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The black struggle for emancipation

Monday, August 13, 2018

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Jamaica's Emancipation rebellion of August 1, 1831 was a major event in the continuous slave rebellions in which our black ancestors fought continuously to regain their stolen freedom. That day, some 20,000 slaves attacked 200 plantations. It wasn't until sometime in 1832 that Britain finally managed to contain this rebellion.

Black Jamaican people from the beginning of slavery gallantly resisted oppression. People from the Akan tribe of Ghana, the Coromantee maroons, my ancestors, were active in this fight. Queen Akan Nanny, Nanny of the Coromatee Maroons, from Ghana, was among the leading lights. From slavery was established in Jamaica there have been continuous Maroon rebellions. Slavery was more and more becoming a costly affair for the British Crown.

The Haitian Revolution of August 21, 1791, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, was the first successful anti-slavery rebellion.

In America, slave rebellions, and the moral repugnance of slavery as a institution, split the colonial states and gave rise to the American Civil War of 1861-1865.

Meanwhile, in Jamaica, on August 1, 1834 the British Crown was forced to abolish slavery throughout her brutal domain. August 1 is, therefore, the official date for Emancipation Day, but injustice in Jamaica still continued. Things got to a boiling point in 1865 with the Sam Sharpe rebellion.

'The Amritsar massacre', in Amritsar, India, on April 13, 1919 — in which 1,000 people were killed and 1,500 wounded — was but one example that it had not been a new 'moral transformation' that had taken place by the British Crown. The same was true in Africa and all parts of the world where slavey had been established, where post-slave societies, just like in Jamaica, suffered under brutal colonialism as well as political and economic oppression. Racism and cultural dehumanisation was the norm.

In America, for example, the end of slavery led to the emergence of a so-called Jim Crow system in which black people were denied their rights. By the 1960s a system of overt racial segregation gave way to more modern, subtle forms of racism in America. Today, though, we are withessing the reassertion of this racist mentality by some leaders and members of the American society.

For Jamaica, the evolution, as a slave society, continued with entrenched privileges reserved for the white people and the brown-skinned middle class, the mulattoes, the direct offspring of the slave owners. These mulattoes were given administration of power to protect entrenched privileges and, in most instances, served the interests of the traditional oppressors.

Marcus Garvey's influence

The political leadership of the black working class had made a giant leap forward when, in the early 1900s, Marcus Garvey became an intellectual giant and moral leader of an international movement for the true affirmation of black dignity, political and economic emancipation, and human rights.

On July 15, 1914 Marcus Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which became a true international movement for human rights and justice. Freedom fighters such as Mahatma Ghandi, Kwame Nkrumah, Elijah Muhammad, Nelson Mandela, among others were significantly influenced by Marcus Garvey.

At home, despite his international acceptance, the British Crown and their lackeys fought the Garveyite, black consciousness movement. Garvey's anti-colonial, People's Political Party, formed in Jamaica in 1929, made significant strides but never gained national political power.

There were many other foot soldiers in Jamaica's fight for true national struggle, including Stennett Kerr Coombs, St William Grant, Aggie Bernard, Hugh Buchanan, A G S “Father” Coombs, William Emanuel Rumble, and Ken McNeill Sr. Lambert McDonald, from Epsom, St Mary, whose father and mother were Coromantee Maroons, was another grass roots leader and follower of Marcus Garvey. He created a political clan that was influenced by his black consciousness and moral convictions. He was actively involved as a political organiser in the 1930s upheaval in St Mary. He then took his skills to St Andrew, where he became a political organiser for the People's National Party and for Prime Minister Norman Manley. Later, on one of his sons, Professor Sheldon “Uwezo” McDonald, carried the bright torch lighting the path to self-upliftment of the Jamaican and Caribbean people.

Rebellions

In general, the turn of the 19th century saw many strikes by longshore men on the waterfront. Major political upheaval continued from the 1900s until the 1960s. This was also true internationally as the inherently untenable, oppressive conditions of life created a direct manifestation of global upheavals.

Colonialism and its capitalist trappings saw a dramatic rise in the anti-colonial movement. Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean became midwives guiding the painful birth to many potentially, newly independent nation states.

For Jamaica, the 1938 rebellions was another major flashpoint. This set the stage for the birth of Jamaica's modern political system. Two major institutions were formed: the People's National Party, in 1938, and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, in 1943.

By the 1960s Jamaica became a smoldering volcano waiting to erupt. Political upheaval, such as the 1963 Coral Gardens Rastafarian riots and the 1968 'Black Power' Walter Rodney riots were key flashpoints in this political integument; this bubbling cauldron of sharply accentuated social, political, economic and cultural struggle.

Racial discrimination

Political power was transferred to the Jamaican people in 1962. From the British Crown, however, the oppressive political, social, economic, and cultural status of the Jamaican black people did not change. Queen Elizabeth II still remained head of State, with powers exercised through a governor general.

Overall, Jamaica still remained a society dominated by minorities. For example, in 1962 there were not many black faces working in Jamaican banks. The same was true for the leadership positions of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Jamaica Defence Force, the civil service, the system of public administration, and all key institutions of political, economic, social and cultural power.

The ownership of business was mostly by white persons, Chinese, Indian, Jews, or Arab community members or high-brown middle-class people. The managerial class was somewhat mixed, but skewed heavily towards the former social, ethnic groups. The management of the police, the army, the civil service, and the business community did not reflect the overall black complexion of 95 per cent of the population.

On a cultural and racial level there was widespread discrimination. Black people did not get good treatment if they had the money and dared to visit a north coast hotel. Even the establishment Anglican and Catholic churches was mostly led by white persons, including foreigners. Education was one way out of this distorted reality.

In the 1960s a very popular Jamaica Labour Party education minister, Edwin Allen, threw a lifeline. He set up a system in which 70 out of every 100 passes for the Common Entrance Examination, to get higher education, went to the children of poor, black parents. Jamaica, meanwhile, had chosen a motto “Out of Many One People.” However, the sufferer classes still remained mostly poor and black.

In 1972 Michael Manley became the new leader of the progressive political movement in Jamaica. There were ups and downs, but many positive gains were achieved by the Jamaican society. Today, this struggle continues.

The political economy of capitalism

Racial, social and economic oppression and discrimination are a bane to human existence. Racism is a psychosis, a sickness of the mind, but it has been — and still remains — an essential part of the political economy of capitalism.

This political economy of capitalism emerged and thrive under slavery and cololonialism.

In my opinion, it would be true to say there is a political economy of racism: It is not just a mentality, a state of mind, it is a political economy of injustice. In the very essence, its essential purpose is to perpetuate and maintain wealth holders, and profit takers, who historically were white.

This being true, then there is a perverse expectation that those who historically dominate human society ought to do so in perpetuity. In this context, they should and ought to have at their service to work in low-wage jobs, giving cheap labour, a majority of dehumanised, defranchised, oppressed people — black, Latinos, Asians, and other people of colour. Any challenge to this bêtes noires, this existing dehumanising state of affairs, is then perceived as dangerous and unacceptable.

Struggle for human dignity

The November 8, 2004 election of President Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States was a frightening phenomenon for people who are ingrained with the racist psychosis, with this ingrained racist mentality. We, therefore, are witnessing a phenomenal backlash, which has affected the immigrant community; but it calls on us all to be even more assertive in our peaceful struggles for a better way of life.

Let us also remember that the struggle of the Jamaican people — like many other people of the world, be they immigrants or not — continues to be a part of an international movement to reaffirm human dignity for people who are striving for a better way of life. This struggle will continue in hiatus, with ups and downs, but is unstoppable!

Here, in America, Lebron James, with his I Promise School, is a leading luminary in a continued struggle to reaffirm human dignity. This is a struggle in which all well-thinking people need to get involved.

Norris McDonald is a former research associate at Joint Trade Union Research Institute. He has over 40 years' experience in journalism and social research and is a member of the Jamaica Press Association. He is a former editorial writer for the Money Index and The Jamaica Record and a poet. Send comments to the Observer or miaminorris@yahoo.com.

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