Devon Dick | Queen Victoria freedom myth alive
Recently, a 60-odd-year-old tour guide pointed out the statue of Queen Victoria in Nassau and said she gave Bahamians their freedom, hence her statue is prominently located in Parliament Square, a space for political rallies, popular protest and home for legislative buildings in New Providence, Bahamas. The guide, who was born long before Bahamian Independence in 1973, would have been schooled in European myths concerning freedom. Perhaps the guide did not realise that the plaque at the base of the statue stated that Victoria was born in 1837, hence she could not have been involved in the struggle for freedom. The Act of Emancipation was passed in the British Parliament in 1833, four years before Queen Victoria was born! The act would be effective August 1, 1834, three years before Victoria was born and when 'full free' came in 1838 when she was just one year old. The dates prove she had nothing to do with Bahamian freedom.
This myth is not confined to the Bahamas. In Jamaica there is a folk song, 'Jubilee, Jubilee, Queen Victoria set we free'. Even if or ancestors danced and sang this line in 1838, we know better and should stop spreading such myth.
And worse, a few days later, Terrence Morrison, pastor of Zion Baptist Church, the oldest Baptist church in the city of Nassau, took me to take a picture of the Victorian statue. He then invited me to take a picture of the statute of the first Bahamian governor general, Sir Milo Boughton Butler, which was located directly opposite to Queen Victoria's on the other side of the road. This statue of a black man was not in pristine condition like Queen Victoria's. The tour guide did not show us nor mention the Butler statue at all. In fact, the guide passed the Pompey Museum and pointed to it, but nothing about Pompey's contribution to Bahamian emancipation or who he was. The touring party of delegates of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship would not have heard that in 1830, 32-year-old Pompey, as an enslaved person, led a rebellion on a plantation in Exuma.
There are other myths such as the one in the Caribbean school system that Lord Mansfield of England granted freedom to all enslaved persons in England in the ruling in the Somerset case of 1772, when in fact, there were enslaved persons in England legally in the 19th century. It was a myth that after that case, there could be no more enslaved persons in England. Some years ago, I told a CXC history marker about the myth and he said he would not change his position.
STILL IN MENTAL SLAVERY
These myths are allowed to flourish because we continue to make Europeans feel superior to persons of African origin and venerate things European. Hence, we retain a Privy Council some 55 years after Independence on the pretext that British jurisprudence is better than Caribbean jurisprudence. Additionally, many countries, including Jamaica, have Queen Elizabeth of England as head of state and we would frown on having a Jamaican Queen as head of state because we do not 'have royalty in our blood'.
Our being in mental slavery is worse than we think. On Thursday last, I attended a meeting of Toastmasters Club 1600 in the Bahamas and I heard this quote, "Your smile is your logo and your personality is your business card ..." so I decided to research the author. He was Jay Danzie, a former gospel rap artiste. But in my mind, I assumed Danzie was a Caucasian business guru. Obviously, I have internalised these European myths just like that tour guide.
We need to work on our emancipation, 'unbelieving' the myths which we have been taught and have believed.
Today, my son, Duvaughn, celebrates his birthday. I am wishing that he experiences freedom of the mind not bound by the chains of mental slavery. For too many of us, it seems, Emancipation is still coming.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.