No bars, no numbers and no orange jumpsuits, still the world is full of captives. People confined to points of view and poor interpretations of identity, membership and belonging. We are either in or out.
In a hyper-politicized America, there are only Democrats, Republicans and Independents, conservatives, liberals and moderates. We are pro-life or pro-choice people who live in red, blue or purple states.
In a capitalist system, there are only givers and takers, consumers and creators. In a racialized world, there are only “us” and “them” identities, only white and people of color: beige, black, brown, red and yellow.
We can only have “ruling relationships.” In the pyramid scheme that is white supremacy, there is only a majority and a minority.
In a prison industrial complex, there are only prisoners, visitors, officers or wardens.
Either/or and either way, there is nowhere to go and not much room to become anyone else. One way or another, we are all jailbirds in these false binaries of reality.
The pickings are slim and the chances of being your authentic and original self are even slimmer.
One long, shiny conveyor belt, we are given a prepackaged, plastic existence based on statistics and one-sided narratives that leave our little worlds flat. No revolving, no evolving because we are already in a world that knows who you are, who you will become and who you will never be. We are either the haves or the have-nots.
Caged birds singing, it is what we hear, rehearse and repeat. It is the story passed down to us.
“This is just the way it is. Take it or leave it.”
It is as James Baldwin said, “People in general cannot bear too much reality.” Because who are you to expect things to be any different?
“Nothing changed for me. So, it will be more of the same for you.”
Yes, we are familiar with the words the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way (Second Corinthians 5:16-17). But this is how they see us.
Of course, we pray, “Your ‘kin-dom’ come. Your will be done.” But this is the way of the world. What do you want me to do about it?
Sure, Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:27-28). But I have to check these boxes, and these categories have a history.
However, Jesus came to set the captives free. Of course, it won’t be easy. It will take a lot of nerve and guts, hope, imagination and strength.
But you’ll know you’re on the right path because you’ll hear Zora Neale Hurston as she walks past say, “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.” Frederick Douglass will nod his head in agreement and add, “I prefer to be my true self, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false and to incur my own abhorrence.”
“The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become,” W.E.B. DuBois will shout from up ahead. Soren Kierkegaard will jog past, pat you on the back and say, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”
Just keep walking and don’t look back. Getting free is hard work but staying free is even harder.
We can’t even allow ourselves to get roped into conversations about the way it is or the way it has been. Before long, we will tie our hands behind our own backs because at least we know what we’re working with.
We are most familiar with our imprisonment, our confinement to society’s boxes. We need no assistance, then, on where to put “those people” who are not “like” us.
Because it begins as an inside job. The surveilling system is us. The “Man” is us. The ominous and anonymous “they” is us.
But we don’t have to be a captive audience. If the new world is to be, then we can take no prisoners.