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None but ourselves


by Vonnie Roudette

The importance of Emancipation Month is well recognized, but how effective are the celebrations in developing our consciousness as a free and independent people?

Did emancipation, in the true sense of the word, really take place, or did the passing of the Emancipation Act in 1833 merely signal the passage of the oppressed into a more politically correct presentation of oppression, into a modified system of slavery that would still serve the interests of the colonial powers?{{more}}

After the passing of the Act, indoctrination and inculcation of blacks continued through an altered employment strategy and through the education system of the Imperial Policy.

I recall a lecture three years ago where Barbadian writer, George Lamming said that: “Freedom cannot be given because that is where we start.” He stressed that we must be careful what we are celebrating because the people who passed the Emancipation Act did not have the victims’ interests at heart.

Lamming went on to explain the meaning of the word ‘emancipation’ which literally means ‘to take out of the hand’. Continuing with this metaphor of the hand as the imperial power, Lamming said that although enslaved people moved from being in the hand, emancipation represented their being taken out of the hand, but not out of control of the hand.

Emancipation celebrations, he said, should therefore celebrate the struggle to break the hand. He believes, as yet, we in the Caribbean have not broken the hand of imperialism.

If our focus on emancipation is to impact positively on our awareness, we should contemplate the immense struggle of its victims, a struggle expressed through artforms in the music of resistance; a language of resistance, the dialect; traditional mas – a physical expression of liberation and many other important skills of independence, notably natural farming and healing that sustained families and whole communities.

We should learn through reflecting on emancipation that history is constantly in the making by ordinary people, not by the authorities, but those engaged in the struggle for true liberation.

The hand of imperialism creates mass dependency through generating needs, fears and prejudices that destroy true cultures and inhibit cultural development. The same hand that oppressed ordinary people through slavery continued its agenda through an education system based on authoritarianism and subordination, which successfully inculcated many generations, but is failing a large proportion of today’s youth.

Modern cultural imperialism has overwhelmed us through the TV and in particular the American soap opera (which Lamming over 10 years ago claimed as being the main contributory factor to the erosion of authentic Caribbean culture). Economic imperialism is evident in the flooding of the market with imported goods that local producers cannot compete with and in export strategies dictated by industrialized countries.

We see slave owner, Willie Lynch’s predictions in 1712 that the control mechanisms of slavery would last for hundreds of years, manifested in our readiness to be engulfed by imported cultures, practices and ideas as we slavishly follow the development model of industrialized countries without contemplating the long- term effects on our fragile island environments and economies. We seem unable to take a different, yet obvious, longterm path to improve the quality of life for the whole society.

Independent thought and action, needed to follow that path, is generally deemed troublesome and unwelcome. What we need most – self-organization, creative thinking, fresh ideas and new hope – is eradicated in institutions that were established as conduits of imperialism.

In the words of Paolo Friere, a Brazilian educationalist: “It is incredible to see how black people were and continue to be so prevented from being”.

This is why Lamming warns us to be careful how we celebrate emancipation. True liberation that he defines as “a sense of spiritual connection to the landscape and an inner sense of independence as a manifestation of freedom” will become apparent first through the arts, concerned as they are with self-determination and a sense of being and identity.

Despite the agenda slave owners imposed 300 years ago, many of our ancestors rose with dignity through the humiliations of slavery. The power of the creative imagination to maintain mental freedom in adversity was the legacy they left us.

Celebration of emancipation should pay homage to this legacy constructed from their lived experiences and realities, as well as their African heritage.

This Emancipation Month we should ask ourselves: “Have we learned from the legacy of our fore-parents – would they be proud of us today?”

With our minds still in the grip of the hand of imperialism, maybe they would not. They may urge us to free ourselves by trusting our own experience, and to express it with conviction in what we do. As Bob Marley knew only too well “none but ourselves can free our minds.”