Emancipation for all
DR. ERNEST MASSIAH
Published: Aug 14, 2013
“Am I not a man and a brother?” Few of us will remember where this phrase comes from, but we will celebrate the passing of the Emancipation Act. Emancipation from slavery – a system that said black people, transported from Africa, were not equal, not fully developed as humans, and therefore could be whipped, sold, raped and killed. One of the questions posed to those supporting slavery was this: Are all men not equal? And, do they not have rights? Were they not our brothers?
Today, we know that we are all brothers. We have different racial heritages, but we know that difference does not justify being beaten or killed.
We even accept, without thinking, that we all have rights as citizens. No longer can we be denied justice or opportunity because of our race. A law was changed, in the face of great opposition, to grant freedom to all Caribbean people burdened by slavery. On August 1 we will celebrate the changing of that law and freedom from arbitrary arrest, loss of property, beating and killing.
But, on August 2 we will go back to a system that remains silent when someone is beaten and killed because they are different: because they have a different sexuality. Or sexual behavior. Or they dress differently. Why do hate and violence because someone is gay or lesbian become acceptable in an emancipated Caribbean? And, why is there silence when beatings and killings occur? Are we really emancipated?
It is not okay to kill someone because you don’t agree with their choice of partner, or their sexuality. Just as it was not okay to enslave, beat or kill another human being in the pre-Emancipation era. Events in the region over the past week emphasize that prejudice can quickly escalate to the loss of life.
Two weeks ago two men were killed in Port au Prince, Haiti. Three days later a teenager in St. James, Jamaica was beaten, stabbed and shot to death by some patrons at a party. They were killed because of their perceived sexuality, their way of dress. But they were someone’s child, cousin, friend, neighbor. They were our brothers.
We differ by race, color, gender, class. All Caribbean societies know how those distinctions have been used to divide families and people. We have struggled to counter those hatreds. Why then, in 2013, is violence against gay people still acceptable? Are they not our brothers?
These acts were extreme, but not isolated. They are an expression of a wider climate of anger. They point to a willingness to judge. The challenge before us is to consistently treat others with respect, regardless of difference.
Governments and the police must send a clear message that violence against our gay brothers will not be tolerated. That is the Emancipation message that must be heard in 2013: that our leaders, our governments, are not scared to free us from laws that make us unequal.
• Dr. Ernest Massiah is UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support team director. Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.