Editorials

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery

On August 1, 1834, slaves in The Bahamas were officially emancipated by Great Britain.

For the generations they and their forebears spent in bondage, they were given nothing but their freedom.

Those who owned them were compensated from the British Empire, which garnered incalculable wealth from the blood and labor of people of color throughout the globe.

In her University of The Bahamas Research Edge Working Paper Series, “Slaveholder’s Reparations: The Bahamas Colony”, Dr. Olivia Saunders detailed this event.

“The total number of pay-outs to former slaveholders was 1,057 in the amount of some £126,848.70 in compensation for 10,087 slaves,” Dr. Saunders said.

“This total compensation, using prevailing Retail Price Indices up to 2017, is equivalent to £11,588,494.36. In terms of investment value, the 2017 equivalent is £342,031,365.63.”

Again, the slaves got nothing and were given little choice in having to complete a four-year apprenticeship to “assimilate them into freedom”, meaning slaves were not fully free until 1838.

And even though the slaves were free, their journey to become human beings recognized as fully participant in society and deserving the dignity of their white counterparts was far from over.

It would take more than another 100 years for that to occur.

Until 1953, there were no political parties in The Bahamas, which changed with the formation of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).

Until 1959, only men who owned property valued at over £200 at the time were eligible to vote in an electoral process that was widely considered corrupt due to its limitation of the electorate to mostly white men and a host of undemocratic practices, such as plural voting.

It was not until 1961 that women won the right to vote.

And though the PLP gained the most votes in the 1962 general election, the United Bahamian Party, formed in response to the PLP to protect the stranglehold on political and economic power of the white minority, gained the most seats.

We gained a new constitution in 1964 which further balanced the scales of democracy.

And in 1967, The Bahamas achieved Majority Rule when the PLP formed the government.

It was an event that would bring about many ups and downs, but undoubtedly also brought about a new nation and a remarkable, rapid transformation, and widespread upward mobility, in our country.

We offer this brief overview of our medium-term history to illuminate what we have achieved as a country.

Many races, many nationalities and cultures have contributed to the development of The Bahamas.

But what is undeniable is that the descendants of slaves, who gave everything for nothing in return, have been at the forefront of engineering the advancement of the masses for over 50 years.

Today, there are no shackles on the arms and legs of our people.

We are free to go where we choose, live how we choose, love who we choose and vote for whom we choose.

We have universal education, free up to the tertiary level.

We have grown the gross domestic product from $390 million in 1967 to around $12 billion today.

As a country, we have done it through maintaining a stable democracy, sound monetary policy and continuing to empower Bahamians.

Unfortunately, there has also been a worrying increase in crime and persistently stubborn economic inequality since Majority Rule.

A scourge of drugs and corruption tested us and set some back, but we continue to move forward as a nation.

Escalating debt, a lack of confidence in elected officials and a diminishing of the sense of accountability and neighborliness we once held dear are certainly issues we struggle with.

However, we are equipped to deal with the challenges, if we resolve to meet them head on together.

Too many people today look to their own lack of personal achievement as the failure of governments to secure their individual livelihoods.

Too many glibly point to others as the blame for their lack of hard work and enterprise.

They are limited by the dearth of their imaginations, their own inertia and are easily distracted by carnival barkers who peddle unworkable solutions that fail under the scrutiny of sunlight.

For them, the chains of mental slavery still exist.

In the words of Bob Marley, “none but ourselves can free our mind”.

Look to your ancestors, who clawed and scraped for life, honor and property.

Gather your courage, summon your strength and remember the songs of freedom that brought us this far.

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