As the beating of the drums, the chants of the few and the lamentations of the rhetoricians subsided on Emancipation Day, the thoughts of late British dramatist Sir Peter Ustinov and fellow Briton, economist John Maynard Keynes, came readily to mind. That they are both from the land of Barbados’ former colonizer is purely incidental.
Keynes is quoted as stating that a study of the history of opinion is a necessary preliminary to the emancipation of the mind. He noted that he had no idea which made a man more conservative – knowing nothing but the present or nothing but the past. On the other side of the equation, Sir Peter is reported to have stated that once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our one duty is to furnish it well. Both sentiments evoke interest as contemplation is given to what occurs annually in Barbados before, on and after Emancipation Day.
The importance of Emancipation Day and what it represents cannot be overemphasized, especially in a predominantly black nation such as Barbados. Yet, there is a perfunctory essence and residue to the celebration of Emancipation Day. Those at the vanguard of its annual observance must be commended for their sterling efforts and long may they continue to attempt to demonstrate the relevance of the day to Barbadians and those observing from afar.
But just two weeks after a reported 20 000 marched in the City of Bridgetown to exercise a democratic right to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the governance of their country, fewer than 200 turned out for the observance of Emancipation Day. If the connection between the democratic right to protest on July 24, 2017, and the significance of August 1, cannot be discerned, it could be argued – esoterically or otherwise – that either or both marches were a waste of time. Could this possibly be a case of knowing nothing but the present?
And what about that deeper question of Emancipation of the mind? Do our actions in most instances suggest that we have moved from mental enslavement to the same degree of distance that we have from physical bondage? Perusal of newspapers and Hansard from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and beyond, show the likes of Ministers of Agriculture Dacosta Edwards, Sir Johnny Cheltenham, Rawle Eastmond, Lindsay Bolden, and several others, pleading a case for that sector, mostly within the context of the importance of food self-sufficiency and the reduction of our food import bill. Three, four decades hence, and our newspapers and Hansard suggest we have been lost in a time warp. The pleadings today are the same as we continue to hone our tastes slavishly to what we are fed.
The process of taking Emancipation Day beyond tokenism must not be left solely to entities such as the Commission for Pan African Affairs, the Ministry of Culture or Ministry of Education. The significance of August 1 should be trumpeted by Bible-toting preachers, schoolmarms, police officers, readers, bricklayers, politicians, et al.
Our young people must be so bombarded with their history that the folly of deliberately exposing undergarments while clothed becomes instinctive. The sadness of our young men in shackles smiling proudly as they make their way to and from criminal courts must be rendered obvious not only to those bound but also to those who cheer and hail them as seeming heroes. The madness of young men firing shots indiscriminately into the air and elsewhere because some have eluded those shackles must be underscored at every instance. The Emancipation process must imprint in the brain the notion that such behaviour is a betrayal of August 1. Those lost souls showing their pleasure at boarding a bus to be taken to confinement must be shown that theirs is akin to a return to slavery. Could this be a case of black men living out their lives in the prison of their minds? After all, the faces on the bus are seldom Asian and never Caucasian.
And how can those whose guns splatter the brains of their fellow black young men on the streets be reached by the import of Emancipation Day? It is a difficult but not an insurmountable task. Admittedly, some are already brain-dead to any concept of an Emancipation Day, Remembrance Day, Independence Day, to any day that does not involve the pursuit of illegal drugs and ill-gotten monetary gains. But we believe that this is the exception, not the rule. There are too many success stories of proud black men and women to believe the task of reparation of the minds is impossible.
The task for those at the forefront of perpetuating Emancipation Day and giving it more relevance outside of August 1, is connecting the past to the present, furnishing wholesome substance into the minds of those whose pigmentation ought to encourage resonance, and hope that this might be a major step towards the emancipation of the mind.