We approach another anniversary of the abolition of slavery amidst a groundswell of protests against racism worldwide. Indeed, in recent days we have seen clashes between demonstrators and law enforcers in cities in the US, where the brutal killing of a black man, Mr George Floyd, by white policemen, sparked the current outrage.
Readers of this column know well our views on this most iniquitous action by the police and other such killings in the US.
And, in the same manner that we condemn those killings, we denounce those that are committed here in Jamaica, whether by agents of the State or by criminals who, unfortunately, are shielded by too many people who ought to know and do better.
Parallel to that focus, though, is our need to ensure social, economic, race and gender inequalities that our forefathers fought hard to expunge from our society are not resurrected.
So each year as we observe Emancipation Day—which we will do tomorrow—this newspaper feels it necessary to reiterate the importance of marking the date and its significance in our hearts and in the way we live.
The current Black Lives Matter movement across the world brings renewed focus to the fact that the treatment meted out to people of colour over many years had its genesis in the forcible removal of millions of our ancestors from their homes in Africa, and the subhuman conditions in which they were transported thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean before being sold like chattel to the highest bidder.
Again, we state—and it is important to do so, particularly for the younger generation—that it is only by knowing and exploring our history that we can truly understand who we are.
We are not surprised at today’s fierce backlash to colonial symbols and the concept of empire because they remind us that after slavery was abolished, the colonists sought to squeeze every ounce of resolve out of our ancestors whom they had abused for so many years.
Anyone so inclined to challenge this view need only examine the Emancipation proclamation of July 9, 1838, advising the slaves who were about to be freed that they should pay rent for the houses in which they lived and the lands they farmed, effective Emancipation Day, August 1, 1838.
Issued by Governor Sir Lionel Smith, that proclamation stated, in part: “Where you can agree and continue happy with your own masters, I strongly recommend you to remain on those properties on which you have been born, and where your parents are buried.
But you must not mistake in supposing that your present houses, gardens or provision grounds are your own property.
They belong to the proprietors of the estates, and you will have to pay rent for them in money or labour, according as you and your employers may agree together.”
In the face of such iniquity, the resilience demonstrated by our ancestors in their drive for independence should always serve as inspiration in these modern times.
Theirs is the kind of resolve that we need to adopt in our quest to end atrocities such as human trafficking, child abuse and the fear that criminals use to strangle communities and, indeed, the growth of businesses across the country. We must not weaken the value of the freedom for which many lives were sacrificed.
• Courtesy Jamaica Observer