February is Black History Month in the US. Over here in the UK, I was just sitting here thinking — I feel good that I have the freedom to love whoever, travel wherever, learn whatever. Then I thought ‘what about my liberty?’ What about the liberty of humankind as a whole, just how free are we?
Freedom and liberty go hand in hand — right? If you have freedom, you also have liberty — right?
Hmm, let’s back up a little.
All human beings should be born free.
If you disagree with that, you and I can not be friends. *shrugs shoulders*
Former slave Harriet Tubman escaped the nightmare of slavery in 1849. Harriet Tubman worked tirelessly as an Abolitionist and was a Humanitarian. Harriet Tubman made several dangerous journeys back to the Southern US enslaved States, risking her own capture and life to free hundreds of other slaves. Harriet Tubman was a Shero, who understood the value of liberty.
“There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive.” — Harriet Tubman
The Emancipation Proclamation (a presidential executive order) was signed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln to ‘free’ some slaves — within the Confederate States only (Lincoln had issued a warning to the Confederate States several months prior to the signing of this Proclamation, that if they did not yield and preserve the Union of the US — he would ‘free’ their slaves. Hmm, so seemingly this Proclamation was more concerned with punishing Confederate States than liberating slaves.). However, the Civil War which raged between Union States and rebel Confederate States from 1861-1865 — alongside long held beliefs of white supremacy. Would further ensure that the actualisation of this ‘freedom’, was a drawn out — tumultuous and bloodied process.
I am simplifying, but eventually — the abolition of slavery was enforced through the 13th Amendment in 1865 (however, within this Amendment whilst abolishing slavery, it also stipulated a clause that slavery or involuntary servitude would be lawful as punishment if you were duly convicted of a crime and imprisoned. Mind boggling.). ALL former slaves, now had freedom.
Former slaves were now free to choose not to work from sunrise to sunset for nothing in cotton fields, or in the plantation house.
Former slaves, were now free to choose to learn to read and write.
Former slaves were now free to choose their own names.
Former slaves were now free to choose how they spent their time.
But, how much liberty did this new found freedom really afford them?
So much freedom gained, and yet Anti-micegenation (so called ‘Jim Crow’ law’s) and the societal system of racism — ensured they did not have much liberty.
Former slaves and those now born free at that time and for many years to come, continued to be discriminated against and had their liberties broadly restricted based on race.
They were forced to live under segregation (which the government touted as being separate but equal living conditions divided by racial colour lines), which meant schools and establishments were not integrated. Places of work, were segregated. Public washrooms and water fountains were segregated. Libraries were segregated, buses were segregated. Neighbourhoods and housing, were segregated. They were not allowed to enter into interracial marriages.
They were not at liberty to vote.
This is what birthed the Civil Rights movement as we know it during the mid 1950's.
How about Black South Africans before the abolition of Apartheid?
Sure, they were not in chains and ‘enslaved’ under Apartheid (Institutionalised Racial Segregation), so of course they had their freedom — right?
But, what about their liberty?
To enforce the laws of Apartheid, there was plenty of blood spilled. Land stolen. Bogus convictions, forced imprisonment.
Black South Africans had to carry Identity cards.
Black South Africans had to live in sub standard housing in designated Townships.
Black South Africans had to learn Afrikaans and were banned from singing their original National anthem.
Black South Africans were not at liberty to vote.
Mixed race marriages were outlawed.
In his book Born a Crime, the Daily Shows Trevor Noah writes how he as a Bi-racial man born during Apartheid — was the product of an unlawful union.
“In any society built on Institutionalised racism, race mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race mixing proves that races can mix, and in alot of cases want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.” — Trevor Noah
A loving union seen as treason?? *shakes head* Just goes to show how nonsensical and wicked Apartheid was. Groan.
What about liberty here in the UK?
Signs in the windows of property to buy or rent or hotels that stated ‘No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ were common place at one time. This was clear infringement of liberties, yet Black people, Irish people and dogs, were ‘free’ in the eyes of the law.
Although there were no laws enforcing race based discrimination, it was not until the Race Relations Act of 1965 that prohibited public discrimination — that these kinds of practices were outlawed. It didn’t stop them happening, but they were outlawed all the same.
Women, Children, Men, dogs and all wildlife from fleas to elephants — have been graced with freedom automatically through the nature of birth. This is given indiscriminately to ALL by the Universe/God. It is not ‘man-made’.
Liberty, is different. Liberty, is man-made.
My children are ten and six years old and they are free, but they do not have the liberty to come and go as they please in our home. They do not have the liberty to choose where they want to travel to, they do not have the liberty to learn about everything and anything they may be curious about — just yet.
This is their childhood, but I have love and a duty of care for them — which requires that I infringe on their liberty on a daily basis. That’s right, I am a liberty taker. Yikes.
Once we enter adulthood, we are handed the keys to our liberty, we now have the total freedom to self govern — right?
Well, sort of.
Humankind has free will, the ability to form our own thoughts and opinions. The thing is, after that — it all gets a little or alot more restrictive depending on the laws of the land within which you live.
The rebel in me says ‘well that sucks’. But, my rational side understands why some restrictions are required.
I have freedom of speech within my home, cool. However if I went to work and during the course of my free speech I said the ’N’ word to describe someone, I would likely be disciplined by management or fired. Fair enough?
If you are learning how to drive, in order to do so legally — you need to obtain a licence. Once you are licensed, you are subject to the rules of the road. You are not at liberty to drive at whatever speed you wish, or beep your horn between certain hours of the day or night. Depending where you live, you must drive on either the left or the right side of the road — it’s the left over here in the UK. In some countries like Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to drive at all.
In Singapore, the import of chewing gum has been banned since 1992 — although you can get dental sugar free gum from the pharmacy. You just can’t chew it everywhere, and you absolutely can not spit it out in public or in fact spit at all in public. Personally, I like those liberty restrictions — I like them alot. *packs bags and books flight to Singapore*
The list of restrictions to liberty globally, is pretty much endless.
In the film The Purge, it paints a chilling dystopian society where for one day of the year, all people are at liberty to do or say ANYTHING without restriction or punishment. So in that society, hate speech is fine on that one day, as is rape, murder, theft, child cruelty, slavery — you get the picture.
We have the ability to self govern, unless that self governance is somehow in conflict with the governing societies laws. To prevent the type of anarchy shown in The Purge, there is an understandable requirement to restrict our liberty through some sort of constitutional laws.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
Yes, Human beings are born free. I am grateful that I am born in a time and in a place, that despite being met by some oppressive restrictions based on race, gender and age — I am still able to exercise my liberty to live and do as I wish fairly well. This is a blessing. I am all too aware that the struggle for liberty continues. Globally, there is still much more work to do to ensure ALL people do not unfairly and unjustly have their liberties oppressed.
The Confederate States entered into the Civil War, essentially to fight for their liberty to have slaves. Thankfully, they lost. No human being should have the liberty to own another human being. Ever. In my eyes, EVERY government in EVERY city all over the world, should stipulate this. That’s my word.
So, just how free do you feel you are?