There is, on the face of it, seemingly no parallel, no connection or relation between the happenings in Charlottesville, Virginia in the United States last month, and the celebration of Jamaica’s Emancipation from slavery, and Independence from British Colonial rule two weeks earlier.
They would, by any stretch of the imagination, be totally unrelated: one was a naked act of bigotry and discrimination which exposed the underbelly of the United States, regarded as the bastion of democracy, and the champion of the free world; and the other was the commemoration of two milestone events in Jamaica’s history which have helped to define and preserve the essence of our freedom from tyranny and oppression, and solidify the historical relevance of our ancestral spirit.
But somehow I found a connecting point recently when I serendipitously tuned in to a sermon by Bishop TD Jakes about freedom. He was speaking about the freedom that is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; and the very freedom which we in Jamaica celebrate through the legacy of our fore parents.
In both historical accounts were the embodiment of the struggles of the ordinary people to tear down the racist hierarchies which were erected to deprive them of the enduring quality of being independent of fate or necessity.
That racist hierarchy may well be under reconstruction in the United States, built on the back of the very freedom it enunciates. A freedom that is preserved by both the Constitution and the Supreme Court even where it violates the sacred creed of its Constitution, based on the principles of equality, justice and humanity.
While the Court recognises that the Government can prohibit speeches that may cause a breach of the peace or promote violence, in practice it is hardly likely that the Supreme Court would find any substantial justification to interfere with that right of individuals — “alt” or otherwise — to honestly express their hate for Jews and Blacks, as the demonstrators in Charlottesville proved.
Bishop Jakes could not have been more poignant in his sermon when he made the distinction between ‘free’ and ‘being free indeed’. As expected, he made reference to the biblical narrative of the freedom of the Israelites from the persecution of the Egyptians, and reminded us that they were free when they escaped, but during their journey they kept looking over their shoulders, they kept looking back.
This was not a figurative ‘looking back’, they were literally looking back because they were being chased by the pharaoh. But it wasn’t until the enemies were engulfed by the Red Sea that the Israelites could be said to be ‘free indeed’.
Which brings us to Jamaica and our recent ‘Emancipendence’ celebrations, and the connection with Charlottesville. For if the images and demonstrations in Charlottesville are a harbinger of the future, then black people in the United States will be both literally and figuratively looking back. Many of them as Jamaicans opted for a chance at economic prosperity overseas, but would be quite petrified to return to Jamaica given the high murder rate. They live in the ‘land of the free and the brave’ but must now question whether they are ‘free indeed’ because of the rise of racism and bigotry; and they are morbidly afraid to return to Jamaica to help in the construction of a democratic, free and prosperous society because they do not feel ‘free indeed’.
We need to fulfil our aspirational goals through the dream of making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business. This is what jazz saxophonist Jackie McLean would have meant in his 1962 recording of the album Let Freedom Ring, and what ultimately was the goal of our national heroes and so many of our unsung heroes who also gave their lives for the cause to not only be ‘free’, but to be ‘free indeed’.
What can we say to those citizens living in war-torn communities that live in fear, have seen their family members murdered and are struggling to find a job? They have to be looking back, looking over their shoulders even although there are laws to provide and guarantee their freedom, but they do not feel ‘free indeed’.
None of us can feel ‘free indeed’ with the murder toll expected to reach 1,500 by the end of the year, when the enemy is no longer the external forces that had imposed their will upon us, but, sad to say, our own people, those living among us and from whom we are all descendants of a common progenitor.
That’s the cruel, ironic twist to all this since our celebration of freedom has not fully embraced the cause to be ‘free indeed’. We have to be looking back literally as we look back metaphorically on the journey of the unfulfilled road to freedom.
And so, we grapple with the thoughts as to what could have brought us here, brought us to a point where we continue to witness the senseless murdering of our citizens and the violent abuse of our women and children. We have to live today, in the midst of our freedom, with the daily episodes of horror and indignity of our women and children that were defining features of our historical circumstances during slavery. And we have to continue to live today, in the midst of our freedom, with the terror and brutality that prevent us from being ‘free indeed’.
There is, of course, the call for us to look much deeper into the source of this problem that has afflicted us ever since we were torn from our African homeland and brought here as slaves. We have to recognise that the painful suffering and brutal anguish we are now experiencing obstruct the enduring freedom that is embodied in the cause we celebrate as ‘emancipendence’.
Beyond the ‘Zones of Special Operations’, we have to draw on the growing body of literature that tell of the repressive feelings associated with slavery and colonial oppression, and the psychologically damaging impact on the mental health and behaviour symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
If we are to lay our burden down then these kinds of study need to move into the mainstream literature, to examine more the circumstances which not only account for the generational legacy of violence, discrimination and marginalisation of black people, which we in Jamaica, and indeed the United States can attest to, but the inherited legacies manifested in our instinct to survive, to be resilient, spiritually strong, and to persevere.
The ‘Unite the Right’ movement in Charlottesville wants to preserve an ‘alternative history’ built on ‘alternative facts’ that has given rise to their very existence. That’s what their struggle is all about. Jamaica’s history is no more than the architecture of a colonial memory framed by a tradition and notion of common sense out of the British metropole. It is also based on ‘alternative facts’.
There is a sense in which our history needs to be framed, a revisionist history that creates the archetype on which as a people we can come to honour the right to life and the dignity and respect which must be shown to each other.
With all else that we need to do in the short to medium term to ensure than in celebrating our independence and emancipation we are ‘free indeed’, a whole new generation needs to be compulsorily taught the correct reinterpretation of the orthodox view of the earliest period of our history so as to provide the context that inspires and motives them to a true sense of themselves.
Whichever leader can rise to the occasion and make us ‘free indeed’ would have earned the title of national hero. Mikko Koivu Jersey

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