I wish I knew #howitfeelstobefree
Sixty-four days. It’s been sixty-four days since I started #howitfeelstobefree. Over the last few months I’ve been working on this photo project through Instagram (propagating to my other social media channels) and I’m sure to many onlookers, it seems really random. I started this project in hopes of turning it into a bigger project and didn’t offer much explanation except to a few who asked me privately.
So what is #howitfeelstobefree? At its most basic level, I am chronicling on an unlined index card my emotions summed up in the moment of the photo. Each photo must be taken daily for a full year and I am not allowed to repeat words. This is a project I started solely on my own and far as I can tell, no one else is doing anything similar. In some ways it’s a journey in mindfulness and checking in with myself regularly about how I am actually doing and being thoughtful in asking myself about my mood. So that’s a basic explanation but it’s more than that.
This photo project has roots in a project I was working on called “Free Black and 31.” The initial idea was that I would talk about freedom as a black person who was 31 and interview individuals at different ages about being black and their relationship to freedom, given their experiences. It soon dawned on me that 2016 was ending and I would soon be 32, thus negating the naming convention, and then November 8 happened. Admittedly, I wasn’t that surprised by what I saw on the news. I always knew there was a strong chance of it happening and I never underestimate the unconscious ways whites will undermine themselves in the face of having a black person in a position of superiority to them. For so many of us, progress was shattered. For me, it was a reminder that no matter how far we come, there will always be those who see black progress as something to fear, a loss in their slice of apple pie made from the apple orchards they couldn’t be bothered to pick in the first place. It is in these moments when I am reminded that I’m not free. Yes, on paper, I’m free. I can participate in the civic process. I can buy a home. I’m not someone else’s property, on paper. No matter how far I try to go though, to break barriers and shatter ceilings, there is always a chance, a very strong chance that I will be yanked back and I will lose my right to be free, lose my life. That’s not freedom. I went back to the drawing board to create something that would have a quicker, more direct impact. #howitfeelstobefree still has its root in this larger question of freedom for blacks and how the American dream has become a dream for us, or if it’s still elusive, instead being a nightmare for us that we cannot wake.
I wish I knew how it feels to be free. Nina Simone sang it best. I am both walking in freedom and oppression in multiple layers of my identities. I decided to chronicle my emotions and feelings daily as a black, queer man living in a Trump world. In first developing this, I was concerned a majority of my posts would be depressing, with post after post showing how exacerbated and annoyed I was with the current crazy administration. However, I’m not into torture porn so I don’t focus so much on current events, cause literally every photo of me would of me holding a glass of rosé with a negative word on it, and that’s just not me nor what I want to represent with this project. With this project, I hope to show a full range of feelings and emotions (and SAT words) that go beyond just feeling defeated or adhering to a status quo that I refuse to accept. We are emotional creatures and I won’t be relegated to just being angry or any other rudimentary feeling. To be free means to be able to feel how I want to feel. I’m getting my freedom by being expressive, particularly in an environment where I’ve been conditioned to not show or talk about my feelings and emotions. Frankly, I refuse to be reduced to something so basic.
#howitfeelstobefree is a way for me to show my identity in a world when so many are desperate to take it away. This project is a celebration of blackness, queerness, emotion, and the hopes that we can all feel how it is to be free.