Remembering the meaning of Emancipation
SLAVERY IN BARBADOS and indeed across the Americas during the period of European colonial domination was a most cruel institution that left terrible scars on the victims and to this day on many of their descendants.
When full emancipation for the oppressed people came 175 years ago in the British Caribbean territories, it ensured one thing: it freed Britain from any moral or legal commitment to the victims of this crime against humanity.
We need to recognize that Emancipation was not because of the kindness of the British legislators but because of the various forms of struggle and resistance by the enslaved people.
On this annual celebration of Emancipation Day, the view that that period of terrible cruelty has long gone and should therefore be forgotten must be dispelled. Unfortunately, there is an influential body of opinion in our society which seeks to promote such views. However, we are resolute in our view that it is only by knowing, understanding and recognizing that aspect of our past that we can firmly move to the future with a better realization of who we are.
Perhaps, we must follow the example of the Jewish people, who have never forgotten the terrible atrocities their people suffered during the holocaust. The world agrees and supports them in their efforts not only for justice and fairness but that this event be externally remembered and never allowed to be repeated.
So in our efforts to right those wrongs we must take that moral high road and support the calls for reparations, as difficult a task as it will be in reaching that mountaintop in any settlement of this contentious issue.
Our own distinguished historian and principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, in his book Britain’s Black Debt, has laid out – and it has indeed been supported by many others even before and since – why reparations are a must for both the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans across the West Indies. The British legislators ensured the slave owners were compensated for the loss of their slaves. The push to seek reparations must not be viewed as an academic exercise and must not be a lost cause.
So as we reflect on the significance of today’s celebrations, we must appreciate that Emancipation has its relevance. The occasion must not be hijacked by extremists, many of whom have not recognized nor accepted how times and things have changed. Emancipation now speaks to economic freedom, social justice, poverty eradication, good health care and developing a sustainable lifestyle for all of our peoples. It means appreciating that we must be responsible as we understand that the indomitable spirit of struggle and resistance is still alive.