Real Freedom Requires Introspection
Below is the transcript from our podcast on July 4, 2021
This morning my wife and I awoke around 6AM, and we lay in bed and talked for a while before starting our day. We were delighted that our male cat, a very talkative Bombay Black, wasn’t already howling from outside the closed bedroom door, demanding his breakfast. Once in a while we catch a lucky break and he leaves us alone, allowing us to wake up on our own time.
We eventually got out of bed and went downstairs to start our morning routine. My wife fed the cats and made the coffee while we discussed our plans for this Independence Day.
The weather here in St. Louis is perfect today, and the air this morning was very cool for a summer day. We decided to take advantage of the cool air, so we sat on our deck at the back of the house while drinking our coffee. The sun rises behind a big cottonwood tree, which provides some much-needed shade on a summer morning. I pulled out my tablet and began reading the news. As if on queue, the male cat jumped up and took his rightful place on my lap, forcing me to cross my legs and balance the tablet on my knee while keeping one hand free to scratch him behind the ears and take an occasional drink of coffee.
I found myself focusing on an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Kimberlé Crenshaw entitled “The Panic Over Critical Race Theory is an Attempt to Whitewash U.S. History.”
The article discussed how certain groups of people in our society gravitate toward fascism, and in doing so, attempt to banish a true teaching of our history by claiming that it will make our children feel shame. The author cites an example currently taking place in Texas, which now precludes any teacher from exploring the state’s own history of enslavement if any student should “feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish on account of the individual’s race or sex.”
Of course, this is a thinly veiled attempt to whitewash history, because - as I’ve pointed out on previous podcasts - fascist elements in our society promote a story of a glorified past as one of their techniques of persuasion. More specifically, these fascist elements believe it becomes necessary to convince people that we were once a great nation, but that that greatness has been destroyed by progressive and liberal elements in our society. Therefore, the white ruling class, according to their logic, is a victim of these liberal and progressive elements, and we must somehow eradicate them from our society so that we can get back to being great again.
So as I’m reading this article, I couldn’t help thinking about my own freedom - not my political freedom, but my own personal freedom. I’m now 61 years old, and I’d have to say that I’ve spent about two thirds of my life so far shackled to my past. And the shackling was so subtle that I never realized it was holding me back.
Stay with me a bit, because I’m going to explain how a person’s past - like a nation’s past - can prevent the experience of true freedom.
I had not realized how much my personal freedom was limited until I spent some time with a personal counselor, about 20 years ago. I won’t reveal my counselor's real name, but for the moment, I’ll refer to her as Darlene. During our first few hour-long sessions, Darlene had me describe - in detail - my experiences with my family of origin. I described to her my childhood as best I could, including all the dynamics that took place within my family, along with my feelings and reactions to certain incidents. Darlene sat quietly during these times, interrupting me only to ask key questions or to get me to further clarify my experiences.
At first, I didn’t think these sessions amounted to much. After all, every adult out there has a childhood. Some were good, some not so good, and we all - somehow - found our way through to adulthood. But after a few sessions, Darlene started to talk. She knew enough about my childhood to begin seeing some behavioral patterns emerge; these were patterns I had developed in my childhood and served me well as I encountered some difficult situations.
But I carried these patterns into my adulthood, where they were no longer working for me, but they were working against me. I’d become withdrawn, aloof, resentful, secretive, passive-aggressive, and a number of other negative personality traits. These attributes prevented me from really expressing my true nature as an adult. For example, I was intimidated by people of authority, so when challenged, I would quickly withdraw and agree with anyone that had authority over me, such as my boss. This didn’t serve me well; as an engineer, I needed to express good ideas when I thought of them. Similarly, I needed to present arguments for other peoples’ ideas that I felt were wrong, even if it was my boss. But instead, I simply agreed to do whatever the boss said because it avoided conflict. The problem was that it tore me apart inside. I was therefore not truly free.
I understand that everyone has a childhood, and events in their childhood can - and often do - affect them the rest of their lives. What surprised me at the time I saw Darlene, was that I was already well into my 40s before I understood - I mean really understood - how these childhood patterns were robbing me of my freedom.
So my point here is that once you get honest with yourself and really analyze your past and face everything in your past with a critical eye, you probably won’t connect the dots and figure out how your current behavior patterns are holding you back.
Okay, so what does this have to do with whitewashing history, particularly Critical Race Theory? I think you already know where I’m going with this. My sense is that nations operate in a similar way. Unless its citizens are willing to look back on history with honesty and bravery, that nation cannot continue to look forward to a future with true freedom. It will always be shackled to its past. It will never realize how its laws and its customs and its culture have been shaped by patterns that are left over from a bygone era. It will never wake up, and it will never realize true freedom. It will remain locked in its own destructive patterns.
And on an empirical level, we know these patterns exist. We see Black men getting beaten, choked and shot by police officers, and for many people, their first instinct is not to question the action of the police officers but to only question the actions of the perpetrators. They must have done something wrong, right? I mean, we’ve already heard the racial slurs leftover from days gone by. They’re welfare mamas. They’re inherently lazy and won’t get a job. They’re unreliable.
As a result, we see Black Americans serving prison sentences that are, on the average, nearly twice the length that white people serve for the same types of crimes. And we somehow think that’s normal, because it’s always been that way.
We see institutionalized loan sharking in poor areas, where payday loans are allowed to charge exorbitant interest rates, further trapping people in the cycle of poverty. We’ve become inured to the “school-to-prison” pipeline that exists in our urban areas, and we somehow ignore the toll it takes on our common pursuit of freedom.
We see the practice of red-lining in our real estate and financial dealings, resulting in concentrated areas of poor people. We see how the schools in those areas are systematically underfunded because we’ve developed a system of using property values to assign tax rates used to support our schools.
All these problems - and more - exist in every state of the union, in every city, on every street corner.
And we, as a society, largely ignore these problems because “that’s the way it has always been.” We see nothing wrong because we’ve never been challenged, as a nation, to examine our past and understand how it continues to limit our future.
And now Critical Race Theory asks us to take a look at our past and study how it affects the laws, customs and policies of the present. It asks us, as a nation, to come together and connect the dots. But many of our politicians urge just the opposite. We’re being asked to not examine how our history has affected our laws and policies. We’re being asked to continue pursuing a vision of glory equivalent to a past that never existed.
So the reality is that we cannot ever be free until we are able to examine our past and challenge ourselves to break free from it and create a truly glorious future. Only then can we realize the promise embedded in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”