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Emancipation: What next?

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For personal reasons I was unable to attend Monday’s march and rally, planned to commemorate and celebrate this important milestone in our history. I must commend the organizers for the determination not to let this milestone pass unobserved. We are approaching two centuries after the passage of the Emancipation Act, but it seems that with the passage of time, the occasion lessens in importance to those who have benefitted most from the end of chattel slavery.{{more}}

What more can we say about this state of affairs? Year after year, there are laments about what appears to be “receding consciousness” among our people, even though we are exposed to greater knowledge and have more opportunity to delve deeper. One would be inclined to think that as more and more of us get educational opportunities, as the level of literacy continues to rise, as more people avail themselves of university education, that the significance of Emancipation would somehow sink in, that the appreciation of the step forward, limited though it was, which Emancipation represented, would find appreciation, but this does not appear to be the case.

There are, of course, objective reasons for this apparent regression in our consciousness and hence the commitment we display towards social, political and economic regeneration. We must not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of our post-Emancipation life as a people was spent under colonial rule. Those who had loosened the chains were still in charge on the plantations, in the legislature, they controlled our export and import trade, regulated our lives.

For them, Emancipation was to be remembered by us as a great act of “humanity” for which we were supposed to be eternally grateful. It was as if they had “freed” us from some other slave-master, not as though the same “emancipator” was the self-same plundering, genocidal slave-master, the maker of colonial laws which kept us in continuing servitude, the same one determined to erase our history and replace it with HIS-Story.

Emancipation was, of course, appreciated and celebrated by the ex-slaves, but as the system of the indoctrination of our leaders took root more and more, as the education system began to reveal its value in turning out more and more who wanted to be like Massa rather than challenge his rule, the drive to treasure our history, to learn from it, and use it as a tool to shape our future for ourselves, lost more and more momentum.

We have had periods in our history when this trend was bucked, and challenges made to the existing order. Thus was the 1935 uprising, Joshua’s anti-colonial, anti-estate slavery campaign of the fifties and the awakening of the Black power/progressive socialist era of the late sixties to early eighties. But, particularly after the suicidal collapse of the Grenada Revolution in 1983 and the US invasion, not just militarily, but especially culturally, of the Caribbean then, we have more and more lost our way.

It is easy for those of us of the generation of the seventies to blame our younger folk for this apparent lack of militancy, to talk all the time of “in our days”, but we have to be more objective than that. It was a very different experience being a young person in the late sixties and seventies in the Caribbean than it is today; very different being a young university student than it is now. How many of us, who like to hark back to our supposedly militant past, would have taken that course if we had all the attractions and distractions confronting today’s youth? How many of us would have chosen to read Fanon and Malcolm X, if we could have gone home to watch Pele and Cruyff and Maradona live on TV? Or tune in to our various electronic gadgets and get all you desired, courtesy modern technology?

Those are but some of the obstacles to be overcome if we are to reclaim our history, if we are to give Emancipation, and the Garifuna wars of liberation, and Indian arrival, and National Independence their correct places in our history. They partially explain our ambivalence towards reparation, which seems disconnected from Emancipation and they tell us that we have to develop new strategies and approaches.

It means that we must trust our young people more, facilitate their greater involvement and be prepared to cede centre stage, providing useful guidance. The Emancipation movement and our whole thrust for economic, and social liberation need fresh legs, eager minds and youthful enthusiasm.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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