When freedom of expression comes at a price
I’m curious to know what Priscilla “Pat” Walker thought about the controversy involving African-American women at West Point. Walker was the first black woman graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in 1980. This was also the first class to include women.
The challenges that Walker faced and overcame paved the way for the 17 black women that graduated in the class of 2016. Just weeks ago, 16 of those graduates stood in full-dress uniform, each raising a clenched fist in an epic photograph. Some may call it progress. But just how much progress?
The photograph would go viral and also cause controversy. It was questionable whether this pose violated any military regulations on political expression. Then shortly before graduation, it was determined that no action would be taken against the cadets.
The whole time, the intention of the photograph was to demonstrate unity and pride. Why it was not accepted in that way, we just don’t know. Freedom of expression is the right of every individual to have opinions without interference.
It is telling that the women at West Point took dozens of photos in various poses, yet the one with their fists raised was the only one circulated by the media.
Never mind the fact that the “Black Lives Matter” movement and “deaths of police officers” is not what they meant. But it is what some people perceived. Yet no one bothered to ask the cadets. We have the distinct right to exercise our freedom of expression. It’s an American freedom that we should proudly defend.
It’s also important that we hold each other to the same standard. Will there ever come a time when black women can boldly show their strength and pride without their actions being interpreted as an act of defiance?
As our society still struggles with its racial history, we have the power to change. We have the power to make expressions color blind and not be twisted into something ugly. We owe each other that much.