Your Freedom Is Not My Freedom

I’ve had a pain in my chest ever since I watched the news this morning. The best way for me to get rid of my pain is to write. Over my lunch break the words seemed to pour out of my and, while the pain in my chest is still there and seems to get worse as I read all of the responses to the latest, publicized, police shooting I am hoping that my words influence those who think about the experiences and the freedoms of others because when push comes to shove, your freedom is not my freedom. People say they are tired of hearing about racial issues. I am tired of experiencing them.

To summarize the words of Time Wise, we live in a racialized society with a class system. We are divided by gender, race, socioeconomic status, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, etc. My experience in this country is different from your experience in this country. We live in the same country but our realities are very different. A straight person is not treated the same as a gay person. A man is not treated is not treated the same as a woman. The rich are not treated the same as the poor. We say we are the United States but are we really united?

This morning, I woke up, turned on the news and recoiled. Fighting back tears, I watched as the news anchors told me that the Baton Rouge police fatally shot a man, Alton Sterling, who was selling cds outside a convenience store. Like most of you, I immediately went online and watched the video. I gasped and covered my mouth when I heard the sound of bullets being fired into his body. As he lay on the ground, with an officer kneeling on him, I felt emptiness in my heart and stomach. I began to shake my head. Here we go again! After watching the video, I came across several articles that gave more details on his murder. The owner of the convenience store said Sterling had a gun in his pocket but he did not make any move towards it. In an interview, given to WAFB-TV, C. Denise Marcelle, a Louisiana State Representative, said that the body cameras of both officers fell off prior to the shooting. How does she know this? Carl Dabadie Jr., Baton Rouge Police Chief told her. Here we go again!

Last week, I read several articles about an incident in my home state of Ohio. This incident may have shocked thousands of people outside of the state but, if you are a person of color and grew up in Ohio, the story probably did not shock you one bit. Ahmed Al Menhali, was hospitalized after being wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by police. His crime- he was wearing his traditional robes and speaking talking on his cell phone in his native language. How did this happen? A hotel clerk lied to her family about Al Menhali pledging his allegiance to ISIS. She claimed she was terrified of Al Menhali and was hiding in a back room. Why was his at that hotel? He was in town, from the United Arab Emirates, seeking medical treatment at a nearby clinic. Al Menhali is quoted as saying that the officers were brutal and forceful and, he bled as a result of the force used during his arrest. It was quickly deemed that the 911 calls were results of a lie and the Avon police department apologized and said that they did not want to disrespect Al Menhali….too late for that. O-H-….! Here we go again!

Earlier this week, I saw a petition asking that Jesse Williams, civil rights activist and actor, be fired from his role/job on Grey’s Anatomy. The petition has been signed by over 6,000 people. What did he do to deserve such ire? He received a Humanitarian Award and delivered a passionate speech about race relations in the United States. During his speech he said:
“…what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day….There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t levied against us — and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free. ”

Your freedom is not my freedom. Some people don’t like hearing about other people’s version(s) of freedom but as Jesse so eloquently said, “The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.”
For saying these things, for talking, over 6,000 people want this man fired. Here we go again!

My freedom does not look like your freedom. In my freedom, I am allowed to go into stores but I am followed around stores by sales associates that think I am going to steal. I once tried to buy a Coach purse at Herberger’s, a store at which I once had a part-time job (I was shopping in the exact same store I once worked). Standing a few feet away from the purses, which were locked up, stood a group of sales associates. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get their attention. After a few minutes of trying, I gave up and went to Coach Store in the mall and bought my purse. When I walked back through Herberger’s, while carrying my Coach shopping bag, the sales associates stopped chatting and asked me if I needed assistance. Here we go again!

In my freedom, I successfully, and almost single-handedly, created a scholarship program for student enrolled in STEM courses while high school and wanted to pursue technical degrees in college. To get this scholarship program started, I had to meet with the man who oversaw the state chapter. For the sake of this essay, and because I handled him like I was Olivia Pope, I will call him Steve. Steve and I met and talked several times prior to start of the scholarship. Once the scholarship became official, we met multiple times over the course of the three years I managed it. Steve applauded me for my work, even going as far as saying that the scholarship program was one of the best he had seen. Once I was able to create a scholarship committee to help me, I was ecstatic. The committee was made up of two other people in my department- a white male and another black female. Once the committee was put together, I would e-mail or call Steve with questions (we were looking at ways to expand the scholarship program). Instead of responding to me, Steve would call or e-mail the white male on the committee. I once e-mailed him, without copying anyone else on the e-mail. Steve responded by copying the male in response and justified his actions by saying that he copied him because he had met with the committee member before and knew him. I quickly responded to Steve with the dates that he and I had met, including details on one of his conferences that I had attended. I asked that, as the creator of the scholarship, he communicated directly with me. Why did I have to ask him to communicate with me about the scholarship I developed? The male on the committee told me what I already knew. Steve preferred to communicate with him because he is a male. In particular, he is a white male. I guess my melanin, breast and vagina made me unworthy of communication. Here we go again!

In my freedom, I am told that my position in life does not allow me to have any complaints about racial or gender bias discrimination. To paraphrase what someone once told me- as an attractive, successful black woman, that went to school in the suburbs, attended a private college, lives in a decent neighborhood and has a leadership position at work- I have not suffered any discrimination. I asked them if they wanted to switch places and spend a day or a week in my skin. I told them to tell that to the people who believe the only reason why I am where I am at is because I am pretty or because of affirmative action. Tell that to the people who told me that I look good because I do not have black features. Tell that to the woman who said she did not consider me to be black because I am “too pretty”. Tell that to my former supervisor who belittled me and put down my ideas while telling others that I am “too smart to be doing my job and that I need to work somewhere else”. Tell that to my neighbor who, a few months ago, almost hit me with her car and called me “darky” for complaining about it. Tell that to my former male coworker who, against my wishes, followed me around with a video camera and kept asking me out and then complained about me reporting him to HR because as he said “I don’t know why she is upset. She knows I like her.” Tell that to the car salesman that was somewhat rude to me and was surprised that I was able to secure financing for a new car (his attitude quickly changed after that and he tried to get me to buy a luxury vehicle). Tell that to my ex-boyfriend (who was white) who once told me that he didn’t like going out with me and my friends because we were treated rudely at the restaurants we went to. Tell that to the police officer that pulled me over and repeatedly questioned me about the address on my driver’s license. Tell that to the friend who told me I should stop saying that I experienced certain things because he (as a white male) had never heard anyone say those things to a black woman. Tell that to the countless people that expect me to sound like an imbecile when I speak and are shocked that I am so articulate. After hearing me speak, someone recently asked me “Did you go to college?” Tell that to the people I interview who think that, just because I am a woman, I know nothing about electrical power systems, diesel engines and transmissions. As one candidate said during an interview, “I call all the women in my office my Gal Friday”. Here we go again!

My freedom is different from your freedom. I can’t speak in detail about their experiences because, to do so would dishonor them, but I cringe when I hear about some of the things my LGBTQ friends go through. Imagine being not being able to be your authentic self out of fear of being attacked. I can’t speak in detail about their experiences because to do so would belittle them, but my heart aches when I hear about the experiences of my non-Christian friends. Imagine not being able to practice your religion because someone will assume you are a terrorist. I can’t speak in detail about the experiences of some of my poor friends. Although, I grew up poor (my family was on public assistance, homeless for a year and eventually placed in foster care), my experience was not the same as theirs. Talking about their experiences would not take away from their significance. Imagine working several jobs, still not being able to make ends meet, asking for assistance and being told by people that you are lazy and just want a hand out. Here we go again!

In my freedom, women are told what they can and cannot do with the bodies, their hair and their lives. We are criticized for being too independent, too dependent, too masculine, too young, too old, too tall, too thin, too this and too that. We finally have a female running for president. Should we really be focusing on how emotional she is or criticizing her for her husband’s affairs? Why is that part of the conversation? Politics aside, judging her based on the actions of her husband is absurd. Here we go again!

Different freedoms in the same country but yet we are called the United States. What is so united about us? Different realities in the same country mean that we are still divided. Until the classifications on which the foundation of this country, this establishment were built upon are destroyed and removed, we will only be America. Until everyone experiences freedom the way it is intended to be experienced, we will just be America. How many more years will pass before we truly become the United States of America?