On June 19, Black activists and artists around the world came together to celebrate Juneteenth, a day meant to mark the abolition of slavery in the United States and monumentalize the importance of Black freedom. In an interview with The Daily Californian, Freddie, a queer Black drag superstar and activist extraordinaire, discusses the history behind the prison abolition movement and how they use their platform on the internet to promote radical activism.
As a multimedia artist, Freddie crystallized the spirit of activism blossoming within the past month in support of the Black Lives Matter and prison abolition movements by releasing a new music video titled “Juneteenth.” “Juneteenth” is part visual essay, part spoken word performance and expresses an artistic statement against racial violence, highlighting the unspoken history behind Juneteenth.
“I think a huge part of … celebrating Juneteenth is recognizing that we’re not actually free,” Freddie explained. “What does it mean to celebrate a freedom that’s pending? Because for me, the 13th Amendment didn’t necessarily free us, it had an asterisk to it … when the 13th Amendment passed, the language of it implied that slavery was basically still in place for people who committed what the government would consider crimes.”
Looking back on the history of Juneteenth has encouraged Freddie to reflect on their own background and the effect the surrounding community has had on fostering awareness. Hailing from a variety of conservative states in the Deep South, Freddie finds the Bay Area to be something of an oasis for queer expression and activism.
“I’ve been in a lot of places with a lot of different body politics … so coming to the Bay Area, there was a lot of things I was woken up to and also liberated from,” they said. “I’ve never been surrounded by more queer people. I have never been in a space where I feel like I can be as free as I’ve been.”
According to Freddie, producing art in a region as diverse and welcoming as the Bay Area has been both a humbling and enriching experience.
“So far my entire time being in the Bay Area has just been one big experiment after another,” they reflected. “It just makes me feel more privileged to know that I’m surrounded by these people, by other queer folks, especially Black queer folks and other queer folks of color … It’s inspired me to kind of pursue that sense of freedom even more and see how far I can take it. Because I feel like if there’s nothing holding me back, how far can I take it to liberate myself and express myself as openly and honestly as possible?”
Freddie tests their limits and liberates themself through activism. They trace their inspiration for activism back to women of color such as Janet Mock and Angela Davis, who helped to broaden their views on activism and gave them much of the language they use to speak on reform.
For Freddie, Mock has provided a valuable lesson on activism as a queer Black individual. “What I’ve taken from (her style of activism) is largely about work on the self. It isn’t about engaging with other people or doing any type of political action,” they elaborated. “I think that self-work is a form of political action.”
In terms of local activists, Freddie admires the work of Blake Simons, who founded the podcast “Hella Black” and co-founded People’s Breakfast Oakland to not only help feed the homeless community in Oakland but also to provide individuals with the resources needed to survive in these extremely grueling times.
Freddie went on to explain that activism is an act of nourishment, and like Simons, they seek to empower and strengthen their community through their actions. Activism is “using whatever material conditions I have at my disposal to create change and to build communities and bring them together,” they said. “For me, (that) is the intersection between art and activism. It doesn’t have to include music or dancing or video — it can, but activism itself can be an art form if it is creative and generative and builds something and doesn’t just tear it down.”
As a multifaceted artist, Freddie uses a plethora of artistic forms to build a strong message of activism and radical manifestation in their work. Drag is a key method of personal expression for them, and they feel it is the ultimate method for disseminating radical activism and creating change.
“That’s the thing about drag: Drag is this superhero, this character that you put on,” Freddie explained. “It’s not someone in the real world, it’s just your imagination being manifested in a performance … it inspires you and allows you to have something to envision and to strive towards.
“Because I can envision and create work that paints a picture of an empowered queer Black future, that gives me something,” they continued. “That’s medicine and that’s food to feed me to keep on working towards the inevitable empowered Black queer future.”
Through their continued work in both art and activism, Freddie is undoubtedly illuminating the path toward the empowered Black queer future.