Last week while flying to San Diego for work I watched a documentary on the plane called Freedom Riders which aired on PBS last year at some point. Sure, I’d read about this particular branch of the civil rights movement but never in the detail that is expressed in this film. Watching this film just reminded me that for all my good intentions and for all the thoughts that send chills up my spine; I’ve never done anything truly meaningful in my life, and likely never will.
It’s been a while since that subject matter was really a part of my life. I mean, I see my W.E.B. Dubois tattoo every day when I look in the mirror, but I suppose I’ve become largely apolitical in recent years… You can only spend so much time look at the world around you and being angry about it before you either a) go live in the forest away from it all and live off the land b) devote your life to social justice, wholly and completely or c) try to just live your own life and do what you can, where you can, which is pretty well where I landed.
In my last year of high-school (more than 15 years ago, holy shit!) I took a trip to Atlanta, Georgia – it was the first time I’d ever been to the deep(ish) south… I wasn’t in Gainesville, Georgia or Klan Country really, but I felt the colour line drawn thicker than I ever had in my life. It wasn’t always in horrible ways, but it was ever present…
Also, while in Atlanta, I visited a gallery that was featuring the work of Roy Decarva. It was a lot of these images that really sparked my interest both in the music of John Coltrane and the civil rights movement which lead me into a heavy interest in black history… Well, maybe that came later after reading “My Life Is A Sundance” and then “A People’s History Of The United States” which really drew me in. I just kept thinking “how can you send these men to die in Europe and have them drink from separate water fountains when they come home?”
For years to come, if there was a book in my hand the subject matter what pretty predictable… I can’t believe I never got slapped in the mouth reading Nigger or The Nigger Factory on the subway. It was in that time, though, that I chewed through book after book and it took a while before my thirst was quenched; so much so that when the guys in front of the Eaton Centre would hand me one of those Black History pamphlets I’d be telling them books they should add to the list. Basically, I was the angriest of all angry black men… with everything but the burden of colour, of course. But I digress…
To this day, despite my relative apathy, I think it’s completely insane that we (Canadians to a lesser extent than the Americans) go around the world trying to fix other countries’ problems and extend an American brand of “freedom” when we still haven’t really even scratched the surface on the issue of race. Black president? Awesome, now let’s do something about the rates at which young blacks are unemployed, dying & incarcerated. We can’t even begin to face those issues until we gain some understanding of how that happened in the first place.
We’ve come a long, long way as a society but the second we start pretending that we’re “there” is the second that the we concede that the efforts of all those that came before us and put their lives on the line for a vision of equality were made in vein.
Watch the full documentary in parts on YouTube… it maybe be the only valuable thing you see all day… Well, that and this.
I’d have embedded them but YouTube won’t let me…
“Freedom! You askin me about freedom. Askin me about freedom? I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole more about what freedom isn’t than about what it is, cause I’ve never been free. I can only share my vision with you of the future, about what freedom is.”