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As we celebrate Emancipation Day

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Monday, August 1, marks 167 years since emancipation.

We continue to celebrate the occasion but to what end it might be asked?

One has to question whether or not it has any real meaning for us. For many of us it is still a date, an historic event that happened a long time ago with very little relevance to today. Another holiday really; a welcome relief from work! Our problem goes beyond the issue of emancipation for we treat all historical events in this manner. {{more}}

The big task is to show the relevance of these events to today’s St. Vincent and the Grenadines when many of us are caught up in bread and butter issues, in fact, in surviving. Others strive furiously for material gains and see any reflection on that day 167 years ago as an impediment. Generally we only remember emancipation when the day comes around.

It is otherwise away

from our consciousness. Obviously in this way it is going to mean little to us. The challenge is to make it relevant today.

When the G8 and supposedly concerned interests in the developed world examine the plight of Africa today there is much talk about wars, about irresponsible leadership, corruption and disunity. True enough Africans have to bear some responsibility for the progress and state of African society and peoples. But there are other fundamental areas that have to be brought into the calculation. These areas were highlighted in Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

The period of slavery and colonialism driven by capitalist greed witnessed the creation of structures that continue to exist today and have to be overturned if they are ever going to get out of the clutches of poverty and underdevelopment. The same kind of analysis has to be employed in discussing current developmental issues in the Caribbean.

One of the legacies of all of this that impacts negatively on our forward movement is that related to the colonization of our minds. So while legal/constitutional emancipation was in the end relatively easy, the emancipation of our minds is still a work in progress, still at a stage where it represents a major stumbling block to our developmental journey and our well being as a people. We have a problem creating an identity of our own and still as a people lack confidence in our ability.

Some of the difficulties we face today are attributed to the reality of our being black people; that is, a colonized people who have gone through a period of slavery or is it the period of slavery. In some cases even though similar issues and behaviour prevail elsewhere we still emphasize our blackness and see it as being at the root of all of our problems. So it hangs over us like a millstone and cripples us.

One of the problems we face is that we have emphasized the wrong areas of slavery and colonization. The horrors, the suffering, the dehumanization of spirit have been the areas of emphasis. These were significant areas and have to be understood but the other side of this, needs to be better known. There are a number of parallels that can be identified today. Colonialism has ended for most of us but the phenomenon of neocolonialism remains a stranglehold.

As with the earlier phase of our subjugation we have been our worst enemies and have been implicitly involved in our own undoing. We reacted differently to our blackness. In fact blackness was not enough to hold us together and have us act in unison. There were greater forces that divided us. That is why even though Black Power was a necessary cry it was not enough. Black Capitalism could be the answer for only a few.

The House Slave concept was a real one for even though house slaves played a significant role in slave revolts and indeed, in channelling information, the privileges which were said to have come from the closeness to their masters gave them a different kind of outlook. Some of these however were perceived rather than real. The divide and rule strategy was employed by the masters and the colonial agents and many slaves and freed people fell victim to this.

The reaction by the slaves to slavery was a very complex one, for some of them understood and played games the masters wanted them to, except that the masters often misunderstood their version of these games. Slavery highlighted the issue of colour, an issue that deepened the divisions among slaves where shades of colour took on a life of their own. The coloured and black issue was a serious one, particularly when the coloureds tried to demonstrate that they were a different breed from the enslaved blacks and demanded to be treated like the master class.

When Colonialism finally ended for most of us in its legal form, pretensions to superior class status determined to some extent the shape of the post-colonial society.

There were those who considered themselves the true beneficiaries of the colonial state and hoped to exploit the privileges which were part of the structure of that state. It was in their interest to allow the colonial state to continue with only some changes to those who manned it. The racial embodiment of the colonial state, one created for the benefit of Europeans continued. Elements of racism persist in the wider society.

Today, however, we face the neo-colonial state which was an adaptation to the realities of post colonial society. Direct control is not necessary for some of the structures and patterns continue and technology under the control of those others aids continuing control of the mind and soul. Remember too, that the Europeans believed that once they had control of the mind, there was no need for guns. This is why they tried to destroy the culture of the colonized people and to feed us their version through television, books and the movies among others.

The fate and fortunes of the ex-colonial state merge and elements of the legacy of slavery and racism act as barriers. Emancipation was to a large extent the beginning of a process of restructuring our society and ridding ourselves of the colonial arrangements that were certainly not geared for our development.

A complex mixture of forces complicates the process. Some of these forces are externally driven, but we are so divided as a people, with little confidence in our ability, that we are unable to withstand the challenges thrown out at us.

Perhaps our fore parents, ‘the Slaves who abolished slavery’ have something to teach us.

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