Meanwhile yuh dancin to dis musik
And tryin to figure out these lyrics
Meanwhile yuh drinkin and havin fun
de revolution a come
Betta be a part a de solution
Dis mite be di final confrontation
Betta awake to dis reality
Dis is no time to lose yuh sanity
Any Which Way…Freedom, Mutabaruka
The smell of rotting sugar hangs over the Priority Bus Route like a ghostly reminder of times past.
It mingles with the more industrial smells of cars and burning copper.
The drains are dark brown into dark green, into plastic shiny silver in the early morning sunlight. Depending on what pollution the companies on the right side of the Bus Route are kind enough to share with the people of Beetham Gardens.
Emancipation Day comes and the smell of rum hangs like the spirits of all those angry restless ancestors.
Freedom, it seems, does not extend to the ability for some sections of our society to be able to breathe clean air.
Freedom does not mean that you have a right to enjoy the fact that massa day is done. And the bush that once lured your ancestors away from plantations is yours to roam free in whenever you please.
One hundred and seventy years later I am still trying to make sense of freedom on the Emancipation weekend.
One hundred and seventy years is much more than people can begin to imagine.
In the immediacy of these times, in the up-to-the-minute news and readily available everything-in-the-moment technology, yesterday seems like a faraway time and place.
One hundred and seventy years could very well be prehistoric times to young people who don’t have a sense of the presence far less for the past.
It seems like all celebrations are doomed to lose sight of what they really represent the further away from the event you go.
So Christmas becomes a reason to drink and eat to excess and Emancipation becomes a day to spend a lot of money to look like a free person.
And while the celebration continues and a holiday is a day for enjoying the fruits of one’s labours, who is really considering what it means to be free?
And in the same way that political leaders take an opportunity to dress up and pretend they care, and companies who don’t bother to support education programmes, never mind Emancipation programmes, put on big sales to sell pretty African fabric made in China, you have to wonder who are we pretending this sense of freedom for?
Too besides, do we really understand what it is to have chain-free ankles? Who knows that massa day is done? Who has switched physical chains for enslavement to a job and a house and a car?
Doomed to fail, for sure. Doomed to be forever divided between an underclass that has neither motivation nor means to improve and a black elite so profoundly terrified of being thought to be black, whatever that is.
The complication now is not the chains on the feet or the amount of work to be done. But how to find the fine line between not black enough for the masses and too black to be socially acceptable.
So you resolve to enslave yourself to the things that now count as acceptable masters. To conspicuous consumption. To big gold chains or designer shoes. To a way of thinking and being that convinces you that you belong.
You have to wonder if freedom is some bizarre notion that only exists for some people and not for others. Because the way this society operates, it’s as if some people have more of a right to be free.
Some people have more of a right to enjoy this country while others feel they have a right to stop them from enjoying it.
They set us up that way and left it like that for us to wallow in our hierarchies and stereotypes forever.
Here every creed and race find an equal place but there is no solidarity. Only the Africans celebrate the fact that they are free. Only the Indians celebrate the fact that they arrived. What is the point of being cosmopolitan if we can’t even be bothered to share our triumphs and our failures?
What is the point of being happy for yourself and no-one else?
In the stink of my own rubbish and the stink of rotting molasses and the horror of buildings that say that I am better than I used to be, I wonder if it isn’t a Pyrrhic sort of victory, if a victory at all, when there are plenty who are convinced that you should still be in chains.