Freedom and its epistemological bases

Of course conceptions of freedom are explicitly and implicitly epistemological. They are moored to the milieu of their conceptualization and operationalization. This is why the critical race theorists’ critique of liberalism is an appropriate one. Liberalism in the western context has been utilized variously as a paradigm that simultaneously championed the freedom of the capitalist class from monarchical tyranny, alongside the subjugation of African prisoners of war enslaved in the Western hemisphere.

Today this liberal discourse advocates the dissolution of the public sector, the unfettering of capital from any constraints, and the notion of freedom as little more than an individual exercise–a form of hyperrelativism wherein freedom can be easily encapsulated as a bourgeois right to take part fully in the capitalist state.

What should be noted here is that freedom is never, in this ideological milieu, defined as the rights of groups to self-determination, or rights to the material resources that can sustain their freedom or in contrast facilitate the accumulation of the capitalist class, or rights to a redress for the historic and on-going predations of the intertwined capitalist state and white supremacist system. “Freedom” in this context is effectively trivialized in its actual potency, while being championed as the apex of human possibility.

One might ponder the explicit or implicit meanings inherent how this idea has been posited within other language/cultural systems. Did the invocations of uhuru during the colonial struggle articulate a bourgeois form of freedom, wherein sham democracy is offered as a substitute for the reorganization of society’s political economy from one centered on the interest of an elite minority to one that is stewarded by the masses as an instrument of their collective will and vision of an emancipatory future? The selection of uhuru here is not incidental, as it was a key element of the anticolonial struggles in Africa, in addition to being a key part of the political discourse during the Black Power era. Thus, in this way, uhuru became symbolic of a notion of Pan-African liberation, reflecting cooperative economics as a liberatory paradigm of political economy, and a discourse pertaining to cultural reclamation and decolonization.

Uhuru is only one example, but it is rich in potential and historic significance. It remains pregnant in its epistemological import and capacity to further illuminate an on-going and increasingly fractured and limited vision of freedom as it is articulated in the modern western context.


Confusion, once established, can be extremely difficult to unseat. This is especially so where skills of critical evaluation are lacking.

The past

The desire to return to times when one stood on ground of greater surety, the past, is more a reflection of the unresolved tension in facing the ever unfolding future than it is a true reflection of the past’s illusory certainty.

Borne aloft on the ages old dreams of those that have come before

I am reading The New Jim Crow in preparation for a class that I teach on inequality and social policy. As I read I keep thinking to myself, “This is why Black people emigrate from America.” I know that emigration is no panacea (believe me I do), but the U.S. has been and continues to be such an abominable expression of the dehumanization of African people.

What’s more, we are presented with (sham) democracy as one solution to our problems, yet little historical evidence suggests that this has ever been consequential in us improving our lot here. In fact we have yet to mount an effective response to the corrupting influence of neoliberal capitalism on the American political process so as to remove obstacles to the unfettered expression of our agency.

The most visible and vocal response that we have seen of late by African people to America’s continued odyssey of racial terror is the use of mass protest and civil disobedience. While these do have a place in movements for social change, they are also ill equipped to facilitate both a transformation of the political-economy of U.S. society or to provide the ideological and tactical instruments requisite for us to transform our communities. Impassioned appeals to or denunciations of a recalcitrant foe will not bring about their undoing. In the end, when the emotional fervor has inevitably exhausted itself, we will be back where we started.

Our history at the end of the 19th Century demonstrates two responses wherein community formation were central to our resistance to White racist tyranny. The formation of independent communities was one. This was a dynamic solution that saw the establishment of independent Black communities throughout the nation. This is something that we must study in order to understand the ideological and structural mechanisms that compelled these acts. While our capacity to do this today may seem limited due the capitally-intense nature of such an approach, we mustn’t dismiss the enormous waste that occurs in our slavish indulgence of America’s culture of mass-consumption. Money that could (re)build a Black economy now enriches the already super-rich.

Another response from over a century ago was emigration. But this was a far cry from what we see today, the movement of individuals and families to far-flung global destinations. Instead people sought to create societies and communities for those who dared to leave the U.S. Of course these efforts abounded by contradictions, which must also be studied. However they do offer lessons. Moreover, the centuries’ old ideal of African American’s resettling abroad is gaining new traction as many seek to relocate their bodies and their human capital elsewhere. A particularly compelling potential manifestation of this might be the creation of a modern community on the continent that acts as a beacon for diasporic Africans that provides assistance in such tangible areas as resettlement, housing, entrepreneurship, education, and the like. The formation of a single community of this kind or of several would be an interesting signpost of the maturation of the emigration strategy in modern times.

I will close with an excerpt from a book chapter that I’m writing on Du Bois and Woodson that aptly captures our past and present, but hopefully not our future. “Du Bois and Woodson recognized that Black people, as ever, stand at the precipice, facing on one side a familiar tyranny and on the other a new world that exists just beyond the bounds of our knowing and the fruits of our unfettered social agency.”