“We don’t treat our Haitian brothers and sisters the way we should based on the price they paid for us to even imagine freedom.” – Natasha Lightfoot speaking at the launch of her book Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation January 2nd 2015 at the Public Library.
Dr. Lightfoot was speaking of our Haitian brothers and sisters, the very ones who imagined freedom, fought for and won it, in the process showing all still in bondage what was possible. The opening of that window of possibility – where enslavement was not the pre-destined fate for every African in the Western world – is something, she suggested, for which Haiti is still paying (beyond the reparations they were forced, in the ultimate example of historical irony, to pay to France, their colonizers).
Haiti was not the theme of her presentation but, in the free ranging discussion that followed the introduction of her book, she referenced it as the most significant rebellion/revolution of its kind in the west, perhaps globally, for its time. I reference it here as an introduction to what I believe to be the theme of her book (as yet unread) that after freedom the real work of being free, in a society not built to accommodate the idea of you as a human be-ing, much less a human free-ing, began. Sitting there in the too hot room on a Saturday afternoon, one had the sense the discussion could go on for some time as everything she said opened up another area of inquiry, certainly in this attendee’s mind.
When she spoke of the Moravians and how they provided social stability for roughly 50 percent of the newly freed while at the same time using the stability they offered to ensnare them, obligate them, control them not caring for the consequences to the actual lives of the people beyond their obedience to the rules of belonging, that raised questions about the role of the church in society. When she drew parallels between tourism and sugar, that potentially opened a whole kettle of fish among a people still uneasy with the implication of tourism being everybody’s business when that business and the profits thereof are owned by a few. My own question – unanswered due to lack of time – was prompted by her comment about the patterns of violence within the black family post-slavery; and it had to do with how much of the psychic damage of slavery and colonialism is still with us – what if any progress has been made toward healing.
Like many there, I left the gathering eager to read the book which quickly sold out, prompting on site book seller, the Best of Books, to take orders.
Someone raised the question of whether the book would be taught in our schools – this was met with skepticism as the history taught in our schools, still, is rarely about us as written by us.
Though I haven’t read it, I daresay, just on the strength of the discussion, the scope and breadth and accessibility of Dr. Lightfoot’s responses, that if the tone of the book reflects anything of this engagement, it would be a welcome addition.
For more on Dr. Lightfoot’s Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of Emancipation, published by Duke University Press, and, for that matter, for more on other books of Antiguan and Barbudan history, visit our non-fiction listing.
The event was held at the Public Library and I do hope that the Library will take the strong and responsive turnout as a sign that the community is hungry for more of this type of thing; and eager to see the library become a cultural hub in Antigua and Barbuda. I know I am, and I know we can.
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.