Friday, January 24, 2014

Black Girl, Light World XVI: On Os Guinness's "Can Freedom Last Forever?"

(originally published 1/24/14, revised and updated 7/10/2015)

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak...

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

     It is... sincerely disappointing that throughout this lecture, even a non-American such as Os Guinness buys into the white supremacist narrative of freedom in the United States. His blatant and I can only assume purposeful choice to ignore the realities of American history in favor of the traditional rhetoric of American Exceptionalism in regards to the concept of freedom was frustrating. I can only assume that the choice is purposeful because the information on the history of the U.S. that was excluded from his lecture is so freely available and so relevant to the topic that he speaks on that it is mind-boggling. From such an accomplished thinker, writer, and speaker and one who *should* have no personal stake in the traditional American narrative, I expected a much more rigorous examination of freedom in America's history and what that means for today.

     The entire lecture is based on the premise that the framers both won and ordered freedom, and now the question is how to maintain it, if it is maintainable. According to Guinness, the supposition of many of the Framers was that freedom requires virtue which requires faith, which requires freedom. While the lecture was well-crafted, there was a gaping hole in the overall discussion. Guinness never asks if freedom was ever truly won. The obvious question of what to do about slavery in a land that so highly values freedom--a question that occupied much of the founding fathers's time and energy and almost created in 1770s and '80s the eventual North/South of the  Civil War--is never even alluded to in the lecture, much less actually voiced, and certainly not answered. Because the obvious question begs an obvious answer: the ideology of freedom cannot coexist with the ideology of slavery and supremacy. 

    For example, It is one of the major reasons that freeing one's slaves was such a regular occurrence among early Christian converts.  The theological tenet of ALL humans being made in the image of God, of all Christians being equal before God and each other, and then being made free from both sin and the Law by Jesus's death and resurrection, called into question the logic and morality of holding other human beings as property  The fact that the United States's economy relied on slavery made it impossible to mandate that Black Africans be freed from perpetual hereditary bondage.  For all its obviousness, the following hypothesis is never presented; that perhaps freedom was never won and that is was never won because, for all the colonist's professed faith, there was little virtue?

     And how can there have been virtue? The ideology underpinning slavery was white supremacy also known as racism. I conflate the two here because one cannot exist without the other; before the age of exploration the concept of race never existed, and humans identified each other and grouped themselves by family, by language, by culture, by nationality, and by religion, etc.  ***

     When one can without compunction and for one's own profit rape, kill, enslave, destroy families, and twist one's faith to keep those who are being oppressed under one's own thumb? When one can literally invade other's homes kill them and kidnap them to sell their land for a deal? When one forces children to forget their home, their culture, their language? When one purposefully under- and miseducates certain people so that they cannot free themselves to do as well for themselves, their families, and their people? When one can forcibly sterilize women and experiment on people with no regard for their ethical treatment for decades and provide no restitution thereafter? When one can perpetuate lies for centuries about others, though one's own faith says to not falsely witness against thy neighbor? When one may not be doing all these things themselves but are standing by silently, both ignoring and profiting from the injustice, trying to erase it and shut up those who protest against it? 

     The truth is that freedom was never won in America and having never been one was never ordered. We are still in the process of the first step today. So, having never been won and thus having never been ordered, freedom cannot possibly be maintained by the United States and certainly not spread through the same means used here in the U.S. The actuality is that the colonists traded one system of power and oppression for another, with themselves (white male slave-holding landowners) at the top and everyone else under them. 

     These are the things that were done in America and by Americans to maintain success and freedom for those deemed to be worthy of being a part of America. My question for Os Guinness is this: If there is no justice and no equality how can anyone truly become free or remain free? If freedom isn't for everyone, is it really freedom? 

(to be continued...)

References and Resources

  1. Dr. Os Guinness | Can Freedom Last Forever?

  2. Langston Hughes | Let America Be America Again (complete poem)

  3. Winthrop Jordan | White Over Black
    *this pdf is an excerpt and does not include the copious footnotes of the original text
  4. Race and the Enlightenment Part I: From anti-semitism to white supremacy, 1492-1676
  5. Race and the Enlightenment part II: The Anglo-French Enlightenment and beyond

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