people of color doesn't stop there; I want freedom. The freedom to be who we are, to show up who we are, and live our lives without the threat of sexual assault, abuse, gaslighting, or any form of state violence. The freedom to create the life we want for ourselves, our families, and our communities without the threat of being pushed out by people with fatter wallets or paler skin. And the freedom to choose the lives we want to live, rather than unjust systems attempting to make the choice for us. And I won't settle for anything less.
My first year as consultant has been far from easy. On the days where money is tight and I have to choose between paying for a doctor's visit or buying groceries before my invoices are paid, it is very hard to even envision was freedom looks like for me. How can I think long term when I have short-term challenges that need to be tended to right now? Am I free, even if some of my financial and personal goals have to wait a little bit longer? Am I free even if I don't have a full time job? Am I free right now, even when anxiety and depression make me feel like I have no hope left?
Common's Like Water for Chocolate was one of my favorite albums as a teen. The second to last track is "A Song for Assata," a tribute to Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army who now has political asylum in Cuba. Toward the end of the song is a recording of Assata Shakur talking about freedom. "Freedom? You're asking me about freedom?," she says. "I'll be honest with you. I know a lot more about freedom isn't, than about what freedom is."
That's often where I am with it. I have a vision of what freedom looks like to me, and so I live my life in service of that vision. As best as I can, I bring my whole self to my work, to my life, and to the movement however I can, whenever I can.
In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt introduced the idea of the Four Freedoms: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Because freedom looks different to everyone, I'd like to share what my four freedoms are.
[Disclaimer: I want to emphasize here that freedom looks different to everyone, and what is freedom to me may not be freedom to you. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Take what works for you, and leave what does not.]
Freedom to express and experience joy.
The way institutional racism and sexism, economic inequality, and other forms of oppression are set up, it can be hard to give myself permission to seek joy. But I know that it is okay to enjoy the pleasures of life, to laugh my ass off, to enjoy time with my friends and my love, and to dance if I feel like it. This becomes especially important on the hardest days, when I am balancing every day pressures of life with the horror of the news cycle.
Freedom to be the woman I want to be.
When I was a teenager growing up in South Los Angeles, I would read magazines and dreamed about being the kind of Black woman entrepreneurs, designers, activists, and artists I would read about in Honey, Essence, and Vibe magazines. I was drawn to women like Lauryn Hill, Kasi Lemmons, and Lil Kim --women who carved a lane for themselves and used their art to tell their own stories. But we live in a society that could very easily place these three women in opposition to each other--because we love to police women for any choices they make that don't line up with their rules for how Women Are Supposed To Act. My vision for freedom means that every woman can define her womanhood on her own terms and be treated with dignity and respect. At 34, I'm happy to say that I am slowly becoming the woman I want to be --not what society wants me to be. Freedom for me means being able to pursue my definition of womanhood, and not one that is dictated by respectability politics. I want to bring my flavor of Black Girl Magic to everything I do in peace and without being policed or put in a box.
Freedom from toxic work cultures and environments.
My career has had ups and downs like anyone else's, and I've made my share of mistakes. But let's be clear - no one can perform their best work in a toxic work environment or in a place with a toxic work culture. The #MeToo Movement has highlighted the emotional and financial damage that sexual harassment in the workplace does to women. My hope is that the movement will lead to us further exposing, examining, and fixing other forms or abuse and mistreatment in the workplace. Additionally, freedom to me is having the resources and support to identify a crappy work culture, or one that simply does not fit our needs or are professional goals. That starts with being clear about what we want, honest about what we don't, and having conversations with our colleagues and friends about salary, benefits, and other things that are crucial to a healthy work environment.
Freedom from the scarcity mindset.
Education was very important to my parents, and they sent me to private schools because they did not trust that the public schools in our neighborhood would prepare me for college. And while I was privileged to receive a great education, my family still experienced a great deal of economic insecurity. We were evicted at least two times that I know of, and sometimes I would come home from school to find that the electricity was turned off. At one point, all five of us lived in a one bedroom apartment on Crenshaw and 90th in Inglewood, a few blocks away from the Great Western Forum. Because of the way that my family struggled to make ends meet, scarcity became the norm for me - so as I became an adult, it was much harder to even envision a day where I would make enough money to not only survive, but to thrive. As a teenager, I wanted so desperately to live the abundant life I heard about in church growing up, and I still do. When I am reminded that Black women make 63 cents to the man's dollar, it is easy to get discouraged. I start to think back to when I was younger, worried that I am destined to repeat the same cycle. Freedom from the scarcity mindset means reminding myself about the ways I have thrived in the lean times. My desire to be free from it helps me to envision the life I want for myself and for my family, and to think of creative solutions to start doing the work to get there. These days, it means finding ways to create multiple streams of income, so I'm working on that a little bit every day.
I'd love to hear from you, dear reader. What are your four freedoms? Drop them in the comments.