“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds…” Bob Marley (Redemption Song – 1980)
One hundred and seventy-five years ago African slaves who had been brought to this part of the world were freed ‒ some four years after the Slavery Abolition Act was passed ‒ from that abominable condition which effectively dehumanized both the masters and the enslaved.
History teaches us that human beings were stolen, bartered, bought and sold. They were chained to ensure they didn’t escape. They were brought far away from their homelands on long, gruelling sea journeys. They became the property of other humans who used them as they saw fit. They were worked to the bone, barely clothed and fed, whipped at will, denied the opportunity to worship and denied an education; they were seen as having no status and no rights. Those who enslaved them were not that different. Blinded by prejudice, they saw people, who looked just like them, save for the colour of their skin, as chattels and beneath them.
It took rebellions by the slaves and unstinting work by abolitionists, who were among the earliest human rights activists, to bring about change – an end to what was the most horrific, cruel and inhumane act in the world. And it did not end easily.
One hundred and seventy-five years later, just how free are we? And just what are we celebrating? Physical slavery—whereby one human being has absolute power and control over another and controls his/her life, liberty, and fortune has been abolished and is now illegal. However, total subjugation of one person by another is a form of bondage isn’t it? And this exists in work situations, in relationships, in marriages and often forms the basis of domestic and other forms of violence.
In Guyana and other parts of the world, people, especially women, are still being bought and sold for sex work and domestic work and are being kept in bondage to ensure the buyers get their money’s worth and then some. But these are all illegal acts for which justice can be sought and meted out.
What of the mental slavery Bob Marley sang about? What about the processes of our minds that keep us in mental bondage? These are the thoughts that bring to the fore our prejudices against and hatred for other people simply because they are different from us. Being of a different race or colour, being less educated, being a woman, having a different sexual orientation, being differently abled does not make a person any less human than we are. And every human deserves to be treated the same, to have the same rights; the same access to health care, education, justice, to work and be paid a decent wage.
When we choose to treat people differently because we perceive them to be unworthy, when we discriminate because we feel they are beneath our status, we are displaying unhealthy signs of mental slavery.
On the flip side, we also display mental slavery when we allow other people to walk all over us because we want to be in good stead with them; or when we allow them to force us to commit unjust acts for money or favours.
Unless we redeem ourselves from ignorance and seek knowledge; until we remove the darkness from our mentality, we will remain oppressed and repressed as a people. There are no masters or governments to blame for this kind of slavery. Only we can free our minds.