Dr. Fraser- Point of View
August 2, 2013

Emancipation continues

On May 11, 1838, the St Vincent Legislature passed the required legislation to ensure that full freedom came on August 1, 1838. Roderick McDonald, in an introductory essay to Special Magistrate John Anderson’s journal on the period of Apprenticeship in St Vincent, which he edited, made the following observation: “Emancipation had not eradicated, but rather had transformed the social tensions and conflicts created by slavery. The Apprenticeship provided the initial forum for their expression, and was the harbinger of a struggle that would continue in freedom.”{{more}}

Yesterday we celebrated the 175th anniversary of ‘Full Emancipation’ and in the piece I quoted above, Roderick McDonald refers to the struggle that was expected to continue into freedom and really we have to realise that that struggle is still continuing today, August 2nd, 2013. What was granted in 1838 was legal emancipation, but the negatives of slavery did not miraculously disappear. Its legacy continues. Furthermore, slavery and colonialism were twin partners that fed on each other. For us colonialism continued for another 141 years and what we achieved in 1979 was, like Emancipation itself, a legal act that left us still entrenched in the clutches of colonialism. I am fond of quoting the Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’O, who, in an analysis of the effects of colonialism referred to the destruction, of our culture, since penetration of the minds of our people he considered more powerful than the use of guns to enforce colonialism.
The use of guns was only effective once they remained pointed at the people, but with culture we remained captives, absorbing the values and prejudices of our colonisers. I continue to be dumbfounded by our relationship with royalty. This is seen by what I refer to as our frenzied reaction to the birth of the son of William and Kate. It is as if we are glorying in knowing that there is another one of royal blood to rule over us. We can argue that the Americans reacted too, as though that was the greatest thing to have happened for a long time, but let us remember that one regret America has is not having had a royal family. The Kennedys came nearest to that. Certainly not Obama and Michelle! You kidding – black people symbolising royalty!

So, we are a screwed up people. Colour of skin still matters to some of us. We continue to operate like colonialists. Independence might have brought us a new flag and anthem, but it delivered the power and arrogance of the colonialist into the hands and minds of our politicians. There is no greater oppression than that by our own people. When fellow citizens marched through the streets of Kingstown on Friday, July 26, they were continuing that struggle to take control of their own lives. Independence might have brought us material benefits, but this is under threat by what has been happening in recent years. Thirty-four years after Independence we seem to be concentrating more on begging than on using our resources/skills to lift up our country. Many of us complain about the amount of begging that goes on in Kingstown, but it is happening, too, at the national level.

It is going to be difficult for us to achieve much, because we are not making the best use of our resources. Our major resource is our people, but we pretend that half of the country has nothing to contribute and we uplift and make heroes out of some of those whose major claim to fame is being yard fowls and party lackeys. We have recently embarked on a process that involves seeking reparations from our colonial powers who were the ones who sent our indigenous people into exile and enslaved our black ancestors. There are solid grounds for this undertaking, but let us first realise that we cannot do this without the full support of our people.
This is a political struggle. As with Abolition and Emancipation, we cannot depend on those who had enslaved us being moved by moral arguments, and once they realise that our leaders do not have the majority of people behind them, they are not going to pay us any serious attention. I draw your attention to correspondence from the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe to Heads of CARICOM, expressing their fears that what is sought by the Caribbean re Reparations Movement would not be achieved “…unless concerted efforts are made to enable the facilitation of constructive engagement, dialogue, debate and deliberation within and between civil society, non-governmental organisations and social movements across the respective Caribbean nations in the region to allow for the negotiation of the best reparations common interest.”

So, we are still on the path that started with Emancipation. It has its many obstacles and pitfalls, but those who profess to lead us have betrayed us along the way, often seeking their own interests and have become extremely arrogant in doing so, forgetting that they could go nowhere without the active support and involvement of the people. Instead of trying to empower our people, the their method has been to make them more dependent. So, we depend on our leaders, who in turn depend on handouts from others outside. Principle and the ultimate goal of serving the interests of the people have been thrown out of the window and the democracy has been hijacked. It is no longer the slave masters and colonial bosses who saw us as property, but our indigenous leadership, for the most part coming out of the wombs of former slaves, apprentices and contract labourers, who are treating us like dirt. So the struggle for which Emancipation prepared us has to continue. We can only deal with those outside forces if we first deal with our own people who oppress us.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.