Emancipation Day 2020 finds the world, and indeed the St Vincent and the Grenadines branch of the African Diaspora at an interesting juncture of history.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has the world in a state of uncertainty and upheaval and has changed our lives in ways we could not have imagined one year ago, has even impacted this year’s Emancipation Day holiday – its duration, if not the quality or content of the commemoration.
This year, four days have been set aside for the commemoration rather than one, again thanks to COVID-19 and the cancellation of Vincy Mas. But frustratingly, for quite some time, our commemoration in St Vincent and the Grenadines has lacked much depth, creativity or participation, with most people regarding the holiday as a welcomed day off from work, best used for get togethers with friends for a beach picnic or cook.
But we continue to sell ourselves short with this attitude to one of the most significant days on the nation’s calendar. Saturday, August 1 marks 186 years since the inhumane system of slavery officially came to an end.
This day, Emancipation Day has lessons even for this time of uncertainty and disruption. It reminds us of our capacity to persevere, to triumph against great odds, to build the bonds of unity that have served us as a nation.
These we need to rely on more than ever. Our patrimony was never simply the return of our ownership of our bodies and restoration of agency and dignity over our lives. It was also the capacity to preserve these gifts and to pass them on through the generations so that we can call upon them if and when it became necessary. This is now such a time.
Our history is not written into our genes. It is written instead in the transmission of knowledge across generations – the purpose to which the Emancipation Day holiday should be put.
We were always more than bodies – despite what the slaveholders said. In fact we were and remain men and women of intellect, of moral worth, and owners of a past. That past informs us that we cannot be paralyzed in fear of present threats. Rather we do what our forefathers and mothers have done: we meet it on the front-foot, mindful of course of the dangers, but confident in our capacity to overcome the challenge.
This is the legacy of our Emancipation. Freedom of intellect, freedom of imagination, freedom of spirit. This is who we are.