Thoughts on Emancipation

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La Tumba declares. “Liberate your minds my brethren; Liberate your minds, I say.” He asks, “How can we be liberated when we are so confused; this country is so divided . . . shouting blame; it’s a crying shame / We all are guilty just the same / Distrust and peeves keeping us back; crippling the State / We’ve got to rise to the occasion / And demonstrate to the world that we all are one / That we in this little country / Could live and love in harmony / Working for prosperity for you and me.” [LIBERATE YOUR MINDS]

The late Sir Keithlyn Smith (God rest his soul), in his chronicles of the life and times of his grandfather, Samuel ‘Papa Sammy’ Smith, speaks to the deliberate corruption and shackling of our minds when he quotes him as saying, “Massa’s old and unwanted clothes was given to those cooperative and kiss-up slaves aka the ‘Uncle Toms’ or ‘House N*****s’) with manners. . . . This mean that these people do everything that massa want – carry news on one another, make every attempt to stay in massa’s good books . . .”. [P 45, TO SHOOT HARD LABOUR] Hmmm! This awful vestige from our colonial past still plagues us; it is still stymieing our advancement. In fact, Papa Sammy in the aforementioned classic, comes to the same conclusion when he posits, “It seem to me that slavery force the slaves to become news-carriers and traitors on their own people, and me think we still have this problem going on up to now.” How sad!

Not surprisingly, Papa Sammy also notes, rather ruefully, that whenever some misguided nega-house man got a little position of authority or favour with bakkra, he would begin to walk like bakkra, and talk like bakkra and behave like bakkra. He would strut through the community with an air of self-importance, thinking himself somehow better than his kith and kin. Talk about the efficacy of the old ‘divide and conquer’ strategy! It has been the cynical plot of enslavers from time immemorial – pit us against each other. And we play into it to our own detriment.

No wonder Bob Marley exhorts us, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” [REDEMPTION SONG] No wonder King Short Shirt declares, in PULL TOGETHER, “Don’t pull to pieces, pull together / That’s the way we should live our lives / Don’t hate one another, love your black brother / You help he, and he’ll help you rise /     . . . Like birds of a feather, let’s stick together / We can depend on nobody else / Don’t blow up this country / With hatred and envy . . . .” It is the needful thing! Unity! Oneness of our collective minds and spirits! As Short Shirt remarks in another offering, LAMENTATIONS, “Let there be peace, and all dem (in)-fightin’ cease.” Indeed!

Bob Marley continues this themeof a united front in the face of those who would fain destroy us in ZIMBABWE where he declares: “Every man got the right to decide his own destiny / And in this judgment there is no partiality / So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle / ‘Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble / Brother you’re right . . .  so right / We’re gonna fight . . . fight for our rights / To divide and rule could only tear us apart …”.

In her outstanding historical treatise, the aptly-named TROUBLING FREEDOM, Dr. Natasha Lightfoot, quotes the controversial Mrs Lanaghan [ANTIGUA AND THE ANTIGUANS] as observing that the ‘black buckras’ were trying ever so hard to imitate and aspire to be like the whites who had been brutalising and murdering them. Think black ‘wannabes.’ It was a pitiable mind-set back then, and unfortunately, remnants of it still exist today. (See hair-straightening, skin-bleaching, black self-loathing, black inferiority complexes, and the horrid use of the ‘n-word,’ as well as self-hating monikers like ‘Tar Baby,’ ‘Blackie,’ ‘Polish,’ ‘Ashy Skin,’ ‘Star Black,’ Picky-Head So- and-So,’ and ‘Monkey.’ Folks, we’re talking about serious psychological damage – a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in which we hate ourselves, believing that somehow we are to be blamed for our suffering (see the perfidious notion that ‘cuss pon black people’), and sympathise with, and even love, in a twisted way, those who abuse us. Dr Lightfoot cites Lanaghan as remarking that there was a weird propensity by “black social strivers” to “imitate in everything, their fairer brethren.” [p 135 -136, TROUBLING FREEDOM]. Sigh! Can’t we see that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL?

Not surprisingly, even as some of our people were desperately trying to be ‘white,’ the whites could hardly contain themselves with laughter and derision at our identity crisis. (This great evil called slavery really messed us up mentally. No wonder the call for reparations). According to Dr Lightfoot, “Their [the newly-freed slaves] assumption of bourgeoisie styles of dress . . . provoked ridicule by white elites. Their [supposed] improvements in their outward appearance drew the contempt and mockery of white observers and officials . . .” [P136, TROUBLING FREEDOM] Hmmm! We must accept ourselves. “We are who we are!”  (Ras Kiyode Erasto, STRENGTH AND POWER] After all, ours is a great history and heritage.

James Brown, the widely-acclaimed ‘hardest working man in soul,’says it quite nicely with his classic, SAY IT LOUD, I’M BLACK AND PROUD: Some people say we got a lot of malice, some say it’s a lotta nerve / But I say we won’t quit movin’ until we get what we deserve / We’ve been rebuked and we’ve been scorned / We’ve been treated bad, talked about as sure as you’re born / . . . Brother we can’t quit until we get our share . . . Say it loud, I’m black and proud!”  What is important to note about that song is that, “It was the quintessential Black Power song. It stood for black empowerment and self-reliance. The political climate in which he wrote the song couldn’t have been more timely. If James Brown was the Godfather of Soul, he was also the musical expression of the Black Power movement.” [SUN SENTINEL]

Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate Emancipation 2020, let us think on these things. Let us determine to fulfil the dream of our ancestors – to sever all ties with the colonial masters who robbed us of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” over several generations. And let us continue to demand reparations for that enormous robbery – the crime of the centuries! Of course, one of the ways in which we can sever those ties is by embracing the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our apex court. Let us be done with the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. And Queen Victoria Park, Queen Elizabeth Highway, King George V Grounds, Princess Margaret School and Codrington Village, and so on and so forth. It is the tenor and temper of the times, especially in light of BLACK LIVES MATTER, and TAKE YOUR KNEE OFF MY NECK, and Covid-19, and the pulling down and renaming of the statues and monuments of enslavers. Ah, yes! Why do we still abide the visage of Her Majesty the Queen on our currency? It is an anachronism, and frankly, quite off-putting.

According to King Obstinate, “These names [and symbols] our progress retard.” Subtly, they reinforce the dominance of those who once enslaved us. We still think that white rule and jurisprudence is better than our own (See CCJ failed referendum). We distrust and reject our own. Indeed, if you give some of us a chance, we would quite readily, and blithely, sing RULE, BRITTANIA RULE and GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. After all, Queen Elizabeth II is still our Head of State, and we still recite, “God save the Queen and this honourable court!” Help us, Lord!

        Oh for the day when, “On cavalier rum we remove that white pirate and put the picture of King Obstinate.” [ANTIGUA’S TRUE HEROES, King Obstinate]  

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