What True Freedom Is and Isn’t – August 1997

The motto “America, land of the free” was once stated with pride. The pride was based in the belief that America was the first country founded on the principle of freedom for all. Because the practice of slavery was a direct contradiction of this principle, the cry for freedom was of particular importance to Africa’s children in America. Many strange things have been done in the name of freedom ranging from benign segregation to not-so-benign lynchings. Yet, none are stranger than the message of today’s so-called leaders of the black community. Their message is that black people who feel free are truly trapped for they have forgotten who they are. Yet black people who feel trapped are truly free because they are in touch with their “Blackness.” George Orwell would be impressed by this twisted paradigm.

The Spike Lee film production “Drop Squad” exemplifies the attitudes of many of these black leaders. In the movie, an underground gang kidnaps and brainwashes people for doing idiotic things the kidnappers believe hurt the black community to the benefit of The White Man. That what these “traitors” were doing was farcical does not outweigh the main premise of the film. According to the filmmakers, black people who only allow their imagination to be their only limitation are traitors. These “Uncle Toms and Aunt Jemimas” have the nerve to listen to music, go to movies, live in neighborhoods, date people, create political alliances, hold social views, speak English well, and enter into careers that have not been preapproved by our “leaders” and their followers. In other words, these renegade blacks assume that they are free and actually live their lives as free people. These people smile and enjoy life — nothing ticks off our cultural gestapo more.

A friend I spoke with for the first time in a few years confessed to me that he had recently been feeling “white.” My friend’s guilt was due to the realization that he was living a rather normal life — he was not alienated from the rest of society, but indeed was very much a part of it. Haunted by the ever-scowling faces of Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, John Lewis, Ice Cube, Spike Lee, John Singleton, and numerous others, my friend felt shame with each smile he flashed. My friend, of course, was not feeling white, but free. The cultural gestapo can’t afford to tolerate such feelings from my friend or any other black person.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the cultural gestapo isn’t only composed of black people. There is the European-American version. They assume that I’m only interested in dating black women, love black director John Singleton’s “Higher Learning,” and do not like or identify with other films about different cultures such as “Like Water for Chocolate” about turn-of-the-century Mexicans. That I am free to like and dislike on a basis other than the color of my skin doesn’t even occur to them.

There is also the Hispanic/Latino/Chicano version of the cultural gestapo. As a defender of Proposition 187 in California (designed to limit illegal immigration by denying illegals access to public services), I was told by this particular gestapo that I wasn’t black because I didn’t agree with them. Somehow, they completely missed the irony of assuming they could possibly know better than me what it means to be me.

These people are the true enemies of freedom, especially freedom for black people. True freedom is the lack of recognition of insurmountable obstacles. When a person is free, they have no need for the perpetual frown or sarcastic smile seen on the face of every black and liberal “spokesperson” in the media. Free people know that there are always options and go about finding ways to overcome whatever obstacles they might face, even if one of those obstacles is a 300-year history of racial oppression.

Free people are not intimidated by the “power” others may have. Free people succeed on any playing field. Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Italians, Arabs, and many blacks have faced hatred and succeeded spectacularly in America without racial preferences. The determining factor of success for individuals from these groups is that they believed that they could overcome any obstacles by controlling their own behavior rather than the behavior of those who hated them. They exercised their freedom by being true to their own ideals and refusing to recognize the limitations that others attempted to put upon them.

So, with the passing of yet another Independence Day, let us contemplate what true freedom is — and isn’t.

(James Coleman, a member of the national Advisory Committee of the African-American leadership group Project 21, participated in the March on Washington at age 10 and is a former Black Panther.)


Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.