The fight against oppression. Somewhere, at my core, I am extremely happy that my ancestors, having been brought to the Caribbean from Africa in chains, found themselves and their offspring liberated from those shackles, by the British, some 180 years ago. For black Americans, that liberation came later, but then was followed by institutional forms of slavery which persisted legally for well over a 100 more years. I’m not getting into the political history of the removal of this singular form of oppression. But, I’m thinking about the bitter-sweetness that comes from thinking that oppression is past. In too many ways, it can seem that ‘freedom’ does not reign for far too many, and that is not confined to those who are the offspring of slaves.
I read this week about a debate whether the proportion of black men in prison was higher than those in college. As much as I may be intrigued what the ratio is, I wondered what it said about ‘progress’ of black people or any group that people were looking at those two points to measure improvement or lack of it. Incarceration rates for black males in the US are high; far too high. Educational attainment rates are far too low. Life is tough and rough. Free to do what?
I listened to discussions in recent weeks about women in the work place, much of it focused on women in the military. One story I heard this week struck me hard: a female West Point graduate spoke about how she had to ‘get rid’ of her femininity because it involved ‘weaknesses’ and ‘obstacles’ in her path to success. Juxtapose what she implied about needing to ‘become one of the boys’ to rise in the ranks with one of the many elephants in the military room, the threats from her fellow males, and you get a very strange image of what it may mean to ‘break the glass ceiling’ or ‘lean in‘.
I read and listened to discussions about women athletes in some Muslim countries, and their lack of opportunities–one particular story was about a Pakistani girl who pretended to be a boy in order to ‘pursue her dream’. During the week, I watched my daughter swim faster than the boys in her group. Last weekend, I watched a girl dressed in hijab, long-sleeved shirt and long pants, playing on a soccer team with girls in short sleeves, and shorts, their legs bared, and their hair flowing. Her father looked so proud as he escorted her from the field. Limited freedoms or fully free to do as they liked?
Some friends, last night, discussed whether it made sense for women from cultures which we think are very oppressive (such as Sudan) were talking sense when they said that American women lived ‘brutalized lives’. Which bus to Darfur? Are you headed to Steubenville? Have couples considered what parenthood really means and whether maternity leave with full pay in their country is important? Let’s not even get to paternity leave.
Not to trivialize other issues. I was in the company of a young boy, this morning, who was absorbed and obsessed with his iPad and laptop computer. I know him and was not surprised by this, but could not resist trying to prise him away. I asked him if I could borrow his laptop for a while. “You don’t know how much I depend on this,” he replied. I asked him if he needed it more than his father, who was sitting nearby. He replied no. Did he depend on it more than he did on me, I asked. His answer was not direct, but went into what he needed it to do which I could not: he was trying to be polite and not hurt my feelings, I suspected. His fingers were tapping furiously on the keyboard, ‘building walls’ as he talked to me. I eventually got him to release the device for a few minutes, but I sensed his distress. He gravitated to his iPad. Calmness prevailed. 🙂
That’s no plea for the souls of our children, just an example of a ‘blind spot’ to what seemed like a certain dependency. The story could easily have been about some other ‘need’ that limited ‘freedom’, such as coffee, or chocolates, or TV series. Fingers at the ready to watch ‘Games of Thrones’. 🙂 Would he have been happier if his father had told him on this cold, blustery day, that he needed to bundle up in a coat and go to play outside? Or read a book? Or play on his cello? Or compose on his piano? Free to choose, he’d made his choice. Would he like to be compelled?