I grew up hearing the refrain, freedom isn’t free. I also heard, “If you is what you ain’t, then you ain’t what you is.”
What do these aphorisms have in common? They both shed light on how one navigates systemic racism.
Systemic racism depends upon tacit agreement with established power and fear of perceived consequences if that power is not obeyed. Throw in laws that limit freedom and one begins to scratch when you don’t itch and grin when there’s nothing funny.
Our national culture is consumed with power, sometimes demonstrably violent. We citizens are told, “just stay in your lane and you won’t get hurt.” Whether you are an NFL owner or the police, they say freedom comes with a price.
Racism affects all of us. One can fall into racist patterns and self-hatred because ancient behavior roles kick in to survive another day. Despite compliance, sometimes that’s not enough. Systems control one’s freedom.
Am I being too cynical, you may ask. Not really. I am establishing the exterior of my environment. My interior, though, is not congruent with systemic racism. I challenge any belief system that defines me as less than. My strong faith connects me to all existence. My Unitarian Universalist sources begin and end with an understanding I was born a blessing of freedom. No matter the vicissitudes and imperfections, I am somebody. My freedom is not dependent upon someone or something. I am part of this world, unique but related. I can and will choose love. I will be me with all my complexities. I am continuing to grow because I am free.
Freedom is not free but we can be.
Rev. Gerald Davis serves as the minister of Church of the Restoration Unitarian Universalist and as an Affiliate Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church, both in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On selected Sundays, you can join Rev. Davis at 1:30 p.m. for All Souls Reads. Rev. Davis leads the discussion about literature that explores the human condition when overcoming oppressive circumstances. Learn more at allsoulschurch.org/programs.