None but ourselves can free our minds
On August Monday, August 3rd 2015, Dominicans celebrate the emancipation of slavery with a public holiday and no event of major significance. And very few nationals will care enough about emancipation to spare a thought about the day when that brutal political and economic system was made illegal.
Few will contemplate the mental and economic state of black people in Dominica nearly 200 years after slavery was abolished on August 1st 1834. But, make no mistake, the effects of slavery are still alive and well in Dominica; its residues are permanently imbedded in our thoughts, words and action especially in the political and economic dimension of our society. It is obvious that mental slavery has not been abolished.
Nevertheless each and all of us must try to break the chains of mental slavery by our own actions. As Bob Marley, the legendary Jamaican reggae singer reminds us in his hit song "Redemption Song" we must "emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because while others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind". Another great Jamaican, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, called for a new "Negro Spirit": for the building of a common experience of black people as the foundation of a strong and healthy nation. Garvey believed strongly that if black people are to emancipate themselves from mental slavery, they must establish a new sense of self and engage in a critical transformation of the mind. As we stated in an editorial a few years ago Rex Nettleford, the late Caribbean intellectual, said Garvey has challenged black Caribbean people to smash the old stereotype, to substitute self esteem for self contempt, to put self confidence and self reliance in the place of dependence and self distrust. In other words "break the chains of mental slavery" as the theme of the Cultural Division's programme for Emancipation 2015 states.
So, how far have we travelled on the journey of a million miles towards freedom? Not very far, may be a few yards. Even economic freedom has eluded us for two hundred years after slavery. And although we obtained political independence from Britain, our former slave masters, on November 3rd 1978, the struggle for economic emancipation has only just begun. It is a painful fact that it may be much more difficult to obtain the status of economic emancipation than to break off the chains of slavery.
In fact, many persons are of the view that instead of moving forward on the road to freedom we have indeed taken a few steps backward. They recall the period of the Seventies, during the black power movement, when black people worldwide struggled earnestly to become psychologically free. But now black Dominicans have retrogressed. That movement backwards is obvious in the way we now dress, the way we wear our hair like Caucasians, the foods that we eat and the cultural norms that we emulate. Black, it seems, is no longer beautiful; few individuals can claim to be comfortable with the black power slogan "I'm black and I'm proud". The number of young and old ladies who wear wigs these days, made of Caucasian or Indian hair, indicates to us that evidence of mental slavery in 2015 is as ubiquitous as the cellphone.
On Emancipation Day 2015, therefore, we should evaluate the methods that our government and our people are willing to utilize to erase the current dependency syndrome that, unfortunately, is a carry-over from the days of slavery. Today our government, and particularly our Prime Minister, has become an expert beggar. He flies frequently from capital to capital soliciting financial assistance for schools, hospitals, roads and jobs for unemployed youth. But Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, and others before him, have not convinced Dominicans that collectively, we have to develop our country by our own blood, sweat and tears instead of persistently holding our hands out to Cuba, Venezuela, the Peoples Republic of China, Morocco or anyone else who would give us a dollar or two. How long can this continue? Why are we so proud to be beggars?
It is our duty and responsibility to continue our slow but upward progress towards economic independence; otherwise we will forever remain international beggars. We must encourage Dominicans to muse on the Greek proverb that advises us that "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." In other words, the struggle for economic independence may not be attained in our lifetime but our generation must set it in motion one block at a time.
On Emancipation Day we must also recognise that we need to take small and decisive steps to emancipate ourselves from the mental, spiritual and emotional shackles which allow us to tolerate domestic violence, political corruption and cronyism. We need to find ways to emancipate ourselves from the thought processes and the residues of slavery that allow us to believe that foreign music is better than our own; that products manufactured in foreign lands are superior to local ones; that we have to pull others down so that we can climb; that local investors cannot access the wherewithal to exploit our geothermal energy resources; that we have to shed blood to have fair general elections untainted by mega-bucks; that politicians are gods worthy of our adoration.
On Emancipation Day we must discuss ways of getting out of the mindset which prevents us from making significant progress on issues such as the creation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and the acceptance of the Caribbean Court of Justice throughout CARICOM. On that special day we should also consider the malaise which prevents Caribbean people from having a shared vision, a set of goals and values to which we will all aspire and which will eventually lead us towards the dreams of our forefathers.
We in Dominica need, indeed we must, "emancipate ourselves from mental slavery" but then "none but ourselves can free our minds".