The Disease of Freedom

Helping Professionals To Use Story to Transform Communities

The Disease of Freedom

Today’s #wordblog is from the incomparable Rich Ejire who you can find here.

His word is “drapetomania”: a term coined by Samuel A. Cartwright during the 19th century to describe the “affliction” experienced by Black slaves that caused them to run away from their masters.


“Do you want to be free, or do you just want a better slavemaster?”

Source: Leadership Freak

Source: Leadership Freak


That quote, from the late Rev. Dr. Mary A. Tumpkin, an acclaimed Biblical scholar, describes the common dilemma of responsible adults. When you take on the role of breadwinner, or head of household, it comes with a set of obligations that you can’t just drop at any time.

You can’t just be “free”.

But that’s the mindset of someone who defines “freedom” as a removal from personal duties and obligations.

And so it is with drapetomania. In the 19th century, Blacks were considered less than human, and the reasoning for that assessment came from a misinterpretation of Biblical scripture. (Rev. Tumpkin could have straightened this all out.) The state of slavery and submission was thought to be a natural state of African people, and therefore, the desire to be “free” was a symptom of a greater affliction.

Cartwright believed the affliction was caused by their masters were not caring for the slaves properly.

Would you really want freedom if your master took care of you well?

And so it remains today. Slavery is now illegal, but imprisonment still exists. We willingly chain ourselves to conditions, relationships and circumstances because we want them to master us. We think their mastery is better than our own decision-making. Freedom is too scary.

The truth is, freedom is only scary when you don’t trust yourself.

When you first strike out as an entrepreneur, especially a creative one, you’ll meet the naysayers.

“Why do you want to run your own business? The economy has changed; no one wants to use freelancers anymore.”

“Acting? Why not just say you want to be a waitress from the beginning?”

“What about health insurance?”

Those are all valid points. But that’s the truth about freedom. It’s not a release from duty and responsibility; it’s a choice about what those responsibilities will be.

Cartwright thought the slaves had a mental disease because he couldn’t fathom that they had their own dreams and aspirations. It was easier to say that there was something wrong with them, because making them right would have destroyed the world that he and his colleagues built.

There are still vestiges of it now.

Young Black kids in some areas are teased when they speak proper English. That’s because in the past, it was illegal to teach Blacks how to read. Blacks who were learning and reading books tended to gather others and talk about what could be possible. If slaves were discovered, they were made examples of, and the people who gathered with them were punished as well.

In an environment like that, it makes sense to “step and fetch“, to not talk back to people, and not to show how intelligent you are.  Those laws are gone, but people still hold on to that behavior without understanding its source. Dreaming and planning for freedom was an exercise in futility– and why infect your children, the people you love, with something that would only hurt them in the end?

Well-meaning parents of all races and cultures still do it.

“Get a degree and a good job– then you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

Degrees are no longer the guarantee of a good job– and good jobs turn over as quick as technology makes them obsolete.

The rules have changed, yet many are still placing themselves and their colleagues into the same box. But you’re different, aren’t you?

Freedom is a disease– it’s viral, and you’ll find that once you catch the fever, it’s hard to shake. There is nothing wrong with you if you want to approach your professional life in a new way. Do the things that matter to you. Use your career to make a difference.

Make space in your life for love and joy. That is true freedom–taking space and time for your dreams. All you have to give up is how you define yourself.

Are you ready?

Comment below– are people telling you there’s something wrong with the dreams and desires of your heart? How are you handling it? Can we help you find some support?


2 Responses

  1. Beyourownanswer says:

    Good to hear! It was fun to research. Subscribe for more.

  2. Ebonni says:

    Good read

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