The observance of emancipation is an important part of nation building today for several reasons. Progress in an ex-colonial, multi-ethnic society with a history of virulent racism requires psychological healing for deep wounds. Our society cannot mature and heal while we all carry the burdens of slavery buried in the deepest recesses of our minds and consciousness. The descendants of the enslaved are burdened by shame, self-doubt even self-hatred. The descendants of slave owners carry the weight of guilt mixed with rationalising notions of superiority and missionary accomplishment. They express resentment at being identified with the deeds of their fore-parents. Other immigrant groups have absorbed the myths and had their place in the social structure defined in important ways by the folklore of a society rooted in the slave experience.
We cannot as a nation overcome the shackles until all can look back and first of all acknowledge the historical reality of that shameful period called chattel slavery, the grievous wrong and the pain as well as the triumphs of the human spirit. The psychological tendency of whites and Africans to pretend it did not happen, for different reasons, preserves the sickness that slavery produced. We cannot build a nation under a veil of hypocrisy, hiding important truths about ourselves. We need to face them and affirm the society's commitment to purging the legacy of the period. We do not have to fear the horror of the past. We have to draw the appropriate lessons from it and dedicate ourselves to building a society that will never again tolerate such an evil.
Further we need to develop an awareness of historical context that balances the episode of post-Columbus slavery against a longer-range view of the evolution of man and civilization. Emancipation is an important period for self-analysis by the nation. The act of emancipation in 1838 was the initiation of a process, a jumpstart on the road to Freedom and national development. We need from time to time to examine our society, check the landmarks along the long road we have travelled from bondage, reassess our goals and achievements as we strive to build a free, just and egalitarian society. Emancipation naturally puts a national focus on the African community. In the right environment this presents the opportunity for other groups in the society to develop a better understanding of Africans thus solidifying the basis for racial harmony in our nation.
Harmony can only be achieved through the development of mutual respect and understanding. For Africans themselves, who have the strongest emotional ties to emancipation, the occasion is one for deepening self-knowledge and re-building self-esteem. Emancipation provides us with an opportunity to pay tribute to indigenous heroes throughout the region who organized, struggled and sacrificed to make us free, those whose names are known such as Toussaint, Dessalines, Boukman, Cuffy, Nanny, Daaga, and the many nameless ancestors who sometimes paid the ultimate price. We can celebrate the heroism of all those whose fortitude in the face of horror has made our existence possible, with due credit to those who took up the battle in Europe as well. The recognition of heroes is an important aspect of national inspiration and identity.
Because of the nature of slavery this recognition adds to a sense of Caribbean identity. Generally, the annual emancipation is of regional and hemispheric significance. The islands of Trinidad and Tobago, under yoke of Chattel Slavery, were flyspecks in the much wider web of bondage that entangled the Western Hemisphere for 400 years. Before 1838 only the Haitians had succeeded in breaking the yoke. This was part of the consciousness of our fore-parents. During the 19th century the celebrants of emancipation in the English- speaking Caribbean added to the wider significance of their freedom by championing the cause of those who were still enslaved in the United States and territories held by other European powers in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Looking at our immediate concern, the date August 1st is directly significant to all of the English-speaking Caribbean and it can therefore be one more rallying point for regional unity. At present six territories have emancipation holidays on that date. On the global scale success in the movement to bring an end to chattel slavery represented a turning point in the relations between peoples of the greatest international significance. The period of chattel slavery represented the lowest moral debasement of man ever on such a wide scale. Its abolition was an act of moral liberation for all of humanity. (Extract from ESC publication, History and Relevance of Emancipation)