Yesterday, Tuesday, August 1 was no ordinary day.
Though we suspect that for most it was just a much welcomed off day in the middle of the week, it was much more than freedom from work; it was the memorial of the day of freedom for millions of African men, women and children who were brutally removed from their homeland, redistributed as slaves on plantations and farms and subjected to untold horrors to develop the so called New World.
This year marks 185 years since the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.
To commemorate the occasion, Barbados holds annual celebrations which include a Freedom Walk, from the Emancipation statue (Bussa) at the JTC Ramsay Roundabout, libations and ceremonial ancestral reverence.
Every year, the sentiments are the same: too many Barbadians are absent from the all-important events.
Pan Africanist and Minister of Environment and National Beautification Trevor Prescod noted yesterday that “although today it [the crowd] is much more than we have been seeing in recent years, this is less than a microcosm of the reality that we should be seeing and witnessing today at this Bussa Statue.
“Next year when we return here, we should be seeing thousands of people.”
One can hardly deny that Emancipation Day must have meaning, particularly since it brought a formal end to the vile and inhumane institution of slavery.
Minister of Culture John King said it well yesterday when he told the gathering, “Emancipation closed the door on a very dark period of our history and brought with it a new dynamic, a new hope for change and prosperity that has led us to Independence.”
Indeed, the last 185 years of Barbados’ history are a testament to the spirit of those former slaves and their descendants.
Therefore, any argument that Emancipation Day should not take pride of place on our calendar is null and void.
Aren’t we often reminded that to progress as a nation and a people we must understand and know our history to learn who we are and chart a better future?
Frankly, our disregard of Emancipation Day will persist as long as we remain ignorant.
If we are honest with ourselves, most Barbadians have not really been exposed to the events and true meaning of emancipation.
Many of us can still remember history lessons which scratched the surface. We have all memorized “in 1942, Columbus sailed the ocean blue with the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria”.
Our children are not taught nearly enough of our African heritage. The observation of African Awareness Month each February when our children dress in cute African garb and prepare projects about African foods and traditions, though a positive step, is not all there is.
Furthermore, understanding one’s African heritage does not mean dressing in beautiful African patterns, wearing locs and other natural hairstyles and changing one’s name.
Frankly speaking, there is a great deal of lingering confusion with still so many remnants of colonialism present.
Our Head of State is still Queen Elizabeth II represented by our Governor General. Our elected parliamentarians and Government minister still swear allegiance to the queen.
The Lord Nelson statue, one of the most controversial relics of this island’s colonial past, still stands in Bridgetown.
Clearly we have a long way to go and until we act, we will celebrate another Emancipation Day bemoaning the poor turnout at the day’s events.
During yesterday’s celebrations, several other critical lessons that emancipation holds for us, even in 2018, emerged.
There are inequalities that continue to prevail in Barbados and many are swept under the carpet.
Minister King called for black Barbadians to begin the healing process among themselves and to confront the issues that divide us.
“Unless we have those conversations, the significance of what is happening here is still to going to be kind of miniscule towards the bigger picture.
“If you are looking at what we are doing to ourselves and what we continue to do to ourselves as people, then we have a long way to go,” he said.
Those conversations should entail frank dialogue on how we see ourselves: why we seemingly make much ado about our social status, what school we attend, where we live, where we work, what we drive, where we worship, and the worrying fact that young black men are killing each other and filling up every available space at Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds.
By all means yes, let the conversation begin, guided by the words of the late great Marcus Garvey, made popular in song by Bob Marley; “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds”
Perhaps then can we truly begin to appreciate the importance of Emancipation Day.