Black culture allows for the proper expression of freedom by balancing individual needs with the needs of the community.
NOTE: This is Part 8 of a 12-part series that defines the core elements of Black culture.
Western culture has no clear concept of freedom. From a Western perspective, freedom allows us the opportunity to pursue happiness while ensuring our rights are protected. It stands for an equal opportunity to achieve a good life (however one defines it), pursue dreams and goals, provide for a family, etc. unfettered by malicious government policies, racism, sexism, or any other cultural biases. Freedom is often associated with liberty, autonomy and the civil liberties with which to exercise them without undue interference by the state including freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of choice, and freedom of speech. The degree of freedom given to citizens is dependent upon the responsibility the citizens demonstrate for assuring these freedoms are maintained for everyone. If one’s freedom infringes upon another and the government doesn’t intervene, then everyone isn’t afforded the same freedoms.
However, freedom has a different connotation for the wealthy class. In their view, freedom lies in the private enjoyment of one’s life and goods which implies virtually no government accountability. Wealth is often built upon the exploitation of workers, contributing to environmental problems, food and goods that cause harm and poor health, etc. The wealthy do not want “the people” to dictate when, where or how they spend their time and money. They want the freedom to ensure they maintain their power over the majority.
America, for example, is the “land of the free” and is most closely associated with the concept of freedom. Americans applaud their freedoms. For instance, they think they’re free to say anything they want. But if what you proclaim publicly is ignorant, foolish, hate-filled or offensive, then what is the value of this freedom? How many people are led astray every day by people who don’t know what they’re talking about? Likewise, in America, hate groups are a vital part of the culture and they are free to assemble with the full support of the US Constitution.
Of course, Black people have a uniquely different experience with these ideals of freedom. An important part of re-establishing one’s own culture is re-defining the overarching ideals that serve as stabilizing and unifying concepts for a nation. For instance, what does it mean to be free? To answer that question from an African cultural perspective, we must start with God.
Our will – the ability to choose — allows us to be made in the likeness of God (only God and man have will). The will is the essence of our divinity. It is the tool used in the internal battle to resist emotional impulses. Man’s will is free to ignore all emotional urges that seemingly compel us to think and behave in a certain way – usually the wrong way. There is no divinity where there is compulsion. You are never compelled to act in a certain way. God granted us the freedom to follow or reject Its laws and to follow or reject our emotions.
You are free to will anything in life. But when you choose to live as a divine being, you seek to align your will with the will of God through the living of truth. However, we often abdicate our freedom by following our passions, wrong thoughts, likes, dislikes, emotions, etc. The inability to control behavior, impulses, passions, and bad habits are major causes of stress. Many people blame it on “lack of willpower,” but there is no power in the will. The will is empowered by your spirit.
Within you is a natural urge for independence – you want to do what you think you’re supposed to be doing out of a sense of freedom. However, that urge to be free must be guided by wisdom and take into consideration the needs of others. Just as parents direct their child’s development by allowing them the freedom to act within a circle of limitations, the Supreme Being develops man’s divinity by allowing a certain amount of freedom.
As above, so below. Members of a community are free to function within a set of limitations established through norms and customs. The African concept of freedom is communalistic whereas the Western approach is individualistic. Freedom in a traditional African society isn’t doing whatever you want because the interest of the whole is greater than the desires of the individual. Instead, freedom from an African perspective is subordinating one’s personal aspirations to society’s norms and values to serve the greater need. You are part of a family, a clan, and a community – each of which has individual requirements and expectations of you that maintain social order.
Freedom will accrue to Black people throughout the world when we re-establish our cultural identity. Yes, we must fight for our freedom, but the battles are ideological and spiritual, not physical.