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Emancipation belongs to us all

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Another Emancipation Day will be upon us next Tuesday, a significant milestone in the history of people of African origin in particular and of the peoples of the entire region as a whole. August 1 is, for people of the Caribbean, those in the English-speaking countries in particular, of monumental importance, yet it is not commemorated in a manner befitting its importance.That contradiction is even more dramatic if one understands the history of the region since 1838, in which the celebration of Emancipation was a major item on the annual calendar. It was so when illiteracy was high, when the means of communication were light years removed from what they are today, when our history was essentially taught from a Eurocentric perspective. So, what has happened to us today, we who are far more educated, and have the tools to spread knowledge and information, including about our history?

That is the dilemma I faced as I sat down to write this column, based on the Emancipation experience. To top it off, just a couple hours ago, I was confronted by a “conscious” brother, very concerned about the low-key approach to Emancipation Day, asking agitatedly why there are no major activities to mark the occasion. He is not alone, for year after year, people of his generation, who grew up in the heady days of the 70s and 80s, when such occasions could not pass without activities fitting the occasion, are almost bemused by the vastly changed political, social and cultural climate.

It has led to a variety of responses. Many of us who spearheaded the “conscious” activities of those days, and those in the Rastafarian movement as well, have come not only to treasure and hold sacred such anniversaries as African Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, but to almost feel that we own it, that those occasions must be commemorated in a particular way, and, as a result, we develop problems with the changed and changing nature of the society. If we are not careful, we begin to behave as though we are the “Chosen ones” and all others who do not quite see it our way, are “not serious”.

Perhaps it is time for us to do some inner reflection and to understand the climate in which we operate. St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Caribbean, are far different places to what they were 30/40, even 20 years ago. The technological and communication revolutions have brought not just new opportunities, but also new challenges, for our youth, and indeed for the wider population. It was easier then to find oneself in a cultural rally, listening to poetry, singing and dancing to the beat of the eternal drum of our ancestors, enjoying “conscious” music and raptly taking in the raps of the brethren and sistren. It is a far different ball-game today, and come high or come low, we must face it.

We have ended up almost as a “holier-than-thou” sect, arguing amongst ourselves about the meaning of Emancipation, how real it was, and putting forward recipes as to what should be done to make Emancipation meaningful. Some even postulate that Emancipation was a sham. In the meantime, year after year passes, and the degree to which Emancipation seems to be appreciated, declines.

Should we not first turn our attention on at least getting broad appreciation of the importance of Emancipation in our history? We may agree or disagree as to how important was the Emancipation Proclamation, but the freed slaves had no doubt about its significance. Many would have had no illusions about the road ahead, given the nature of the “emancipation”, but at least having no chains on the limbs must have been an advance over what obtained previously. True, the chains on the mind remained, and in many ways still do today, but in slavery, both minds and bodies were enslaved.

In my view, we need to try and unify opinion about the importance of Emancipation. Regardless of our political opinions, our station in life, all descendants of African origin have benefitted from Emancipation. Before we start arguing about how beneficial it was, and how best we should commemorate it, perhaps we should start at the base. Even if it is in the form of a picnic, a church service, sporting events, whatever, at least let us try and get a consensus on Emancipation. Let us try and make it accepted nationally to begin with, before we quarrel about the nature of activities.

Let us go back to basics and try to creep before we walk.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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