Liberty Matters



As Rachel Ferguson suggests, the history of the peoples of African descent in the United States is forever linked with the cause of liberty.  Black history asks us to confront our delusions and to take responsibility for our actions.  Racism, of course, being humanity’s last great delusion.  An unwillingness to acknowledge and forgo this delusion, on the other hand, will continue to hinder the expansion of political solidarity and stifle the cause of liberty.  As a nation, for better and for worse, we are wed together in a unique and inseparable manner.  Susan Love Brown is correct.  The history that has produced our union must be known and taught in full because, if this nation is to endure and prosper, Americans deeply need to know one another.  James Baldwin finds that our endeavor “to create one nation has proved to be a hideously difficult task” but “if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as [one people]” we must accept the fact that we as a nation will not be truly free until we are all free.[1]  Liberty is a critical exercise.  Within a society, the critics drive improvement, for they are the real optimists.
The history of African Americans is rife with indescribable violence, exploitation, corruption, vehement opposition, and major setbacks, but as Erec Smith suggests, it also rife with unimaginable courage, selflessness, perseverance, ingenuity, and triumph.  It is the story of our nation’s collective pursuit of a more perfect union—a story that could only have been told in America, but it is not just the story of African Americans.  It is unequivocally American history.  The immense progress Black folks have made, despite vehement opposition, should be celebrated as an American phenomenon.  African American history is liberty incarnate.  We are all freer today because of the work of African Americans.  Nevertheless, we cannot allow ourselves to become so enamored with the ills of the past that we cannot see clearly where we are and what we have gained, and where we need to go in the future!  Ferguson contends that liberals should be most attuned to systemic oppression and Smith argues that to honor the past we must exercise the liberty we have today.  I posit that we must become attune to the illiberal practices which are at this very moment threatening to unmoor American democracy from its liberal foundations.  To preserve our liberal ideals, we must exercise our liberty in defense of the franchise and in honor of all the Americans who fought and died to secure the ballot. 
[1] Baldwin, J. (1998). Collected essays. New York: New York: Library of America: Distributed to the trade in the U.S. by Penguin Putnam. p.324