My fellow Jamaicans,
Each year, the Emancipation celebrations give us an opportunity to reflect on the struggle of our ancestors for freedom, against a system that denied them their dignity and humanity, often through brutally oppressive and violent means. It must have been a euphoric day, today the first of August, 180 years ago, when our forebear gathered in their village, and churches to rejoice and give thanks.
Free! free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last! I can only imagine the tears of joy that would have rolled down the cheeks of our oppressed forefathers, replacing the tears that came from the whip on their backs. They must have celebrated this day as the beginning of a new life for them and for us, their generations to come. It must have been a time of great hope and optimism. A wide embrace of freedom and a determined rejection of the system of violence used to oppress to them.
Freedom was a gradual process of securing rights. On that fateful Friday morning, the first day in August 1838, our forebears assumed the full right to work for their own account and enjoy the benefits therefrom, their children could no longer be taken at the master’s pleasure, they no longer faced the threat of the pain of the whip, or the ultimate enforcement, death. They could settle lands and live in peace in their villages. The system, that classified them as property and denied them personhood and agency came to an end. The immoral system that gave legal authority to enslavers to use violence including the deprivation of life to force and subjugate our ancestors to submit came to an end.
In setting aside today, we stand, as our ancestors stood, looking back at the brutality and violence meted out to us, and rejecting it, and looking forward at the boundless opportunities of our freedom, determined to realize them. The passage of time can erase the profundity of our historic experience, leading us to take for granted or even forget our connections to the past. The danger of forgetfulness is to repeat the danger we forgot. Isn’t it ironic that we as a people who suffered under systematic violence and brutality inflicted by enslavers, we are now inflicting violence on ourselves and depriving our own people of freedom. I am certain that Sam Sharpe would be very disappointed at how pervasive and acceptable violence has become in society and culture. Indeed, violence is systematic in our social transactions:
- in how we discipline our children, we beat them to teach right from wrong, but in doing so we teach them that the only way to correct a wrong is through the application of pain – violence,
- in our intimate partner relations, violence, spousal battering often by men and often leading to the murder of entire families,
- in domestic matters, family members escalating simple disputes to loss of life,
- in our community interactions, the proverbial stepping on the toe in the dance leading to harm, and even death, creating an unending cycle of retaliation.
- in our music and cultural expressions that claim only to reflect but end up projecting and promoting violence,
However, what would be incomprehensible to Sam Sharpe, would be the organized violence of gangs and dons against their own people. Yes…the new oppressors, denying our people their freedom, the new slavery masters who use the gun instead of the whip, to extort hardworking Jamaicans of their earnings, to demand daughters as tribute from their mothers, and recruit our sons into the murderous gangs, to drive fear into entire communities through threat of pain and the enforcement of death.
Today, in as much as we celebrate the beginning of our freedom from enslavement, we are also celebrating the end of the violent system that oppressed our forefathers. We must never forget that, not as motivation to hate, but as a reminder to love and respect ourselves. The enslavers dehumanized our forefathers, as chattel, property, not entitled to love, or dignity, or the inviolability of their physical being, in order to justify the use of violence on them. Unfortunately, we are seeing an emerging culture that dehumanize and objectify our people and devalue their life. There is a growing lack of respect of the inviolability and sanctity of the physical human form and the right to life. This creates a permissible attitude to wantonly use violence against each other in our society.
The violence inflicted on us as a people in our history should not be allowed to imprint itself in a patterned behavior of self-hate. It was the recognition of our humanity, our equality, our dignity and love for our people that lead forefathers like Sam Sharpe to resist the system of enslavement. The emancipation that resulted was not merely that we are free to do as we wish, our freedom must evolve to a deeper understanding and respect for rights and responsibility, both for ourselves and others.
Today as we examine our past, let us take lessons from it to address the epidemic of violence that face us.
Today, lets us commit to emancipate our communities from the criminal gangs and dons that take away the freedom of our people cowering under their beds in fear. Free yourself of the notion that the violent criminal gangs cannot be brought to end. Resist them by using the trustworthy channels to provide information to the authorities. Your government is working assiduously to erode the criminal gangs and dons and with your help we will bring their tyranny to an end.
Today, we must commit to teaching our children to respect life and the inviolability of the person. Physical pain doesn’t have to be inflicted to get compliance and brutality never rights a wrong.
Today, let us dismiss this foolish notion that violence is a demonstration of love
Today, let us commit to being kinder, gentler, more patient, and more civil with each other.
Today, let us emancipate ourselves from violence.