We Americans sure do love our freedom. We talk about it, sing about it, hang symbols of it on our homes, schools and government buildings, and once a year we parade it down Main Street.
We get upset when anyone — especially our own elected leaders — places restrictions on our freedom, or mandates that we must meet certain requirements to access it.
Because of our love of freedom, the past 3 months of quarantine have seemed like an extended stay in purgatory. We’ve been forced to sit idly by while our economy weakens, our jobs change or are eliminated altogether, and our high-risk populations suffer the fate of an invisible enemy.
We’ve always been a very “hands-on” society, so being told to keep our hands off is a new and uncomfortable mode of operation for us. We’re like Jimi Hendrix without his Strat, or Bob Ross without his paintbrush — we don’t know what to do with our hands.
But the powers that be — whatever name you want to give them — are gradually giving us our freedom back.
Last week, my wife and I joined some friends on the patio at the soft opening of a popular Carbondale bar. We talked, laughed, made jokes, used our hand sanitizer capsules to invent a game we called “pandemic bowling,” and generally let off some pent-up social-interaction steam.
It wasn’t Mountain Fair-level fun, but it felt good just to be out of quarantine and participating in an activity that prior to this spring we had all taken for granted.
Most of all, though, it felt like freedom.
Freedom can be defined a number of different ways, depending on what you value.
In his song “Me and Bobby McGee” Kris Kristopherson wrote, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” I understand that sentiment, and I’ve lived it for short periods of time. But it didn’t feel like freedom to me when I didn’t know where I’d sleep that night, or where my next meal would come from.
Freedom isn’t distributed equally to all people in our country — while we all have it to some degree, the amount we’re allowed depends on who we are, what we are, and where we are.
Since the despicable murder of yet another unarmed black man by a white police officer on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, we’ve heard story after story of what it’s like to be a black person in America — how many basic freedoms afforded to whites are not available to them.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; It must be demanded by the oppressed.”
As one of the privileged white people in this country, I have no idea what it’s like to be oppressed. The closest I ever came to anything resembling oppression was being minimized as a “stinkin’ hippie” when I was young because I had long hair. I hated it, but the experience helped me to understand that people see only what their prejudices allow them to see.
So ask yourself, honestly, what do you see when you look at a black man? Do you see a threatening figure? Do you see a potential friend? Does it depend on where you see them or what they are doing? Do you stop to consider your prejudices?
I have a grandson who just happens to be black. He’s a sweet 10-year-old boy who is really no different in many ways than any other 10-year-old boy in America. But soon he will be a man, and the chances are good that he will be a big man.
His mother, my daughter, is doing an excellent job of preparing him to live in a society where he may be seen by some, including members of law enforcement, as a threat, or at the very least, a suspicious character.
I worry that no matter how good-natured, respectful and prepared he is, he may someday find himself in a situation, not of his own making, where his life is endangered simply because of the color of his skin.
There’s an old idiom that says, “freedom isn’t free.” The cost is in the ultimate sacrifices that our armed servicemembers have given in the name of freedom. We honor them for those sacrifices.
Blacks in this country have also been fighting for freedom, their own, for 400 years now, and far too many of them have paid, and are still paying, the ultimate price for it.
It’s time for all of that to stop.
Jeff Bear is a reporter and copy editor at the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org