What Emancipation still has not brought us

By Corey Gilkes
August 02, 2023

EmancipationThose of you who took god out your thoughts and were following my rants over the years know I have been saying the word “emancipation” actually means transfer ownership. And that puts into clearer perspective what dem snakes and soucouyants I was taught to celebrate as humanitarians and liberators were really thinking.

A careful reading of the 1833 Emancipation Act confirmed my suspicions: the only thing they wanted to change was what we were considered, not what we were brought over here to do. To compound the insult, 1st August was, according to Professor Padriac Scanlan’s book “Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain” the date determined by the House of Lords because that was the traditional opening of the new planting season in the English Caribbean colonies.

So that gives you a sense of the priorities and cynicism of the English political elites, many of whom had interests in various aspects of the industry of trafficking enslaved humans (who they argued were not humans anyhow, so…) And just so we’re clear, abolitionists like William Wilberforce—who had no problems when the military ruthlessly cut down dozens of working-class English people in what is today called the Peterloo Massacre—did not believe in the equality of the “races”.

Now allyuh doh get tie up, this eh no “woe is me” lament; we acknowledge that trauma may be genetically passed down, but we don’t do victimhood here. My heroes include Dessalines, Elma Francois, Garvey, Huey Newton, Paul Robeson, Elma Francois, Nzingha, and Malcolm. In short, people who didn’t waste time appealing to Western elites to exercise the good Christian conscience they don’t have anyhow.

Rather, this is to lay out plainly what the reality was and still is. They groomed our own elites and educated middle-class “respectables” into political office to manage the Plantation Society while they remain in the background, and saddled us with an “education” system that encourages rote learning and passing plenty subjects while it discourages critical analysis.

Our education system doesn’t even make a pretence of getting us to understand that the evolution from 1834 to now didn’t follow a straight linear path from chattel to chairman, but rather a seesaw where two opposing interests constantly fight to regain positions of primacy. That paralysis of analysis holds many back from realising that from 1834 to the present “freedom” always meant very different things to different people, depending on one’s social station and interests.

Scholars like CLR James, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Jean Cassimir, Aziz Rana, Jessica Whyte in their various works outlined how from the position of the elites, freedom included the freedom to exploit nature and labour in ways they and only they could determine. This butted head-on with the underclasses who had and still have very different ideas.

This is why I was pleased with the buffoonish Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis’ frontal attack on the teaching of African-centred history in the schools of his state. He articulated openly that slavery taught the enslaved “skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Now, this is an obscene and demonstrably false argument, but it is one that is held by many people—even some cooning, self-loathing fools of African descent, some of whom live among us right here (remember the former chair of the Milner minstrels of UWI).

So his pushing that line of argument, or Josep Borrell’s and Prof Bruce Gilley’s call for recolonisation, presents opportunities to confront and deconstruct such egregious effluence by bringing up research that has been sidelined, often for decades. It gives the anti-colonialists the chance to point to the existence of complex forms of governance, conflict resolution, food production and distribution that were practiced in Africa and other colonised regions hundreds, often thousands of years before capitalist global division of labour and the “free”-market system that currently exists.

It is a window that allows us to showcase the types of technologies Africa possessed that were environmentally sustainable—and thus models we can draw from as alternatives to the more parasitic systems created by the West, which were often stolen from the ancient world.

Think about how the imagination of the child in Laventille, Beetham, Sea Lots, John-John, Enterprise, La Romaine would be fired to know that high carbon steel smelting was done in Tanzania over 2,000 years ago in a blast furnace that utilised termite nests. Or that sewer systems and water heating systems existed in Kenya and Nigeria, centuries before Europe even entered into history. Farming practices by women in West Africa and the Nile Valley produced food that was then traded by those women and produced political systems.

We need not waste time with inflated praise that we were kings and queens, that was needed for a certain time, but that is now past. In any event, anyone who understands the political systems of many pre-colonised African territorial-states know the real political power was bottom-up, not top-down. Read the works of Cheikh Anta Diop, Ifi Amadiume, Charles S Finch MD, and Ivan Van Sertima.

Would we have been bogged down in stupid-ass arguments over rainbow books in RIK if we knew that our ancestors wrestled and factored in these issues hundreds and hundreds of years prior?

Wouldn’t we have seen through the imperialist feminist facade of the West that pretends that the current laws outlawing homosexuality in Uganda, Jamaica and just about every other “Common”-wealth country were not COLONIAL-ERA LAWS that they themselves placed in our books and ordered us—through Savings Clauses—to keep upon “independence”?

We cannot even get heterosexual education right. Thank god we at least have people like Onika Henry plugging some of the chasms with the amazing work she’s doing in Tobago.

And would we have been scurrying for North American NGOs and “aid” agencies created and funded by their State Department and intelligence agencies to help us with a violent crime situation they themselves fertilised? They ultra-militarised an already militarised police to act as their proxies to contain post-colonial demands for equitable redistribution of the wealth. This is the root of our street crime situation. Yet we send for their assistance and then talk about emancipation and “independence? Where in the world do you see the arsonist being called to help put out the fire?

True emancipation, true transfer of ownership, starts from the mind and leads to a universe of radical changes. Our gilded scholars and skull-men in our vaunted universities seem to have a problem understanding that. Why else would none of them see it fit to establish faculties of Caribbean philosophy where ideas can be created that others can then convert into actions and policies? But most of our philosophers and deep thinkers have always been on the block, the rum shop, the mas camp and the public squares. The emancipation we are looking for recognises that that is where you find them and utilise them.

I still think it is not too late to turn things around.