Birds flying freely together

What Does it Really Mean to Get Free?

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“Until we are all free, none of us are free.” –¬†Emma Lazarus

I was talking with a friend about the phrase “getting free” as it relates to social justice and liberation, and how it can be hard to explain. Here is my attempt to explain this idea, as this is a critical concept for all of us, and especially those of us with more advantages than others, to understand. Most of us have experienced moments of freedom. For me, soaring down a hill on my bike, feeling the wind in my hair in the car, floating in water, and losing myself in dance give me tastes of freedom. While all of these and similar pleasures offer fleeting moments of happiness, relaxation, and excitement, they give us a false sense of freedom. We mustn’t confuse feelings of pleasure and relaxation for deeply rooted, universal freedom of the soul, spirit, and our collective humanity.

I am not truly free if my friends and family of color experience the realities and constant fear of police violence, biases, unequal treatment, and deportation because of their skin color, the languages they speak, and the religions they practice. I am not truly free if my transgender and gender non-conforming friends and family cannot find employment, and experience violence and harassment, because of how they look and people’s perceptions and biases. I am not truly free if my friends with disabilities cannot fully access spaces that I can, or are excluded and discriminated against because of their mental health. People with masculine privilege are not truly free if their women-identified friends and family cannot earn equal pay for equal work, and do not have full access to reproductive healthcare and bodily autonomy.

I am not truly free if my privileges blind me from the truth. I’m not truly free if my education denied me the real and complete history of this country, and taught me lies so that my ignorance prevents me from being fully human. I’m not truly free if my white privilege has set up the expectation and entitlement that I will succeed in every aspect of my life, and not taught me coping skills for dealing with failure. I am not truly free if I made it to where I am because of unearned privileges, inherited wealth, and unspoken networks that uphold systems of oppression. This system that was created for me and people who look like me. This system that doesn’t value the gifts that only a diversity of perspectives can bring.

If everyone can’t have full access to spaces and equitable opportunities, then neither can I, because these oppressions also limit my opportunity to be my full self. When we are confined to one box that limits us all in being our true, authentic selves and reaching our full potential, our freedom is also limited.

We are all connected and interconnected, and our lives are bound up with one another’s. We need each other not only for survival, but to thrive. Let’s not forget that we belong to one another.

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