Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, August 2, 2010

No peace without freedom

You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom. -Malcolm X

Dear Zayda

Today, we have a public holiday in Jamaica. On August 1, 1838, slaves got their freedom – on paper, anyway. Many still await the peace that should come with freedom.

In May of this year, Jamaica had a State of Emergency (SOE) that took away our paper freedom for a while. Many seemed so relieved to find themselves slaves again, that they begged for the SOE to continue. People seemed to want the SOE to be spread everywhere in Jamaica, and to continue for months (if not forever).

Now we deserve to have peace in Jamaica or anywhere else in the world where we find ourselves. However, most of the last fifty years, Jamaica’s murder rate has kept climbing. Last year the murder rate was the highest here and I think the highest in the world as well. So we have a problem. A big problem. People feel afraid in their homes, at their jobs, on the streets, in their cars – just about everywhere. So you can understand why a lot of people welcomed the breathing space that the SOE brought.

Under the SOE the police could lock up people or demand that they stay inside their homes. If people thought the police were treating them unfairly, they could not go to a court to get justice. Even without an SOE, the police can stop people from leaving their homes. The police say they don’t want people getting in their way when they search for guns and wrongdoers. In some other countries, police realize they need the people’s help to be more pointed in their searches. Not surprisingly, Jamaican police seem to find few guns and wrongdoers even when people give up their rights for these searches.

Those who are enslaved often have no voice. They may be afraid to speak out for fear of what might happen to them, or they try to smile and seem happy to keep on good terms with the slave master. Many keep silent (and insist on silence from others) while they plot revenge. However, some stories do manage to get out.

For example, William works as a gardener. His job is important to him as he supports includes his mother, his children, and a wife who has lupus. Last Saturday, the police locked down his community, and they would not allow anyone to leave for any reason. So William and others lost income they would have earned that day. Apart from putting food on the table, many also had school fees to pay by the end of this month,

Two weeks ago, when the police last locked down William’s community, he risked his life by defying police orders. He jumped fences and gullies to leave his area and reach work. One of his employers needed to call the police to make sure William could return to his family without being arrested. Anyone who did not have an identification card (like the “free paper” in slavery) could be locked up.

Another young man, Jason, was about to be interviewed for a job when the police held him. He spent days in a filthy cell where there was barely space to sit on the floor and none to lie down to sleep. He lost the job because he didn’t turn up for the interview, and because the business place didn’t want to hire anyone whom the police locked up.

As in slavery, thousands of young men lost their freedom before, during, and since the SOE without proof that they did anything wrong. The police took them by the truckloads, fingerprinted and photographed them (similar to the way slaves were branded with hot irons). During the SOE, the police held 4,200 persons, and charged about 20. We do not have any way of knowing how many of those charged will be found guilty of any offence.

Young men like William and Jason are not at peace because they are still to know what freedom means. They feel afraid of the police. In addition, they have no way to protect their homes – no grills, heavy doors, or private security services. Gangs can break down their doors or catch them on unlit streets. So they are afraid of gangs as well.

The slave masters, for all their wealth and protection, feared slave uprisings. Similarly, those who act like modern slave masters fear the anger that shows itself in Jamaica as crime. The better off and the worse off are indeed united as well as divided by the fears that have both sides in chains.

So after 172 years, we still need to emancipate ourselves. This time, as Marcus Garvey said and Bob Marley repeated, we need to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.

Be free, my grandniece. Be free.


Your shangazi


Oshunlady said...

Excellent article! Excellent! Thank you.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Oshunlady, thanks much for your comment. Blessings, Yvonne


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at