By Corey Gilkes
August 01, 2017
Today is Emancipation Day, celebrating the ending of the enslavement of African people. You will hear the usual platitudes and speeches about how great we are and how we “broke the shackles of slavery”….and so on. Now as cynical as I’m sounding, those are important words to hear. So too are the sights of people walking around dressed in African or African-inspired attire, all that is praiseworthy.
But, as I asked before in a different way, what does this emancipation mean to you? And what is it really? Are we as free as we think? This deceptive word does not actually mean freedom you know. It comes from a Latin term that means ‘transfer of ownership’. When I read that in a Latin dictionary, I instantly got a clearer understanding of the craftiness of Europeans and Euro-Americans. Enslavement no longer being cost-effective, the Euro had to find ways to maintain control of resources – that they didn’t have in their own countries – and continue extracting wealth for themselves. So domination by another means had to be found and what better way to do so than to make those you once physically subjugated internalise beliefs about your “natural” superiority and their “natural” inferiority?
Jump forward to 2017. Almost everything that may destroy us as a society and as the human species can be traced to Europe of the Crusades as well as ideas of modernity that gathered speed during the Age of “Discovery,” continuing in that ideological vein right up to 2017, no commercial break. These Eurocentric ideas of modernity served to benefit only an elite few – so it was back then, so it remains now. These Euro-centred ideas of modernity that are competitively individualistic, wasteful and authoritarian are facilitated by most of us because the communalistic, collectivist, conservationist and democratic traditions found all over the ancient tropical south, particularly Africa, remain largely unknown to many – often by choice.
We live in a time of heightened xenophobia, increased racism, sexism, ecocide and destructive militarism. African humanism has a lot to draw from to reverse all this. But here in T&T Africa is mostly pimped out to either convey ideas of backwardness, savagery, superstition and corruption or romanticised ideas of kings and queens who are essentially black versions of patriarchal capitalists. We walk around a few days wearing kaftans and kufis (often made in China), then back to wearing suits in tropical heat. And when someone like me passes by wearing it “out of season” out come the snickers and expressions of self-hate. Listen, if you’re wearing European attire whole year and (in the case of the late Mr. Manning when he tried to shame Gerald Yetming) insist that everyone else wear it too in your place of work, then please take my humble advice: take off my f***ing clothes and don’t touch them again. It’s true that clothes do not always mean consciousness; that some who wear the best African finery are as Eurocentric as they come….but that is kinda the point. A great many people only wear it on that day or the couple days before as per bank/insurance company instructions. We still call that pappyshow and mamaguy eh, at least the late Ken Valley was honest about his comfort with looking like a European.
Similar advice will be given if you insist on defining African spirituality and philosophy through Abrahamic religions and/or Western academic theories. Bob Marley said emancipate yourself from mental slavery, I say that for that to happen, you will have to emancipate yourself from your own self first. Even if you’re not into African history but want to explore alternative economic, gender, agricultural or political models to carry the country forward, there are enough writings by Amilcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Lwazi Lushaba, Oyeronke Oyewumi, Ifi Amadiume or Prof John Mugabe, among others, you can draw from.
The point is we really need to engage in some serious, and yes uncomfortable, self-examination. As the fan for expelling faecal matter increases in speed, the effects of toxic ideas and dysfunctional institutions will become more and more prominent. We saw this manifested when the legitimate outrage of the British and US working people were manipulated and hijacked by Farage, Hillary Clinton and Trump. We are seeing it right here with the collapse of our worm-eaten institutions that were never developed for a properly functioning society anyhow. It’s clearly not going to save you no matter how loudly those who were deeply traumatised with Brexit and the rise of Trump nonetheless continue to bray about free-market capitalism and prospects of a stronger Europe. It’s as if the working people – racist and xenophobes aside for a second – didn’t make it very clear by how they voted what they thought of that panacea.
The threats and challenges facing us started as ideas. New versions of those ideas are gaining traction each and every day. The continued de-Africanising of classical African civilisations in such movies as “Exodus” are very much part and parcel of that battle for the minds of tropical peoples. Likewise the increasingly global spread of US Calvinist and Catholic religious beliefs that are woven into their politics. They need to be combatted at the intellectual level as well as the other more familiar arenas. But to do that means you must first know yourself.
Transfer your ownership back to you