August 1st, unofficially Augirst (a play on the day, like Juneteenth, the US equivalent of Emancipation Day celebrated June 19th) marks Emancipation Day across some of the Commonwealth of “Colonial” Nations. Earlier this year, Canada’s House of Commons voted unanimously to designate August 1st Emancipation Day officially. It’s official.
Now for all the symbolism in our refusal to accept enslavement and recognition that the enslavers could no longer continue slavery without consequences, the passing of the Slave Abolition Act in August 1833 never meant real freedom for the enslaved of empire.
So why celebrate a myth? For the state to retell a one-sided narrative (as usual), take credit and celebrate Britain’s role in abolition (but forget Britain’s role in creating the slave trade in the first place)? For corporations to profit from the struggles of racial inequality across the world?
The reality: abolition did not equal emancipation, and it still doesn’t. So one system came to an “end”, and another one began. Rather than marking the beginning of the end of slavery, the abolition Act led to a system upgrade with the empire’s oppression of its colonies and their subjects still in place.
We weren’t free then
After the British Empire formally abolished colonial slavery, the enslaved were forced into ‘apprenticeships’. This was envisaged as four years for the enslaved to learn the skills required for complete freedom. In reality, it meant paying for the cost of their own so-called emancipation for 45 hours of unpaid labour each week. Same “masters”, same conditions, and still no pay. Call that freedom?
And they were never paid; the enslavers were. Following abolition, the enslavers were compensated, not the enslaved. The British Government forked out close to half of the national budget, the modern equivalent of £17bn, to compensate enslavers for the loss of their human property.
So naturally, despite “abolition”, Britain had no problem with those enslaved outside their jurisdiction working to produce goods for them–with imports of slave-produced cotton from the US South growing until “emancipation” in America.
This wealth and wealth produced from slavery was used well after abolition to continue development.
We aren’t free now
For example, the compensation mentioned earlier that resulted from compensating enslavers with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act was a debt the British Government did not pay off until 2015. And our people and other members of the British public were paying the taxes to pay off that debt, which in today’s money would be £17 billion.
Colonialism ruled the world and it still does to this day. Ever since the West dug its claws into Africa and the Caribbean, it has been building and then sustaining its exploitative hold over the continent.
This is why countries stay in the “Colonial” Commonwealth. Most parts of the former colonies are still in a profoundly colonial relationship economically with the UK. With companies like Cadbury’s and Unilever historically procuring ingredients for their products from Africa and Asia. Two of many Western corporations to have grown exceedingly rich through the exploitation of what were then colonies. Nothing has changed except the countries are now formally “emancipated”.
“Africa will not go forward any faster than we [the diaspora] will and we will not go forward any faster than Africa will. We have one destiny“Malcolm X
We’ll never be free
As for the debt we’re owed, though due, it will never be paid. It’s a figure so large it’s impossible to pay. The West can never pay full reparations for slavery to the Rest, without toppling itself. All empires fall, but the odds of them ending themselves through the transference of their wealth?
Under this current violent system, racism is permanent. To paraphrase what Malcolm said, this system cannot produce freedom, justice and equality any more than a chicken can lay a duck egg.
Emancipation Day and the invention of other national vacations that acknowledge Black suffering are a step towards equality (in the system).
Don’t be fooled though, emancipation isn’t here, no matter the number of official holidays that make us think otherwise. Like in Canada, the “freedom” days and what they represent are contingent (yes, we apply pressure) on White people’s consensus and agreement.
Think about that.