In a homily marking the 50th anniversary of the Black Power Revolution earlier this year, Archbishop Jason Gordon delivered a powerful statement: “Today, as Archbishop of Port-of-Spain, I ask forgiveness for the way that we, as church, have not been more diligent about the development of our people: for the ways that we have held prejudice, for the ways that we have been snooty, for the ways that we have not given example to this people of what it is to build a wonderful nation.”
Five decades earlier, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was invaded by angry young people who draped statues in black cloth and condemned the injustices overlooked for decades.
Archbishop Gordon’s example on confessing all the sins of marginalisation, exploitation and ill-concealed discrimination committed in this country should be followed. This is particularly important today as the nation celebrates an Emancipation Day overshadowed by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Today, 186 years after The Emancipation Bill came into effect in the British West Indies, the struggle for true freedom continues. The end of enslavement of Africans on August 1, 1834, did not result in liberation from all forms of bondage. To this day, racism continues to influence, through practices of inequality and exploitation, access to capital, status, political power and prestige. It is a vestige of the past colonial rule still embedded in the national psyche.
This nation escaped some of the more brutal experiences of slavery in other Caribbean islands. However, that does not obviate the scars from and the lingering effects of the brutal transatlantic trade that brought thousands of our ancestors in chains to this region.
T&T can no longer afford to be bound by past lies and destructive agendas that will lead us further away from becoming the powerful multicultural nation, small in size but “overwhelming in worth,” that we are meant to be.
Allowing the vibrant African legacy we celebrate today to be tainted by prejudices, historic and otherwise, hampers T&T’s development. It is time for all citizens to commit to emancipation from those evils.
Inspiration can be drawn from Derek Walcott, who celebrated T&T’s beauty in his Nobel lecture on December 7, 1992: “Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. The glue that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape. It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows its white scars. This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their ancestral places. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent.”
This is the beauty we must show the world. In it resides the power that could set us free.
Happy Emancipation Day.