By Dennis Strong, CMC
Most Caribbean nations celebrate August 1st as a national holiday commemorating the Slave Abolition Act 1833 that came into effect on August 1, 1834. Emancipation of African slaves took place in the United States 31 years later near the culmination of a horrendous Civil War.
Now seems a good time to ask the question; how are we using that freedom today?
There are many angles to this question. I think that in this time of economic hardship, it might be useful to examine what actually changed with emancipation. Further, how do the things we think and do today reflect a conscious appreciation of our improved state?
At that time, reports say there was very little change in the day-to-day lives of those freed from bondage. Indeed, some say we are still mired in a system and mentality of plantocracy. Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” contains the lyrics: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds”. Easier said than done.
If we are freely making choices, doesn’t that also make us responsible for our present circumstances? Over time, Caribbean people have made heroic and legendary accomplishments that are venerated around the world. Yet most were unable to be valued in their own region or countries until honour was accorded abroad. The halcyon years of West Indian cricket supremacy that provided reflected glory for Caribbean people around the world had to be validated by our former colonizers.
Even this example of unified success is currently in tatters. I find that interesting in light of our regional leaders’ position that our economic recovery is tied to the success of our former colonizers. Around the world, there are daily breakthroughs born of a willingness to look beyond the patterns of behaviour and thought that constrain freedom.
I hear calls for reparations. To what end? Is this an admission that we are so psychologically impaired by our ancestors’ enslavement that we cannot meet our human development needs without material compensation? How would our behaviour be different from the conspicuous squandering of wages that we have deemed too meager?
The development funding that occurs through the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the European Union, could be characterized as a form of reparations. Ostensibly, it is intended to help former colonies re-shape their largely agrarian economies damaged by adverse WTO rulings. In reality, it is a conduit for European consultants to come and tell us how they feel our countries should be run. The ratio of sustainable benefits to dollars spent makes one wonder how well we are spending funds designated for our use.
Last week, I listened as a networking group discussion was dominated by a person who argued that when we talk about exporting services, it was tantamount enshrining servitude. At the same time, this advocate of manufacturing and agro venture as the path future growth, had to admit that poor productivity and uncooperative attitudes had overtones of servitude as well.
My point is that we have the capacity to continuously achieve great things depending on the voices we are hearing.
In 1865, on the cusp of Emancipation, Bowie State University began as the Baltimore Normal School to train African American teachers. Michelle Obama addressed its’ graduating class in 2013.
“When the paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero”.