On July 4, 2023, also known as “Independence Day,” Americans celebrated their freedom from subjugation and domination by the British Empire. American flags, fireworks, parades, gatherings, and hot dogs expressed their gratitude for the idea of American freedom. The idea of “freedom” can mean different things to Americans depending upon one’s “place” in the American racial/social hierarchy.

What is “freedom”? There are three aspects of freedom; the idea of freedom as expressed by the Declaration of Independence; there is freedom from oppressive conditions; and there is freedom of the mind.

What most Americans perceive the idea of freedom to be is that expressed by the Declaration of Independence. The words of the 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 Resights, that among these are life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

A second aspect of freedom, freedom from oppressive conditions, is the most violated yet espoused of American freedom lore. This aspect of freedom relates to physical freedom. Physical freedom is freedom from enslavement, freedom to move about as one chooses, to live and work as others, but also freedom from oppressive conditions or circumstances. When one is free, they are not bound by a designation of inequality that prohibits political, social, or economic access and opportunity.

The most powerful aspect of freedom is freedom of mind. True freedom is the liberated mind. When one’s mind is liberated, one knows, attaches to, and affirms their authentic self; they release and ignore outer or societal definitions of who they are believed and perceived to be. A liberated mind does not accept victimhood and is not limited by past conditions or circumstances. A liberated mind has the power to change thinking, release limitations, and focus on the faith and hope of one’s ancestors to fulfill one’s destiny.

The unliberated or bound mind is characterized by fear, fear of loss of undeserved social status in society based upon the invention of a racial hierarchy without biological or scientific basis. Mental chains bind the unliberated mind by beliefs in racial mythology that promise a “superior” identity and esteem based on skin color. The bound mind must adhere to the required conformity or the inability to think critically about one’s indoctrination since childhood.

Who is truly free? One who knows who he or she is authentic? One who resists dehumanization by demonstrating their talents despite obstacles? Or one who is fearful of losing an invented status, maintained and protected by inequality and, if necessary, by violence?

How can one’s mind be transformed from that of fear and conformity? The first step is to reflect upon and critically examine the racial conditioning that one has received; to ask why this type of indoctrination is necessary in a “free” society? Why the pervasiveness and perpetuation of stereotypes of the “other”? How does one’s definition and sense of self depend upon the comparison of self with the stereotyped “other”?

The most critical aspect of one’s mind becoming liberated is when the fear that one designated as the “other” and undeserving demonstrates achievement and progress is no longer a threat to one’s own sense of self and security. A liberated mind must believe in and practice equality for all Americans and understand connectedness rather than separation. If one believes in the promise of inequality, there will always be anxiety and fear that this illegitimate bestowal will be threatened and taken away. Fear and freedom cannot co-exist.

True freedom exists when one can, without fear, express one’s true humanity through empathy and compassion for others. True freedom ultimately lies in our beliefs about self and others, our common humanity, connection rather than separateness. True freedom is evident when one can perceive unique individualism rather than being bound to a monolith of stereotypes about others. One’s mind is liberated when one is able to think critically, independently of indoctrination, and to be open to growth and change.

Inequality and the idea of freedom are incongruent. What we espouse is true for us as a nation is so only if we live it as truth. Only truth can produce freedom. America is a free country only if freedom is demonstrated as our truth, not only as an idea but in beliefs about access, opportunities, and safety experienced by all its citizens.