The Black Diaspora – the scattered people of African decent here in the United States, the Caribbean and elsewhere – has not paid the kind of reverence to the issue of emancipation that it deserves. Indeed, today’s Black man and woman hardly recognizes the historical significance of August 1, 1834 since it is not one of the dates that white society has given them; and in the case of the Caribbean, the colonial bank holidays that take priority to a day that none of the modern generation experienced.
Still, Emancipation Day, no matter how little it is celebrated and remembered across the Black Diaspora should beg this important question: Have Black people really been emancipated – are they free - in 2007?
In order to answer this question it is necessary to put in context the reasons and rationale for remembering and giving meaning to emancipation as it relates to the slave bondage of Black people. To begin with Black chattel slavery was one of the most brutal and inhuman socio-economic systems ever enforced on a race of people in the world's history. Black Africans were stolen and kidnapped from their homelands, broken apart from their families, and were sold into a lifestyle that inhibited their every move and visited harsh, vicious and barbaric punishments on them.
Black people became commercial objects to be bought and sold by “good Christian folks” whose labor was appropriated and uncompensated and whose freedoms were removed and controlled by the slave master. It is almost impossible today for any sane person to comprehend the mindsets that these white slave owners possessed to visit such untold inhuman and barbaric brutality on a race of people they considered “2/3” of a man.
But let me hasten to explain that slavery as a socio-economic system lasted for almost 4,000 years. For example, slaves were used to do menial labor by the privileged and wealthy of society in Arab countries. Slave labor was used to build the pyramids of Egypt, the Mayan temples of South America, and Mongolia in Asia. Children were sold into slavery across Europe. Under these systems slaves could buy their freedom, many were advisors to powerful political leaders, and others still fought in the armies of warlords.
But the enslavement of the African by white Europeans and Americans was based on racism and the purported superiority of white people. This in turn created a legacy of tyranny and oppression that was to last for 400 years. And this oppression persisted long after the official end – emancipation – of the system. The fundamental reason for this is that Black Africans were not considered humans but as commodities that could be abused and sold purely for making more and more profit. This system of barbarity and human exploitation was protected and supported by national laws that gave the slave owner the power of life and death over his “black property.”
Although today slavery is abolished in all of Europe and America the people of Africa are still in a sense enslaved by the values and memories of the white oppression and forced indoctrination. They face oppression every day politically, economically, and socially that are still glaring reminders of the enslavement of Black people not to long ago.
In the Caribbean slavery was an industry that produced wealth for the so-called “mother country” under the British Mercantile system. The system also “broke” Black Africans for sale in the slave markets of the United States destined for a life of brutality and servitude on white-owned plantations. This trade in Black humans enforced by unjust and racist laws and guns was built on a foundation of greed and a warped and distorted vision of what African people were in the context of the human race. This brutality was justified by organized religion and the Church allowing whites to see Black people as nothing more than savage beasts that with training could bring in huge monetary profits, that could be resold and used as collateral to realize more and more money.
So in reality “mental emancipation,” what the late great reggae superstar Robert Nesta Marley called for the “emancipation for mental slavery” is a far more difficult proposition today than simply removing the chains and shackles that held Black slaves captive. This mental conditioning was further deepened in the very psyche of Black people by the years of colonialism that was simply a new form of slavery by the same masters.
In fact, colonialism ushered in a new set of socio-economic constructs that still has the Black man and woman in the Caribbean barely a cut above that of chattel slavery even though significant progress have been made over the years of national independence. Without access to education to better themselves Blacks in the Caribbean, the direct descendents of African slaves, were soon working for starvation wages on plantations still owned by abscentee landlords growing sugar cane – just as their ancestors had done for hundreds of years.
So the next cardinal question is this: after 173 years of slavery and 90 years of indentured servitude are Blacks in the Caribbean really free?
Today, part of the answer to this question is the attitude of Caribbean governments when it comes to the issue of emancipation. In fact, the Caribbean only sat up and took note when Trinidad and Tobago led the way by declaring, since 1985, August 1, a national holiday. Prior to that no Caribbean nation even celebrated or remembered the day far less to attach any importance to it. This has placed young people in the Black Caribbean Diaspora without a basic understanding of their heritage.
Today so pervasive and deep-going was the slave experience and colonial indoctrination that immigrants from the Caribbean and indeed those living back home can recite dates and facts about the emancipation of American slaves, about American and English pirates, thieves and criminals like Christopher Columbus, Drake, Hawkins and Morgan but are utterly clueless about the emancipation of their enslaved ancestors.
Black youth of today know very little about the struggles of slave heroes like Jamaica’s Nanny, Grenada’s Julien Fedon, Guyana’s Cuffie or the exploits of Haiti’s Toussaint L’ouverture. Their problem is of one of historical omission that is now replaced by the cultural imperialism of American and British pop culture. Today, Black youths struggle to find their bearings and identity simply because they do not know or have any respect for their proud history.
So, in Nelson Mandela’s words just “how far we slaves have come?”
In the Caribbean the region’s political leaders have not broken the colonial shackles and chains placed on them by their former colonial masters even though they all proclaim the region’s independence. How can we be truly independent, emancipated even, if today, in 2007, our children still have to sing the British National Anthem and remember that “God Save The Queen?” How do we respect our emancipation from slavery when 30, 40 years after independence most Caribbean countries still have the Queen’s representative in the person of the governor general? Where the Queen’s Birthday is still celebrated but Jamaica’s Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s is not? Is it not time that we strike a blow against this self-hate and embrace the high emancipation principles of our own Black republics and destiny?