Juneteenth & John Pilger’s “Freedom Next Time”

By Malena Amusa Jun 19, 2007

I’m in no special way compelled to spend a lot of time celebrating Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of American slavery.Though many are campaigning to make this day the official Independence Celebration for Blacks, it rings as stale in my heart as spending a night watching firecrackers on a 4th of July burst over lands once toiled by my ancestors. I’d rather watch "Roots." And I don’t have a major argument why. Except to ask myself, like a young child insists on asking a parent driving them cross-country: are we there yet? Are we free yet? One of my white male friends would say yes. Relatively speaking. "Shouldn’t Blacks be happy for slavery?" he asked a while back. We were both juniors at Northwestern University then. And we had both just seen "Hotel Rwanda." Africa looked wretched for a moment. "What do you mean?" I said. "Well, if it weren’t for slavery, you’d be in Africa somewhere, probably without enough food to eat and dying of some terrible disease." "That’s the case for many Blacks here?" For example, look at HIV rates in Black communities here. They are comparable and sometimes worse than cases in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not getting it, my friend persisted. "Come on, but you get to use a laptop and technology…" See, it’s misconceptions about what freedom means like these that challenge Juneteenth and July 4th. Of course I’m free, I often think. I read The Secret, I know if I think positive thoughts, good things will happen to me and if I work and burn the midnight oil, my dreams will break free too. And many of them have. But these days, I know that this thinking, while grounded in a healthy need for people to stop being victims of their own pessimism, also avoids looking at freedom historically and asking, are we really where we should be–with Israel entering its 40th year of occupation of Palestine, and with many descendants of slaves in the South living on the brink of after Katrina. John Pilger, a white man who recently published "Freedom Next Time" would certainly doubt our freedom. He might even say the Emancipation Proclamation stopped short by writing freedom into law and not practice. At least, this is the claim his book makes about the crumbling of apartheid in South Africa and also other regions such as Iraq, India, and Afghanistan where he’s traveled extensively to learn how people have fought ugly battles to bring about democracy only for many to live today in squalid poverty. He spoke in New York earlier this month about his book. Here are some of his well-said points about investigating national tragedies like slavery and apartheid and the realities of imperial power: "Never believe anything until it is officially denied." On his book: "[It’s about] five countries where people have struggled against power for their freedom. It shows how power has treated them and how media has treated and ignored them…[It shows] the ruthlessness of power. It is a thread running through all the stories… [I found] documents that revealed how [people in power] were going to expel a population… [It’s about] people who got a glimpse of freedom but could not achieve it." "There are connections between most world crisis and imperial power." "Inequality doesn’t have to reach genocide to be wrong." Pilger also talked about the need for a world-wide boycott against Israel claiming that’s the main reason whites gave up the ailing apartheid economy in South Africa. Overall, this books has very important lessons about freedom for us all. With critical reporting and honest language, Pilger illustrates how the passage of time alone makes for an inadequate policy of social change. In addition to simply changing the color of power like in South Africa where Black leaders have replaced white leaders but virtually maintain the apartheid structures of economic oppression. If we are to be free, we must change the ethical notions of power altogether. Now that’s what I’m down for celebrating.