EVEN WHEN WHIPPINGS with cat-o-nine tails were frequent, and chains were made of metal, the great slave liberator, Harriet Tubman, said, “I freed hundreds of slaves and could have freed hundreds more, if only they knew they were slaves.”
So how do you get people to appreciate Emancipation today, when it is even harder to perceive our chains?
The African Holocaust, or Maafa, was not about killing off a group of people and erasing them from the general vicinity. It was about wiping out their spirit, their culture, their sense of self and erasing them from history while keeping their soulless bodies as toys and tools. They meant to strip us of our African minds and keep the African shell. It was designed to make us forget.
The Jews have made a point to keep reminding themselves and the world of the Holocaust to ensure that it never happens again. They have a saying, “Never Forget.” When you mention the African Holocaust, even to a descendant of enslaved Africans, it is not uncommon to hear, “Why you doan fuhget dah?”
Memories live in our bones. The past is present in us. It moves us even when we don’t have the presence of mind to realise. Best to deal with it rather than let it deal you.
Emancipation is a process of remembering what came before the bondage, and using it to rebuild a self that is stronger than before. It takes time. The Queen could not, and would not, bestow it to us on August 1 or any other day. This is something we must do for ourselves.
Part of the reason for the lack of appreciation for Emancipation day, may be the belief that it is something that was gifted to us. We tend not to appreciate things we didn’t work or struggle for. Don’t let them fool you. Britain was under serious pressure. Slave revolts every other minute had them good. Massa had to release some pressure or the whole system would blow. But he is tricky.
After slavery ended, there was a four-year apprenticeship period, during which the newly “free” men and women were forced to work without pay in exchange for living in huts provided by the plantation owners. The planters were paid reparations to make up for the eventual end of free labour.
One hunfred years after Emancipation, many descendants of former slaves were living in conditions just as bad as, or in some cases, worse than their enslaved ancestors. Wages were so low that malnutrition and starvation was a way of life for the labouring class. This led to the unrest of the 1930s.
Exploiters often try to fool you into believing they are doing you a favour. They will change things to keep them the same. Did slavery really end or just change form and face?
In 1966, The Queen didn’t come from England to “set we free.” She came to set England free. African, Asian and Caribbean men came back from serving in World War II, telling themselves: “So dis is how yuh does do it!” They saw that the German prisoners of war were treated better than they were and they took note. They had found their fighting spirit and were ready to push to the death.
Britain was weak after the war and didn’t have the appetite or maybe capacity for the violence that would be necessary to keep their subjects in check. Decolonisation was a smart move to avoid the loss of British life and to preserve the British economy. Again they released some pressure.
Life is full of pressure. Any release is usually welcome. It is not surprising that Emancipation Day and Independence Day rank so low on the scale of “big days.”
Who wouldn’t prefer a day to free up and get drunk over a day to soberly bring up pains of the past? Crop Over has roots in the short periods of celebration that were allowed after harvest, before we went back to work in the fields. It was a way for the oppressed to relieve pressure.
It still wukking. But the pressure is still on.
No worries. Emancipation is a process of growth and maturing. It is messy and not straight forward. We are learning as we go along in the face of continuing subtle and sometimes overt oppression.
We must celebrate considering that some groups of people, faced with similar challenges have gone extinct. We are still here.
It’s all part of the process.
Happy Emancipation Day and Kadooment Day.