I love Nina Simone. I love her music because of it’s artistry and craftsmanship. Her voice is not what we describe in popular critique as beautiful, but there is something compelling about the way she gives of herself all of herself however beautiful. That is something not all beautiful voices can do. I also love Nina for her mind and intellect. In this clip she discusses what it means to be free. No doubt the question was inspired by her song I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free. Her response, though, is profound.
In thinking on Nina’s response, I considered for a moment the definition she gave for freedom: “No fear.” Supposing that being free means having no fear, we are prisoners.
I once heard a conversation where a person was asking an off duty police officer that they knew personally about an arrest warrant the person had for missing a court date. The person genuinely wanted to know how to rectify the situation. Instead of solid information on how to go about removing the warrant and resetting the court date, the officer kept telling the person about how they could be picked up anywhere and that the police could even come the person’s house to arrest them. The officer told them the best thing they could do was to turn themselves in at their local precinct. Which is true, but he never offered to tell the person that if they didn’t want to spend at least the night in jail, they should secure a bail bondsman beforehand or that they could pay an attorney to handle both the ticket and the warrant and never have to turn themself in at all.
What stood out to me was that the police officer was more concerned with scaring the person — and appearing to sadistically enjoy doing so — than actually helping. And this was an out of uniform officer speaking someone they knew. I imagine the officer felt he was doing the right thing by encouraging the individual to bring themselves “to justice.” It’s evident that in this country we often confuse fear with submission and obedience. It was this thought that the Civil Rights activists fought against. Something powerful happens we cease from being afraid.
We live in a time in America when the governing powers count on our fear. They count on our fear of imprisonment, our fear of the loss of our rights, our fear of the loss of our privileges. But what would happen if the people stopped being afraid? The country would change.
Every great movement that has evolved this country has happened because the people lost their fear. As a colonist settlement we lost our fear of Britain and founded our own country despite the fear of failure. The abolitionists freed the slaves because they lost their fear of dividing the country and risked economic destitution (because salve labor is what funded and sustained this country). The Vietnam War was ended because people lost their fear of criticizing their own country. The Civil Rights movement prevailed because Black people lost their fear of lynchings, disappearings, brutality, and death.
As our country plummets into another wave of evolution, success will require us to forsake our fear in pursuit of justice, diplomacy, and fairness. I once heard that Malcolm X said “There is no revolution without bloodshed.” Probably a true statement. But the root if that statement is that there is no revolution where there is fear. And better said there is no evolution without the mastery of fear. It’s risky, it’s dangerous, and it’s difficult; but as long as fear prevails, change can’t happen. I have learned that there are some things one must do afraid.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man