Atonement, apology, restoration
Bermudians will soon celebrate Emancipation Day, a recognition of the freeing of enslaved people in Bermuda in 1834.
A few weeks ago, Americans celebrated Juneteenth, that country’s recognition of the eventual freeing of enslaved people in 1865. This year it was inscribed in law as a national holiday.
Why are many of us, as descendants of the enslaved, so comfortable showing thankfulness for being set free from persons who had no right to enslave us in the first place? And why are we so comfortable celebrating “freedom” from events that should have never occurred while many of us, as descendants of the enslavers, are so comfortable acknowledging an “Emancipation Day” for the formerly enslaved from their enslavers but deny all relationships and connections to the atrocious attitudes, actions and events of the past?
We all are born free. The enslaver did not free us. Presidents, kings and queens, and others in self-declared power did not favour us with the rights of emancipation. But when we “celebrate” freedom we reinforce that someone else, at another time, possessed the right to deny us our rights and freedoms and we are so happy that they have given it back.
When we “celebrate” emancipation, we reinforce the acceptance that other persons had the self-appointed ability to legislate for the denial or granting of our natural rights; and we are so proud to have fought for and won something that was ours in the first place.
My caveat is that I am not a fan of the designation of Emancipation Day during Cup Match. In my opinion Cup Match is Cup Match — a trailblazing sporting event with its own history, merit and heroes. The evolution of Cup Match is more of a banner for courage, defiance, love and the everlasting resilience of persons of African ancestry; not of “favours” given.
To be clear, I immensely enjoy our Cup Match and the celebration around it. It seems, therefore, important that if one day must be designated as “Emancipation Day”, and celebrated by all, that all sides of the “emancipation” issue should involve themselves in some way to reflect, respect, remember and correct the effects of the flawed thoughts and atrocities of the past.
In that context, it is my opinion that we — Bermudians all — are not yet ready to celebrate “emancipation”.
A “celebration” of freedom and emancipation by the descendants of those who were enslaved is meaningful only with a balance of a “declaration” involving acknowledgement, apology, atonement and restoration from the descendants of those who enslaved. Otherwise, “Emancipation Day” is just a useless, one-sided and contrived celebration.
Acknowledgement, apology and atonement are needed so that the world discontinues the abhorrent practice of the denial of persons’ inalienable right to be free. Atonement is needed so that Bermuda can come to terms with all sides of the enslavement issue that has left this country deficient because it has rejected and denied much of the immense potential that could have made it a much happier, healthier, more peaceful and efficacious place than it is at present.
Slaveholding families benefited from Emancipation. They were financially compensated for the loss of their slaves. When the descendants of enslaved Africans entertain emancipation celebrations, the descendants of the enslavers get to quietly continue accepting the beneficial, financial and societal positions and privileges that their ancestors were granted without acknowledgement of any past and present participation; without the requirement of an apology or any considerations of restoration.
Negative attitudes regarding the lack of morals, behaviours, intelligence and ability of the formerly enslaved were formally and perpetually instilled in the psyche of the families of the enslavers. These attitudes remain intact and still impact too many cases until this day,
Chattel slavery didn’t just happen. It was a devious plan meant to be everlasting. While there were at least two sides involved, only one side publicly acknowledges the past and some continuing situations. Only one side called for recognition that the entire abhorrent process came to an end and only one side acknowledges the damages that past injustices have caused or the restoration efforts required for the country to heal.
In that case, is Bermuda really ‘emancipated’? Are descendants of both the enslaved and the enslavers really “free” — physically, morally, socially, psychologically and economically — from the effects and impacts of chattel slavery?
Or is the linking of Cup Match to “Emancipation Day” just a suitable avoidance of responsibility, atonement, apology and restoration?