Unlike in many countries where people of African descent have continued to be “trapped” by institutional racism, in TT, emancipation holds a true meaning, according to the Prime Minister.
In his Emancipation Day address, Dr Rowley said slavery existed in Africa before the Europeans arrived, but they turned the continent’s west coast into an organised export enterprise. The Atlantic Slave Trade became profitable for Europe, spurring economic development and living standard advantages. But it marked the darkest period in modern history where slaves were stripped of their humanity, including their personalities, names, religion, and identities.
He summarised one writer who suggested that, since emancipation, “new world”– Africans were still struggling. They were trying to heal their wounds and “re-make themselves” but are “trapped” by the effects of a post-traumatic slave syndrome and walls of institutional racism. Their positive contributions and accomplishments were still being overlooked and under-appreciated, while negative connotations were applied to them whether applicable or not.
But in TT, he said, “We are no man’s property, but part of humanity. There are no limits to what we can become. Afro-Trinidadians do not see themselves as mentally, physically, culturally, or spiritually inferior.
“The world sees Afro-Trinidadians, not as descendants of slaves, but as proud, assertive, confident and colourful personalities. We have gone on to that world stage, making outstanding contributions in every aspect – the professional, creative, sporting, and all other fields.”
Rowley encouraged citizens to pay attention to “the manoeuvrings” following the death of Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse, on July 7, “remembering too that it was the defeat in that country which shocked European powers.”
He reminded people to be mindful of the “deadly potential of covid19,” and the calls for reparations for slavery “particularly in light of how the covid19 vaccines were appropriated by the developed world.”
“Since Emancipation, Afro-Trinidadians have lived peacefully alongside those who came at different times, in different ships, with different traditions and world views. Importantly, our democratic tradition holds to the resolution of conflict through some measure of compromise.”
Giving the example of conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia, he added that, in recent times, there had been an increasing deterioration of long-cherished traditions of tolerance and compromise.
“May this day bring you a renewed spirit and determination to make tomorrow better than it was today for all of us and our future generations.”