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Sharing in the Emancipation
Emancipation Day celebrations today rightly mark the freedom, 176 years ago, of the enslaved African from the inhuman bondage of slavery. Captured and brought to T&T, the Caribbean and spread throughout the Americas against their will, Africans were disconnected from their cultural habitat and families and thrown together in a brutal environment to serve the interests of the planter class and British capital and comforts.
Among much else, Trinidadians and Tobagonians of African heritage should today stand proud of having come through that century and three-quarter passage free of the physical shackles of slavery and playing a significant role in shaping a society in which such degrading and humiliating subjugation can no longer be contemplated.
More than that, people of African ancestry can claim to have largely restarted the process of developing a civilisation in the New World under different conditions—conditions which recognise them and all others as fully human and therefore entitled to respect and self-respect, whatever their ethnic and cultural origins.
In that context therefore, while the Emancipation Proclamation, which was remembered this morning, freed the African from being hogtied to compulsory and unrewarded labour on the plantation, it also had lessons for the French-Creole planter-class, for the British administrators and the coloureds who were left to exist one notch above the slaves.
While it undoubtedly took generations for the consciousness to become real to those who felt they had lost “property” through Emancipation, the message has certainly been brought home over the century and more that those who hold others in bondage can themselves never be free. For many it has been a hard lesson to learn to live without the advantage and deference which they once took as a god-given right; but they have come around to a new appreciation of humanity.
Today, though with many shortcomings, Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean have progressed as a civilisation in the formation only because Emancipation has meaning for everyone, regardless of their ethnicity and social-class status. For instance, not only is there an understanding of the essential humanity of all peoples, a humanity not open to compromise, but it is also recognised as a first principle of business, commerce and macro-economic development that competition for labour and the other factors of production is the only viable option in a free society.
People of African heritage, indubitably wronged by the savagery of the Middle Passage, the slave trade and the plantation experience, must emancipate themselves from the psychological chains that bind and demand their position in the society—second to none, and grudging of no one.
The period since 1834 and the present is but a day in the long span of history, but it is sufficient time for the African-descended population to be able to link with all others in the society to build a place in which all can be proud.
And indeed, the co-operation, the living together, the continuing development of respect one group for another and the harmonious working together for the benefit of all have been taking place for many generations. Unfortunately, however, politicians, anxious to mobilise an electoral base for their parties, prey on people’s natural human vulnerabilities and so disrupt a building harmony.
That harmony is no doubt far from being perfect, as there is acknowledged conflict along the lines of race, one group anxious not to be left behind while the other is seen to advance; but there have been no outbreaks of physical conflict, and there is an understanding that this society and all its peoples can only advance when there is an understanding and sharing in Emancipation.
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