The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once remarked in an oft-quoted sermonic moment that “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The struggle for freedom, the greatest and highest struggle in the universe, is at its core spiritual in nature.
Freedom is not merely a privilege granted at the whim and discretion of the government, society or any earthly, political entity. Freedom is a basic human right, an irrevocable keepsake bequeathed by the Creator upon the children of Eve, which said children are all made in His image.
This Divine, existential reality called freedom is affirmed in the United States 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.”
Freedom is intrinsic to our being and forms the basis of all meaningful human activity and intercourse. But forces inimical to freedom are constantly at work in this earthly plane to deny us our freedom, our God-given right to be. This may seem by some to be an implausible charge to make. After all, aren’t we beyond the days of slavery and Jim Crow? Are we not in America a post-racial, color-blind society that recognizes and protects the rights of all? In a word, no. Not yet. Maybe not ever. As the late Derrick Bell (1992) notes, the same mentality that drove the institution of slavery and Jim Crow persists to this day in more subtle but no less damaging forms of race-based discrimination, not to mention class, sex, sexuality and age-based discrimination. The ghosts of slavery and oppression still haunt our nation.
The fight for freedom therefore is a never-ending one. It is a struggle that engages our highest energies and every faculty of our being, physical, mental, emotional and ultimately spiritual. The conquistadores came to the New World and violently raped, murdered and robbed the real Americans of their land, their humanity and their freedom. Other imperials would repeat this playbook and add to it the peculiar institution of slavery. And the generational curse of that hell-born lust for subjugation and domination continues to motivate the most atrocious yet commonly unprosecuted crime of all: the inhumanity of humanity against humanity. Whether we’re talking about stand your ground or voter suppression laws; the repeal of affirmative action; mass incarceration of Black and Brown people; the suppression of women’s and LGBTQ rights, it’s all the same end-game with the same underlying spiritual implications. A radical, spiritual transformation must take place in the hearts of the oppressor, those who aid and abet in the oppression, and the oppressed.